Dear Fathers: Don’t Let a Condition Your Son Didn’t Ask for Define Your Relationship With Him
The last thing any father wants is to look back on his life and regret that he wasn’t more attuned to what his kids needed when they were growing up. If your son has ADHD, he doesn’t need your criticisms or ridicule. He doesn’t need “tough love.” He needs actual, unconditional love and understanding. It’s not easy, but it’s so important.
If you were born during the Nixon or Carter administrations, you grew up at a time when ADHD was rarely diagnosed.
Often, the guys in our grade who had (undiagnosed) ADHD were known for slinking into school high, reeking of pot. Other ones were shuttled into Special Ed classes, often with kids who had much more significant challenges. Others didn’t fit this mold — they could read books all day, but rarely socialized with anyone. Some of the lucky ones discovered vocational school or found a teacher who saw their strengths and helped them exploit them.
ADHD has history. It has been around since the late 1700s, when it was first mentioned in a German medical textbook. It’s had many labels over the years and, eventually, I believe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will be renamed “executive function developmental delay,” which is a much more accurate term.
ADHD stems from a genetic mutation that sometimes is passed from parents to children. I can’t tell you how many fathers have told me “I was just like him when I was his age.” Other fathers have shared with me that, based on their sons’ behavior, they’re positive they have ADHD but were never diagnosed.
There’s a wide body of scientific evidence to prove ADHD exists, and it is genetic.
ADHD is more common today, but it is still not well understood by most educators and mental health professionals. People going into these fields learn very little about ADHD in their education and training. The only reason I can do the work I do is because I sought out education and training on my own. The majority of work I use is not from the mental health field, but from the speech-language pathology field.
So what does it mean that ADHD is poorly understood by the people who work with our kids? It means there’s not a lot of effective help out there aside from medication. More importantly, it means that ADHD is often seen as a character flaw. Criticisms like “lazy,” “unmotivated,” and “he doesn’t care about anything but video games” are often used to describe boys with ADHD.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers make comments like “He’s smart; he just doesn’t care.” This is a reflection of the teacher’s frustration, which stems from his or her lack of education about how to support students with ADHD. It’s important to know that intelligence has nothing to do with ADHD. You can’t talk a kid out of ADHD-related challenges by appealing to his intellect.
The bottom line is this: If you view ADHD as a character flaw in your son, there’s a high likelihood it’s going to negatively affect your relationship with him for many years to come.
The good news is that, ADHD symptoms in kids typically improve with brain maturation. There are many highly successful people who have learned to manage ADHD. There are also some who go through life struggling to sustain employment and social relationships. Unfortunately, some go down a dark path of drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate.
As your son’s father, you need to make an important decision: Are you going to take a little bit of time to understand that the things your son does that piss you off or create stress in your house are not done intentionally? Are you going to allow yourself to understand that his brain development lagging in certain areas, compared to other guys his age?
My unsolicited advice to you is this: You must take the time to educate yourself on the condition and focus on positive parenting. Watch some of my videos on the ADHD Dude YouTube channel but, most importantly, don’t let a condition your son didn’t ask for define your relationship with him. ADHD is not his identity. It’s not an excuse for disrespectful behavior, but it is something that you can learn to help him deal with — and that will help your relationship with him immensely.
Boys learn how to be men from their fathers and other male role models whom they choose to emulate. Think about your son being a father one day: Do you want to see him criticize your grandkids or become frustrated with them? I think the last thing any father wants is to look back on his life and regret that he wasn’t more attuned to what his kids needed when they were growing up.
Let your son know that you’re trying to learn what you can do to help him because, at the end of the day, that’s what he needs most from you.
Your unconditional love and understanding, particularly when he’s struggling the most, is what will help him become the type of man that you hope he’ll become.
You got this,