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I Worry That ADHD Has Taken Its Toll on My Son

When I worry about if ADHD has taken a toll on my son’s happiness, all I can do is remind him that the condition is not the sum total of who he is.

A picture tells a thousand words, but today, as I stare at my son’s fourth-grade school picture, only one word comes to mind: sadness.

Other people might see it; they might not. He may have felt it at the moment the photo was taken, or perhaps not. But the image speaks to my greatest fear-a fear shared by many parents, I suspect, and not just those who are parenting children with ADHD — that the burdens my son has carried, ADHD and its myriad ramifications, have taken their toll and left him sad, or at least sadder than he otherwise would be.

I don’t purport, as a parent, indeed as a person, to be responsible for anyone else’s happiness. I believe happiness comes from within and is not a state dependent on others. Further, I don’t even believe that everyone should aspire to be happy at all times, that it should be the compulsion society seems to think it is.

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But, oh, how parenting shifts and plucks the staunchest beliefs.

My mind tells me that given the challenges he’s faced, he will feel what he feels, that he is entitled to feel what he feels, including substantial sadness. But as his mother, his advocate, and his champion, my heart longs in ways more pained than I can articulate, to make it all better, to save him from further hurt, embarrassment, and worry.

When I am confronted with tangible evidence — evidence that in our house, and in many others, is immortalized in a hallway gallery of family photos — that sadness lives behind his eyes and in his heart, I remind myself to ask not why it has to be this way but rather how do we negotiate what is next?

I can’t take today’s or tomorrow’s sadness away, but what I can do is show him how to move through the day, through life, in spite of it-and remind him that his ADHD is not the sum total of who he is.

[Why Praise Is So Important for Children with ADHD]

In the meantime, I will remind myself that one photo, while it may call up a host of emotions, is also not the sum total of who he is. Tomorrow I can all but guarantee he will laugh and feel pure joy, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I will have my camera.