Talking About ADHD

“My Daughter’s Confession Crushed Me”

When my daughter confessed to a priest how my short patience was affecting her, I was devastated — but I recognized my need to control my frustration and anger in the face of her ADHD behaviors.

A child praying after being yelled at by her parent, who is often losing patience with her
Black and white hands praying child hands

My seven-year-old daughter recently had her first Reconciliation, one of the seven holy sacraments in the Catholic Church. During Reconciliation, a person confesses her sins to a priest, in private, and the priest absolves her, letting her know that God forgives her.

It was an exciting day for my daughter. Her teacher had been preparing her and her classmates for months. My daughter was nervous, though, so I handed her one of her fidget toys, and I told her that she had nothing to be scared about. I put my arm around her and held her close as we sat in the pew.

When it was my daughter’s turn to speak with the priest, my husband and I waited off to the side as we watched our daughter sit down with him. She didn’t look him in the eyes. She looked down and fidgeted, with her fingers on her lap, which is pretty normal behavior for her.

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I wondered what sin my little girl was confessing. Sneaking a candy before dinner? Not sharing a toy with her sister? She is a second-grader who loves to draw, sing, and be silly. She believes in fairies and magic, and she sleeps with five stuffed animals every night. What sin could she possibly be confessing?

Later, when my daughter told me what she had said, my heart stopped and I held back tears. She told the priest, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I didn’t listen to my mommy.”

Day-to-Day Challenges

You might not think that’s a big deal, but it is. My daughter is not like most children. She has ADHD, and she has a hard time paying attention. This affects every aspect of her life. At home, she may hear what I am saying, but she can’t process my words, because she is distracted…constantly. Even when she processes what I am saying, it seems as though she didn’t listen, because she doesn’t follow through. I tell her to make her bed, and she wants to make her bed, but she can’t get started. She can build an impressive Lego castle for her Shopkins, but her bed doesn’t get made. She has the best intentions, and I have a good reward system, but her ADHD stops her from doing things she knows she should do.

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I was heartbroken to hear that she thinks “not listening to Mommy” is a sin. What is worse, I know I am the reason she thinks so. When I see her little sister, three years younger than my daughter, listen to me and behave the way I expect her to, I praise her and reward her. When her older sister can’t do the same simple things — sit down at the table for dinner or get into her pajamas without complaining — I get frustrated. I lose patience. I blow up, particularly at the end of the day, when I am physically and emotionally drained.

Losing It

There have been times when I have screamed at my daughter: “Why can’t you listen like your sister?!” When she doesn’t do what I ask, I punish her by yelling, taking away screen time, or taking away a toy. I punish her for not listening, so of course she thinks it is a sin. I am punishing her for having ADHD, which is something she can’t control.

Realizing this, I feel like crap. I pray to God to help me be more patient, compassionate, and understanding, but God can do only so much. It is up to me to make that change. I have researched “parenting a child with ADHD” for hours, and I have given advice to other parents of children with ADHD. It’s easier to preach than to practice. I know the mother I want to be, the one that my daughter needs me to be. It is time to practice what I preach, and to ask my daughter for forgiveness for the sin I have been committing.

[Never Punish a Child for Behavior Outside His Control]

Updated on September 5, 2019