“Dear Son: I Know What You’re Up Against — and I Worry, Worry, and Worry”
A mom remembers her own ADHD challenges as she grew up, and she hopes and prays her son can overcome them.
I know what it’s like. And that makes it even harder, even scarier to envision your future. Right now, we worry about you sitting still during reading. We fret that you don’t hear us when we speak directly to you; we’re annoyed that you hyperfocus on movies and TV. You will not stop picking up your three-year-old brother, over and over, no matter how many times we tell you. You cannot remember. It does not sink in.
That frightens me. Because what else, I wonder, will fail to sink in? I’ve been where you are, my darling. I homeschool you — this year of all years, second grade, when my own ADHD began to disrupt my life. I couldn’t read social cues. I didn’t understand what I had to do to fit in; I interrupted everyone.
You fling pine cones on the playground for the sheer joy of it. So the other kids ostracize you. I hear them mutter, “Oh, great, here comes Blaise,” because they don’t want to play with you. You have the same trouble understanding things that I did, even if those things are chucking sticks instead of ridiculing the right people. I worry that these missteps, these whispered words, they’ll catch up and wrap their ugly arms around you. That you’ll internalize them like I did, that you’ll fail to see your own worth. That you will struggle for years. A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry says that children with ADHD have a fourfold risk of mood disorders and suicide attempts. This was me. I pray it is not you.
I worry about the quotidian, the fears of any boymom with a teenager. But my fears are writ large. We will have to keep devices away from you to remove the temptation of internet porn. We will hand you the keys to the car, heart in our throats, afraid you’ll wreck it or drag race or go park somewhere and impregnate someone. Because the impulse control might not be there and you mean well, but you want to have fun and these things will seem very, very fun. I did them — other than the pregnant part — so I know. It’s a blast to drive 85 mph while your friend sticks his head out the sunroof and you blare music into the jasmine-smelling summer night.
You will do drugs. I just pray you will wait until you’re out of high school and that they don’t affect your college career. And that you’re smart enough not to sell your ADHD meds or do coke or hit anything harder than marijuana. On additudemag.com, Dr. Timothy Wilens, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, says in one study, 30 percent of young adults with ADHD got high. I got bored, like so many untreated teens with ADHD, and used chemicals like pot and acid and cocaine. I fear you’ll fail down the same path.
I worry about college. I worry about the multitude of opportunities for dumb-assery. I worry about streaking, which can land you on the sex offender list for life. I worry about the drugs, the girls, all the distractions from the studying you’re supposed to be doing, the studying you’re paying for. And you’re a good boy. You’ll hit the books. But like me, you might not hit them as hard as you could. Those A’s will be A-’s and B’s. You will, I fear, have too much of a social life to care as much as you should about your future.
Then, suddenly, your future will arrive. You will get kicked out of the safety of your dorm room, that womb-like little concrete block of safety, and into the real world. It terrified me. Because, suddenly, you will be expected to adult. You will need adult things — car insurance, a lease on an apartment, a checking account and debit card and credit card that you pay in regular intervals. These things are hard. These things are scary. These things will paralyze you with fear. We will try to help you. But, at that point, we will only be able to help so much. I will not be able to flit in like some magic sanitation fairy and clean your apartment, which you will likely have trouble keeping in any semblance of order or non-stickiness. I know. I was there. You do not remember the house of your childhood, the house of two adults with ADHD frantically trying to keep a floor clean enough for a child to crawl on.
I worry that you will try to forget all these things by buying a dog. This is not a solution. This is, however, probably an inevitability: You come from a dog household, and dogs are nonjudgmental buddies. We did decently with our dog, but there were two of us at that point. Try to wait on the dog for a committed relationship, remember to feed him twice a day, and get him trained. You will want to buy all the splashy dog accoutrements, because they look pretty and you want to prove that you love your dog, even though you have to buy them on your credit card. Things like leather collars and fancy treats and up-market rubber chewy toys and dog costumes. Dog costumes will seem like a viable purchase because, hey, plastic! We did this. And warning: We had to pay back the money for the dog costumes. It took a long, long time.
I worry that you will just forget about credit card bills and bank statements and student loan bills and just, well, bills. Because bills can be scary to someone with ADHD. They deal with money, which is frightening. I read that adults with ADHD have more credit card debt and impulsive spending than than do their neurotypical peers, and that shame and guilt only make it worse. You know the mail still scares me, and your father has to open it. I worry you’ll reach that point. I worry it will become so overwhelming you’ll find it easier to pretend the bills don’t exist, which will cree a cycle of terror and willful ignorance, terror and willful ignorance, until you owe vast sums of money that push you into either tears or wall-punching (you are, after all, a guy). You will need to suck it up and get it together, or else resign yourself to a life with no credit. Which is pretty much impossible in modern America. I worry. Oh, I worry.
But I also trust, with a mother’s heart, that in the end you’ll come out all right. I did, and I had it rough (though I still can’t open the mail). Your father functions well enough to move undetected through normal society, though when people discover he has ADHD, they laugh because it fits so well. You are so kind: You give your brothers the last piece of dessert. You hand them your beloved toys without a thought. You throw tantrums, but you always, always, finish with a hug and a tearful apology. You are polite. You try your very best to help in every way you can. And, yes, you pick up your little brother, but it’s because you love him. We will stuff you full of every trick we didn’t learn. We will teach you money management (or will, once you stop giving your money to your five-year-old brother). We will warn you off porn and drugs and drag racing. We will teach you safe sex and what consent really looks like. We will stand back. And we will worry. And worry. And worry.