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The Biggest Lie I Ever Told My Son with ADHD

“I was forcing my son to take drugs and he was begging me to stop.”

I held the little pills in my hand, and I broke inside. I’d lost the fight and now battled a new war. With my son’s small, trusting face looking at me, I told the biggest lie of my life, “This is safe. You will be fine. I promise.” Everything in my being screamed at me: “Liar! Horrible mother! Failure!”

The day I gave my son drugs for his attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) was one of the hardest days of my life. I had fought against holding one of those pills in my palm for a long time. I had tried the “natural approach.” I limited food dyes, I bought the expensive “natural light” bulbs to use in our kitchen, and I even got a mini trampoline for him to bounce on. I had him run laps around our living room, in between doing homework questions. I read to him, I loved him, and I fought for him.

My son didn’t want to take the pills. Having a severe nut allergy, he was overly cautious about trying new foods. If it was not something he’d had before, he didn’t want to try it. No matter if it were a food, restaurant, or even candy — if it was new, it was not going into his body. Getting him to swallow the ADHD pill was a battle of wills that I eventually won, after tears (on both sides), promises, threats, and finally a bribe.

I’d told him the med was safe, but I knew I shouldn’t be promising this. I’d read the research and learned about the side effects, and it scared me. The research was only 20 years old, but it wasn’t done on my son. How did I know that he wouldn’t be the one kid who had an adverse reaction? How did I know it wouldn’t affect his brain’s ability to develop the way it should, because I was pushing little pills into his body at a formative age? How did I know the pills would work?

Yet I promised him I knew, and because I am his mom, his protector, and the person who loves him more than anything, he believed me. He swallowed the pill — that day and the days after. Opening the bottle each morning was a small reminder that I was mothering blindly. I watched him for signs of change — in his mood, eating, sleep, anything. He stopped eating lunch; he just wasn’t hungry. Teachers began to tell me he was calmer but not more focused. He could sit, but he couldn’t concentrate any better. He was not a disruption most of the time.

[Free Resource: 9 Rules for Using ADHD Medications Safely]

I didn’t give him the pills on the weekends. I hated seeing him calm. I know it sounds crazy, but my boy isn’t supposed to be calm. He’s vibrant, wild, loud, crazy, and, at times (many, many times), makes me want to scream in frustration and tiredness. But that is my boy. That is how we operate. The quiet, calm kid who was now so skinny was not my son. I couldn’t bear witness to the changes the pills made in my son, so I gave them to him only on school days. Not on weekends or during the summer.

I continued with the pills for five years. Different pills at times, each one a promise to make things perfect. Then he reached middle school. He started being more vocal about not wanting to take the pills. “I want to want to eat lunch. I don’t like how they make me feel,” he said.

I was forcing my kid to take drugs, and he was begging me to stop.

Middle school was a series of constant parent-teacher meetings, because he was still not doing his work. The daily e-mails saying that he needed to do extra homework, because he’d been staring off into space all day, were overwhelming. I was breaking. He was too. The fights at night to do homework were killing us both. There was no joy in our relationship. His self-esteem was low, my patience was long gone, and we were all suffering. And still, each day we woke, I handed him the pills and a lunchbox I knew would come home full. He took them, not meeting my eyes, his compliance saying more than his defiance ever could.

[10 Things Your Doctor May Not Have Told You About ADHD Medications]

I felt shame and my stomach was on edge. Each visit to the “specialist” to get his three-month prescription refilled was crushing. I kept hoping time would change things, that maybe a new drug could help. We tried four, each with its own version of hellish side effects. The morning of each new drug was another notch in my parenting guilt belt, “Are you sure this one is OK?” he’d ask, still trusting me. I nodded, the lies coming easier now, but the guilt becoming harder to carry.

Things have changed for us for many reasons. Our son matured, and we found an alternative school, where he learned in ways that work best for him and at his own pace. The biggest change has been the fact that he no longer swallows those pills. I no longer carry my cloak of guilt. I finally realized that things were already perfect. I have exactly the son I am supposed to have, perfect in his imperfection, as we all are.

I am writing this to those who think that we, the parents who choose to medicate our children, do so easily. That we do so because we’ve been brainwashed or because we haven’t “tried hard enough.” Medicating your child is not an easy decision, and I am hard pressed to find a parent who doesn’t struggle with the decision.

I write this as a personal window into this hell and as a request for people to be kinder to parents who have had to make such a horrible decision. For some, it is a life changer and the best decision ever. For others, like me, it helped my son some, but it was not the game changer I’d hoped for. For others, it changes nothing and they are back to square one.

Fellow parents and friends of the world: be kind, reserve judgment, and hope that you may never find yourself faced with a decision like this — one where you must make a promise to your child that you are not sure you can keep.

[“They Say I Rushed to Medicate My Child”]

6 Comments & Reviews

  1. I’m sorry your experience with medication was not good. My son is also high functioning autistic with severe ADHD. He hates to go without his Adderall. He says he can’t control his thoughts, there’s too many, and that he his body won’t be still. He literally cannot do his work without it. He’s very in tune with how he feels. Medication is not always bad. The choice to medicate your child is never an easy one, but it’s definitely been a positive in our life.

  2. The drugs don’t work for a lot of people. They made this kid calmer, without improving focus. They made me hyper, without improving focus. It is heart-wrenching to read what his mom and he went through. I am glad they found a better school. I hope this guy thrives, and finds what he can do better than anyone else, his own special niche.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I could have written this exact article! You captured my frustration so beautifully! Yes!! The meds made my son calmer, but did nothing to improve his focus. So what is the solution? Behavioral therapy cant improve focus, and my son doesnt have issues with aggression, academics, or social challenges. He just struggles to focus and remain in his seat. The meds keep him in his seat and quiet, but nothing else. What’s the answer for our kiddos??

  4. I am so thankful for this article ! I have started giving medication to my children, but to satisfy society needs( school ) for them to seat and complywi with rules. I’m happy with the way my children are but they are not happy kids in school for the constant reminder they are not good enough for not sit in their sit or not focused enough . I’m on week second of Ritalin children are sitting focus improved a bit but with a chemical restrain . I have even more hyper kids when medication wears off . I’m just frustrated and with a great sense of lost . To medicate is not easy and I hope we can wean from it as soon as we can find another way for kids to sit in school . We spent loads of money in therapies none helped with fidgeting and lack of focusing .

  5. I’m a mom with ADHD and Narcolepsy medicated with Adderall, and a 6 years old son diagnosed with ADHD a year ago, after I tried a lot of therapies and having a son jumping everywhere 24/7 I couldn’t medicated him, just thinking the way I was struggling with my face than can’t smile and having efforts for don’t look like a robot I decided to try the Natasha Campbell diet, gaps diet, definitely it works better that anything in both, our moods looks different now, and he is definitely more focus and enjoying his play time!!

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