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 ADHD 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.
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.
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.