“Three Kids with ADHD Later…And We Made It!”
She raised three children with ADHD. She survived and her kids thrived. A mom looks back on the happy, maddening years.
Tonight my husband and I dismantled our dilapidated vanity to make way for a shiny new one. Strange as it sounds, I was awash with emotion — a mixture of wonder and elation and the desire to throw my hat in the air while twirling around in the street — as I helped haul the old vanity to the trash.
Believe it or not, that crummy vanity started me down memory lane because it was a fixture in our house while I was raising my three children, all of whom happen to have ADHD.
While growing up, they defined “impulsive.” They were consistently inconsistent, distracted by everything (except video games and computers), and emotionally volatile before their medication kicked in. They were a trio of tornadoes, leaving a trail of unfinished tasks and lost homework.
I appreciated the irony implicit in “attention deficit disorder.” My children have lacked some things, but, believe me, attention was never one of them. As are most kids who have ADHD, mine were brilliant, talented, and charming.
The Wonder Years
My eldest son was tested at age three, and he was found to have the vocabulary of a six-year-old. He was graced with a true gift of gab, an off-the-wall wit, and a sincere, passionate nature. Throughout school, his English teachers and I told him he should be a writer. He filled notebooks with poetry and song lyrics of amazing imagery. It was challenging to discipline him, because he could always make me laugh, no matter how angry I had been.
My middle guy was a man of few words. He had the gifts of curiosity and reflection. When he was 12, I saw him tinkering with something, and asked about it. He said he was making a tattoo gun – out of a tiny motor from a toy car, a needle, and a toothbrush. Not wanting to discourage his inquisitive nature, I didn’t laugh. I also didn’t laugh when, a few days later, I noticed a jailhouse-style tattoo on his arm.
My daughter, the youngest, was interested in everything and everybody. Some call it nosy, but I call it concern. She was fiercely loyal, to the point of starting brawls if a friend or brother was maligned by a classmate. If you were her friend, you could call her anytime. If she promised to do something, you could bet she would do it. When she was four, my closest friend said, “I never worry about her. She knows how to get her needs met.”
When my second husband, Steve the Lion-hearted, entered the picture — a “place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place” guy — he had no idea whom he was dealing with. He held on for a year before he said, “You were right — I’m going to have to lower my standards to survive in this household.” I controlled the urge to say, “I told you so.”
With passion and perseverance only a mother can muster, I helped my kids see their strong points and looked for ways to compensate for their ADHD symptoms. I put my heart into figuring out what they needed.
I read books and magazines about raising successful ADHD kids, sought advice from counselors, doctors, and friends, and followed my intuition. I alternated between cheering them on and chewing them out. I took them to counseling and took away their privileges. I even tried bold-faced bribery — which is how we added another dog to our clan — when my daughter got a B on a final in her junior year. Maybe I overdid it.
On Our Own Now
As you would expect, life is different now that they are grown and on their own. Memories keep coming, though. I was recently filling up my medication box for the week, when I thought about all the Sunday nights we had spent counting out medications to send to school on Monday mornings. And I thought, “Wow, how did we ever get through all that?” The answer, of course, was, “One day at a time.”
It has finally hit home that August is no longer the month from hell. Preparing three ADHD kids for a new school year is overwhelming. Shopping for clothes and supplies was part of the fun. Our solution? Taking one kid at a time to the store. Another challenge was developing a good working relationship with each of my children’s teachers.
As the kids got older, and I had trouble remembering who had Mrs. Something-or-other for English, I made spreadsheets to track which kid had which class when-and with which teacher. One year, I bought two sets of books for each child. My plan — and I always had a plan — was to keep a set at home and a set in their lockers, heading off the classic refrain, “I forgot my books at school.” It worked. Sometimes.
Through it all, Steve and I looked on the bright side. Gratitude for the little things became a tool in our bag of tricks. When two or three parent-teacher conferences were held on the same night, we’d say, “At least we’ll get it over with all at once.” If one of the kids was failing, I would think, “It could be worse. All three of them could be failing.” Of course, some- times it was worse.
Which brings me back fondly to the vanity — and to the hairbrush chain that was tightly screwed to it. A smart friend taught me to always search for the solution to a problem instead of just living with it. So when one hairbrush a week began walking out of the bathroom, compliments of my three kids, we decided to chain the brush to the vanity. Problem solved.
Our kids have gone on to their own families and jobs, now. It is a bit surreal that Steve and I no longer plan most of our days around their needs. We have emerged from post-traumatic stress with only minor tics and twitches. We can go to dinner or the movies and not sweat bullets on the drive home, worrying which neighbor one of our kids has ticked off, or who hit whom, or who broke what while we were gone.
If you’ve raised one or several children with ADHD, and they’ve left home, you can probably relate to my mild elation. But if you’re still raising one or more ADHD children, I’m here to tell you that this too shall pass. We’ve said good-bye to the vanity and the hairbrush chain attached to it, and so will you some day.
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