When two other mothers accepted my ADHD daughter, it helped me stand up to the world that didn’t.
When our daughter Lee was born, she came into the world with colic, crying day and night. At three months old, the colic had improved, but Lee was still restless. Her body was in perpetual motion. I attempted a Mommy and Me class, desperate to meet some other moms and be reassured that things would get better.
When I got to class, the moms were smiling and their babies sleeping peacefully in their laps. I was the only one with tears in her eyes as Lee kick-boxed me in the stomach, trying to get free. When the class was over, I thought I could make a quick escape, but two mothers blocked my way. One said, “It looks like you’re having a hard time. Please…join us for coffee.” I looked at them in disbelief, and nodded yes.
The cup of coffee led to many years of play dates with Lindsey and Kate and their children, Tom and Molly. They gave me the gift of friendship, embracing Lee with unconditional support. Once, at Lindsey’s house, we watched as Lee toddled over to Tom and plucked Elmo out of his hands. He started to cry, Molly joined in, and I jumped up, ready to intervene. Lindsey said, “Wait…”
A moment later, Lee wiped the tears off the other kids’ cheeks and handed Elmo back. Lindsey said, “Don’t worry, Jennifer. Lee has the biggest heart of any kid I know.”
Kate nodded and said, “That will always be her saving grace.”
Now I was wiping tears from my cheeks.
Lindsey and Kate were not the norm when Lee’s ADHD became apparent in first grade. One day, I took Lee to school and watched as she got into line with the other kids waiting for class. The next thing I knew, she was impulsively pushing ahead, kids falling off the line like dominoes. Carol, a mom sitting nearby, asked in a voice that could cut glass, “How do you deal with all that energy?”
The verbal slap took my breath away, and, in a trembling voice I said, “You think I have a choice?” That night, disbelief gave way to anger as I told my husband about what had happened. “How dare she judge me?” I cried, as we both imagined how I could have told Carol off.
Even worse, Brenda, a mom I thought was my friend, turned her back on me when my husband and I made the hard decision to put Lee on medication. The first type of drug we tried took away Lee’s happy disposition. At an Easter egg hunt, Lee searched for the golden egg as if it were the Holy Grail, refusing to leave the park until she found it. Brenda said, “Look at Lee…she acts like a zombie. Are you sure you have to do this?”
“Yes!” I said, furious at her lack of support and desperately wanting to reassure myself that we had made the right decision.
A few months later, we did find the right medicine, and Lee was starting to focus in school and control her impulses. Brenda wasn’t finished. She came to my house and gave me an article from the newspaper about ADHD teens who went off their medicine, went on to college, and became a success. “Read this!” she said. “Maybe Lee doesn’t have to take medicine.”
I looked at her in the eye and said, “Lee is a child, not a teenager. What makes you think you know better than her pediatrician, neurologist, and child psychologist? Give me a break! We are doing everything in our power to help Lee.”
I hated the way those moms judged us, but over time, they turned out to be a blessing. They paved the way for me to learn about ADHD and advocate for Lee. A couple of years later, Carol sent out an invitation to Lee’s class for her daughter’s birthday party. I accepted, but called her and told her Lee’s hyperactivity made it tough for her to sit still. I asked if she could stand during the time the birthday girl opened presents and ate cake. Surprised, Carol agreed and told me she appreciated the advice.
Through the years, I found other moms like Lindsey and Kate, moms who loved Lee’s inability to be anything but authentic, who wanted her to play with their kids because she was a fun tomboy, who wanted their children to be with a child who had a loving heart.
On Mother’s Day this year, I want to thank those moms who have been part of our journey, who have been at our side through all the ups and downs. Because of you, your children will carry compassion and tolerance into the future and help break the stigma of ADHD.