The Decision to Medicate

When Parents Disagree About ADHD Medications

Disagreements over ADHD medications are common, but they can still be challenging for families to overcome. Here’s what to do when you say yes to meds, but your spouse says no.

Offended man and woman standing back to back. Conflict and divorce illustration
Offended man and woman standing back to back. Conflict and divorce illustration

You and your son’s doctor believe that he should be on medication, but your spouse refuses: “There’s nothing wrong with my son. I won’t let you put him on medication.”

Your parents or in-laws insist that there is nothing wrong with their granddaughter: “You just need to be more firm with her.”

You are divorced and have shared custody. Your ex refuses permission for you to administer medication, or even threatens to go to court to stop you from giving it to your child.

Raising a child or adolescent with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is not an easy task. Ideally, both parents participate in the evaluation process. The physician explains to them in person what ADHD is, how the diagnostic process works, and why medication may be necessary.

[Get This Free Download: A Parent’s Guide to ADHD Medications]

Thus, both are committed to the line of recommended treatment, and they can rely on each other for support. But too often, the reality looks more like one of the scenarios above.

Family conflict can mean a major crisis for you and your child. Parents often try to dodge the problem. “Don’t tell Dad that you’re taking these pills,” or “When you visit Grandma, don’t let her know about your medicine.” But such approaches place your child in a difficult position. She might begin to think that there is something wrong about the fact that she takes medication. Or she might be upset that she is being asked to lie to her father. And in the case of divorce, not only does the child feel caught in the middle, but she’ll be off her medication when visiting your ex on weekends or vacations. Is there a solution?

Try Talking First

I have faced these problems many times in my practice. If both parents weren’t involved in the diagnosis or if the ex refused to participate, you must try to educate the person who wasn’t there.

In person: I’ll invite this person to come in to discuss any concerns or fears. On occasion, I have met with grandparents, along with both parents (or parent and ex), to explain what ADHD is and why there is a need for medication, along with its side effects.

[Click to Read: But What Are the Side Effects of NOT Trying Medication?]

On the phone: If a parent refuses to meet with me, I might call and say, “I understand that you are uneasy with the idea of Billy taking medication. May I try to answer your questions or address your concerns?” It’s hard for the parent to run away once you have him on the line.

Reading material: Another option: Find a book that clearly explains ADHD and its treatments. You might highlight key chapters or sections before giving the book to this person to read. Dr. Larry Silver’s Advice to Parents on ADHD (#CommissionsEarned) is a good place to start.

Involve the School

If none of these approaches works or if the other adult refuses to participate, move on to more intensive techniques. Offer to get a second opinion. Sometimes, this professional reinforcement helps the other adult to accept the need for treatment. Or you might ask friends whose children take medication to speak with this adult.

Another approach that I try when nothing else seems to be working takes a little more effort but it might pay off. Let’s say you, the mother, understand the need for treatment and are willing to try medication. In my experience, this happens because, whenever the child has difficulty in school with attention, learning, and/or behavior, mothers are most often the ones who get the call. The school does not call the father. Because your husband has not heard from the school about the learning and behavior problems, he doesn’t feel any urgency to do something or even understand the extent to which these problems are affecting his child. Don’t allow this to continue. You shouldn’t be the only one interacting with the school while your spouse is spared from the discomfort of dealing with the situation. Once he shares your concern, he may open up to the need for treatment.

Negotiate with the teacher and principal to even out this patriarchal imbalance. Request that at least half of the calls be made to your husband instead of you. If you are divorced, request that both parents be contacted every time there is an incident. Give your child’s school her father’s work and cell phone numbers so he can hear about the problems as they arise. Let him be the one who gets upset for a change. Do not go to meetings with the teacher or IEP team without your husband or ex. The school can help by contacting him and insisting that he attend the next meeting.

A Last Resort

If nothing else works and you feel it essential that your child be on medication, you may have to seek legal counsel. There are legal ways to prevent the other parent from blocking medication. If the grandparents are the obstacle to treatment, be more firm. Tell them if they persist in undercutting your decision to use medication, you might have to limit their visits with their grandchild.

Helping your child is your primary concern. When those who should be supportive are non-supportive or present barriers, it is essential that you do what is best for your child. Persuading these family members will be difficult, but in my experience, you shouldn’t have to go further than getting the school involved.

[Free Infographic: Take Charge of Your Child’s Medication]

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7 Comments & Reviews

  1. This is another article pushing the Big Pharma agenda. There are so many reasons not to take these pills it is silly to be arguing. The bigger issue is parents are too busy (or frustrated) to be parents. Rather than deal with the challenges of life, many are choosing to drug their children. A drooling zombie is certainly more likely to “behave.” What will we do when our kids go to college or join the workforce? What message are we sending the kids? You are not good enough as you are. You need medication to operate in the world. If you have a problem, take drugs. Let me know how that works out for you.

    1. There are some good suggestions here. My husband is an ex special ed instructor, and refuses to believe that his son has anything wrong with him. In spite of 3 diagnose’es, in spite of learning that there are brain scanning tests that prove that a person with ADHD’s brain functions differently, and in spite of actually seeing the improvement of our son’s attitude and behavior with the proper medication. It really just boils down to my husband wanting the best for his son, and fearing the stigma that he knows is attached to ADHD. So many people love to say that it’s the parent’s fault, and that the parent just doesn’t want to do their job. Yet, a parent of a diabetic child who refuses to give their child insulin would be charged with neglect.

    2. I agree totally with your comment. A friend’s son was diagnosed with ADHD decades ago. The doctor wanted him to take meds, but my friend has a ‘thing’ about any and all medication unless vital for life. Plus, it is crazily expensive. Plus Ritalin is a controlled drug – for a child? For heavens sake! So, the doctor talked to her about how to manage and raise her son, including things like diet and exercise, while accepting that he had certain difficulties that needed help. He was never easy to bring up. She and her partner called him their greyhound, who needed walking twice a day! But she raised a fine man, who is now in his late 30’s, and runs two successful businesses. He is not formally academic, but he is happy to admit that to anyone, because he does not regard it as a shortcoming. He speaks his mind, which can be disconcerting – but he is a wonderfully genuine person, and he readily acknowledges his mother’s role in getting him to where he is. And he shares her view of medication.

  2. And also, it was very obvious that the article was biased as it presented that there would anything be wrong with a child not taking medications while on vacation with the other parent.
    If anything, that would be great.
    It would give the liver a break and as the child is on vacation and may not stress, may not need any ‘control’ for behaviour.
    Giving drugs to children so that they ‘behave’ is highly questionable.

    1. Actually, regardless of the need for medication in the first place, it is incredibly damaging to the central nervous system to suddenly quit taking it. Even people who have decided psychoactive drugs are not for them advocate tapering off the medication gradually. Skipping doses or going on and off is risky.

  3. This article makes me extremely angry. Look at the statistics and one will see that boys are disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD and that medication has caused many issues for these young men. We are taking issue with the way young men are naturally wired in order to try and fit them into these contemporary idea of education. It’s sickening. My son was diagnosed with high functioning autism and then with ADHD. One doctor diagnosed one way. One school diagnosed one way. I think the reality is my son is unique and the schools and many of these women teachers cannot handle that. He is smart and capable and gets a bit bored with sit down work. Nothing to me out of the ordinary. They keep marking his behavior chart for not paying attention. I mean does that need to be reported daily? How often did I not pay attention in school and I’m a college professor now. School is boring. Most teachers mean well but aren’t very good at what they do or holding a child’s attention. This article also shows a bias against fathers which gets old. Fathers are just as invested in their children as mothers. It just that society uses female propensity for fear and the wildness in boys to push medicating children.

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