The Many Faces of ADHD - One Mother's Story

Eileen Bailey Health Guide

    I received an email from a woman, the mother of a 25 year old son with ADHD, Learning Disabilities and Bipolar Disorder. The story is about what happens when parents must make hard decisions, decisions they never envisioned having to make as a parent. Although not really her name, I'll call her Mary. She would prefer to remain anonymous however, she felt it was necessary to share her story.


    Mary was divorced when her son was four years old. She had custody, although he did go to his father's house every other weekend. Her ex-husband was not supportive in dealing with the many issues of raising a child with special needs and most often blamed her parenting for his misbehaviors and problems in school.

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    Mary worked hard with her son, he was a bright boy but struggled in school. Many nights she helped him with homework for hours. She taught him to read and by second grade he was reading on a fourth grade level. The subject matter was not a problem, but even so, he routinely failed tests and got poor grades because he often forgot or lost his homework.


    When her son was in fourth grade, Mary remarried. Her husband worked with her son, but could not understand exactly what was going on. Even so, he attended all of the school parent teacher conferences, helped with homework whenever he could and tried to spend time having fun with his step-son. Often, this was overshadowed by calls from teachers and problems in school. They requested testing for learning disabilities and ADHD but the evaluation came back that Michael did not have ADHD, rather, he was just trying to adjust to a new family.


    By middle school the problems had not yet gone away. One teacher, who had ADHD, talked to Mary and explained about ADHD. He realized that Michael had been evaluated by the school district before and suggested that Mary have Michael tested privately. She did and ADHD and Math Learning Disabilities were diagnosed.


    Mary's ex-husband did not agree with the diagnosis and would not give Michael medication when he was at his house. He still continued to blame Mary's parenting skills for Michael's problems. Worse, he continued to tell Michael what he thought, allowing him to blame his mother rather than accepting responsibility. Mary made the most of it, sometimes becoming angry, but trying to help Michael at school took most of her time.


    By the time Michael was 15, he was smoking, stealing, sneaking behind Mary's back and defying household rules. Nothing Mary did worked. She received support from her husband, but her ex-husband consistently blamed her. Her son was beginning to blame her as well and refused to take medication. Things became worse at home.


    Mary didn't know where to turn and finally, in desperation, she decided to let her son live with his father. Maybe, if he could see the struggles on a day to day basis, he would help her in helping him, rather than fighting him. It was a hard decision, but one that Mary felt would be best in the long run. Maybe as a teenager, he needed his father. Mary quickly called her ex-husband and made arrangements before she could change her mind. When her son moved out, she cried for days. She second guessed her decision, but in her heart she knew that she had needed to make a stand. She had needed to let her son know that he could not continue to defy her house rules and threaten her with moving out.


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    This was the beginning of a back and forth between houses that would leave both households emotionally drained. He visited often and behaved himself while he was there. He was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder and placed on medication and offered therapy.


    At the age of 17 he was back again, contrite and "ready to follow the rules." It wasn't long, though, until it started again, but this time he would sneak out and drink and get high. A few months before high school graduation, the truant officer showed up at the door and talked to her son. He had been skipping school, even though he left the house each morning. He started going to school on a regular basis and with hard work (Mary's hard work), he graduated high school.


    Jobs came and jobs went. He worked, he said he was fired. He got another job, worked for a few weeks and said he was fired. And so the cycle went. He went out with friends, he got high and he drank. Mary had had enough.


    She did some research. He was using marijuana and drank occasionally. He didn't qualify for a rehabilitation center. They said he needed to have been drinking longer and that marijuana alone didn't qualify. He stopped taking medication. He didn't go to therapy. Conversation after conversation happened. He always said he would try harder, and for a few weeks he would. He would get another job, he would stop going out. But then it started again. He was too old to ground, too old to punish.


    Finally, Mary handed him a slip of paper with the name of a men's shelter. She told him to leave. He threatened suicide. She told him to leave. He did. Something in Mary changed that night. She had put her son out of the house, without concern of where he was going. She just wanted him to leave. If all was said, she knew he could go back to his father's house, but he didn't want to live there. Michael didn't get along with his step-mother and didn't like living there.


    Mary cried again. She also knew, there were too many nights she had cried over this. Nothing was changing. He was an adult now, he was allowed to make his own choices. Legally, there was nothing she could do unless she saw him try to commit suicide (she had researched this too). But Mary had other children and Michael was taking all of her time and energy. She was neglecting her other children. Mary knew it was the right decision, but she was deeply saddened. She wondered whether she and her son would ever be able to have a relationship again, but also knew it had been many years since they had had a good relationship.


    Years went on like this, he returned a few times but it always ended up the same. After a while, Mary became hardened. Jokingly, Mary told her friends that it became easier to tell him to leave each time, but that wasn't the case. Each time she tried, each time she believed he had changed, each time she was devastated.


    Michael is no longer welcome to live in Mary's house. She has found the strength to live by that. He still comes by, usually asking for something, usually money. He still works off and on. He still lies. He still uses her for what he needs. And sometimes she is taken in, not by the adult he has become, but by the memory of the young boy he once was.

Published On: May 12, 2008