I interrupt seven-year-old Lucas’ humming to warn him, as I do every morning, that he has one more minute to finish his cereal before I take it away so he can go brush his teeth. His cereal has turned into inedible mush. Mari, his four-ear-old sister who never needs reminders, is already on her second bowl.
My “one more minute” tactic has always worked to get Lucas moving; he either eats his breakfast or it goes down the garbage disposal. But on this particular morning, my warning elicits a different reaction; Lucas suddenly becomes cognizant that he is being treated differently than his sister.
The anger rises in him so quickly that his shoulders puff up. Eyes flaring, he hiss-growls at his sister with such venom that if his words were poison, Mari would drop dead: “Why does SHEEEE never get HER food taken away?”
And then, because I am tired and frustrated and sick of fucking fighting him, I do a terrible, terrible thing.
I compare my two children… in front of them.
“Well, Lucas, since you want to compare how you’re being treated to how your sister is being treated, why don’t we compare your behaviors? Mari wakes up on her own, turns off her night-light and ceiling-fan, picks out her clothes, pees, gets dressed, and sits at the table to wait for her breakfast. She eats all her food, takes her bowl to the sink, and goes to brush her teeth, ALL without being asked. Do YOU do any of those things, Lucas? No. You don’t. Every morning we fight the same battle with me screaming at you a billion times to do simple everyday tasks like get dressed and brush your teeth!”
Two years ago, Lucas was diagnosed with ADHD. He has all the classic symptoms – there’s no need to list them because by now everyone knows what they are and how irritating they can be.
Because of his ADHD, I’m forced to parent Lucas differently than his sister. He needs more rules, firmer boundaries, stricter consequences. I’m harder on him because he is harder to parent. And yes, sometimes, when the uglier ADHD symptoms rear up, he can also be harder to like.
I’ve read that it is common in siblings where one has ADHD and the other doesn’t for them to each fly to different ends of the behavior spectrum. The ADHD child frequently develops an inferiority complex while the “typical” child senses the stress caused by the ADHD child and overachieves to balance out the energy in the household, thus perpetuating the feelings of inferiority in the ADHD child.
So every day, my parenting is tailored to avoid a future with one guilt-riddled overachiever in psychotherapy and another strung-out druggie sleeping on a park bench. Some days I excel. Some days, like today, I lose my shit and say really unforgivable things. Not because Lucas isn’t good enough, but because I’m not.
I love both of my children, more than I could ever express in mere words. But as long as I’m comparing, I should be as clear as possible about my love for Lucas. It’s an odd thing, but my love for him seems to have been strengthened and reinforced by both the guilt I harbor for not being a good enough mom to him, and the fierce protectiveness that has sprung up as a result of our struggles with ADHD. It’s a different kind of love from the unperturbed love that flows out of parenting an “easy child.” This love is complex and colorful, multifaceted in ways I never could have predicted.
I just hope it’s enough.
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