You’ve seen him; in restaurants, he’s the loud one who rudely disrupts the other diners. On the first day of school, he’s the kid in your child’s class who you see spinning and wiggling and you think, Please let him not be sitting next to my child.

When you pass out your child’s birthday party invites, he’s the kid you’d just as soon not invite. At soccer practice, he’s the one on your child’s team who makes you think, Why do his parents even bother bringing him? At the grocery store, he’s the brat who makes you think, His parents need to learn to control their kid.

But there are some things you don’t know about that wild, unruly child…

You don’t know that from the time he was 2, his parents received daily notes home from preschool saying things like:

“During storytime, your child ran around the room instead of sitting on the carpet.”

“Your child was disruptive during naptime.”

“Your child did not finish any of his work today.”

You don’t know that when his worried mom first shared her concerns with her trusted friends and relatives, they said things like:

“That behavior is normal at his age.”

“All little boys are hyper!”

“It’s because he’s so smart — he’s just bored!”

You don’t know that at his preschool Christmas pageant, he was shoved all the way in the back where he would be less conspicuous, which meant his parents were unable to take a video of him. Not that he was doing anything worthy of recording as a family memory; instead of singing the songs that had been rehearsed ad nauseam, he jumped, squirmed, spun and made silly faces.

You don’t know that at his pre-kindergarten graduation, when he said his memorized line at the microphone better than any other child in his class, his mother burst into tears, not out of pride, but out of relief.

You don’t know that in kindergarten, he was threatened with expulsion because of his picking habit… when he absentmindedly picked at the waistband of the little girl sitting in front of him during carpet time and she screamed out that he was trying to look at her underwear. And his mother had to explain to him about private parts even though he had no concept of the idea, no clue that he’d done anything inappropriate.

You don’t know that the parents of that undisciplined little hooligan didn’t even believe “ADHD” was a real thing. They smugly thought it was an excuse made up by weak parents of unruly children, parents who were too lazy or stupid to stay in control.

You don’t know that his mother has bought, read, and highlighted no fewer than 10 books, and not just ones about ADHD; books about parenting “strong-willed” children, books about discipline, books about love languages. (Maybe she just wasn’t giving him enough love and it was making him wild? Or maybe she could “cure” him with love?)

You don’t know that the parents of this child maintain a highly-structured, loving, nurturing, encouraging environment in their home. They have rewards charts and everything. Yes, they even have discipline!

You don’t know that sometimes, when his mother tells someone that they’ve chosen not to medicate, the person gets offended because they medicate their child, and it’s been a GODSEND for them. Do you think you’re better than them or something?

You don’t know that sometimes, when his mother tells someone that they’ve chosen not to medicate, the person says, “GOOD. Medicating your kid for ADHD is the same as giving them CRACK.” And then his mother makes a mental note to not tell that person if they ever do choose to medicate, because, frankly, she still hasn’t ruled out the idea.

You don’t know that this child’s father is a lover of soccer and desperately wants to enjoy the simple pleasure of kicking the ball around with his son, and that’s why he keeps putting his son in soccer season after season, even though the child would usually rather play with his shadow, lie down in the grass to inspect the blades more closely, or tangle himself in the net of the goal while the other kids chase after the ball. (Maybe one day it will “click.”)

You don’t know that his mom can see when the ADHD has taken hold. That her son’s eyes glaze over and he seems to be “somewhere else.” That she has slapped him before, just to get him to look at her, and she hates herself for it.

You don’t know that his mother has to remind herself again and again that ADHD really is a disorder that causes a person to be unable to distinguish which things in his environment are important and which things should be ignored. To this child, a blade of grass is every bit as deserving of attention as the soccer ball coming at his head.

You don’t know that his parents struggle daily with walking the fine line of being sympathetic that their child has a verifiable disorder but also knowing they must require adherence to rules and expectations and teach him how to fit into a society that has zero patience for people like him.

You don’t know that even though his mother tries her best to spin ADHD in a positive light, this child understands he is different, and has sobbed and screamed “I hate ADHD! I pray to God to take away my ADHD, and he doesn’t!”

So next time you see a kid running wild, trailed by a haggard-looking mom with a frizzy ponytail and puffy eyes, just remember: There might be a lot you don’t know.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books, Red Water, an Amazon Best Seller, and Beyond the Break. To stay updated on new releases, sign up for my newsletter and join my book group on Facebook!

15 Comments

  1. This is so well written and so true. I just went and read more of what you have written. Thank you for sharing how it Feels.

    Are you familiar with the Feingold diet? My daughter looked exactly like you describe your son and 14 months ago we started Feingold. It has been a miracle for us. We can go shopping, she stays with me in stores – her teachers comment on her excellent ability to pay attention (seriously – and I have to read that part of the report card twice). I’ve started to forget the chaos.

    My pediatrician now uses Feingold with her girls amd recommends it to other parents. This is the same doctor who has gently been recommending meds since my daughter was three. That’s how significant the change has been.

    Thanks again for your wonderful blog. You are so warm and authentic. I couldn’t imagine not sharing our experience with you.

  2. You’ve captured and communicated the experience so perfectly that I thought you were a spirit in my house and head. My son is now 29 years old, still coping with his ADD, but successfully employed as an engineer and living on his own. Thank you for such a powerful message.

    • I love that your son is an engineer! My son shows that “tinkering” capacity (and my husband is also an engineer). It gives me hope to hear stories like yours! <3

  3. As a teacher just about to return to school, this was a great article. A nice reminder that the kids we see every day have their own struggles and we must respect, understand and help.
    Thanks for the many great articles!

    • Thank you so much! I actually considered sharing this piece with Lucas’ teachers… but I’m afraid they’ll read the rest of my blog and decide that I am crazy. 😛

  4. I have ADD, and I have one son with ADD and one with ADHD. When we were kids, there was no ADD/ADHD. There were kids who were lazy, inattentive, and didn’t apply themselves academically. (Guess what I heard for 13 years?) Because of my struggles, I have chosen to medicate both boys. With the older one (who started meds at the end of 4th grade) I wish I’d done it sooner. He went from being a reluctant reader, to being an avid reader. But he too was pushed to the back during concerts and other “staged” events when he was younger. I feel your pain there. The younger one started in 3rd grade, and his teacher said she’d never seen a child make so much progress in so short a time. I would NEVER judge anyone for choosing not to medicate, or for choosing to do so. I just know that for myself, I wish I could have been, because I think it would have made a such a difference in the way my life played out. But as parents, we have to do what we think is right for our children. For my kids, I felt that the meds were the right choice, and I feel like the feedback I’ve gotten from teachers and other caregivers has reinforced my decision. I sincerely wish you the very best in whatever decision you make.

  5. Children like yours are part of the reason I love being a teacher in an inclusion classroom. I love helping my students who struggle with adapting to the normal school routine find ways to manage in a world not built for them. I know people say “that’s just how all kids are” but even as a kindergarten teacher, it’s obvious which kids are built differently. That doesn’t make it their fault. Or their parents. Or mine. It simply means we all have to find a way to work differently and have a lot of grace.
    As a child I hated the command “Focus!” because, you know, I looooved spending three hours on an already halved math assignment…if I could have focused, I would have! I got put in right field in every softball team, because I preferred drawing in the dirt and watching butterflies to trying to catch something I would probably miss anyway.

  6. I loved this article and could relate so much. I’m also tired of people telling me my son is a typical 5 year old boy. I know he is not and until someone has lived with him and seen his struggles, I just wish they’d keep their opinions to themselves. As a special ed teacher, I know when something is going on. But because of all the judgements I face, I have not shared with many that my son is now diagnosed with ADHD and I will be medicating him when he starts school because I want him to be as successful as he can be and for us, that will include medication. It breaks my heart to see him struggle and I just hope he has teachers that understand ADHD is not a choice. Thanks for making me feel a little less alone.

  7. Pingback: Kristen from “Abandoning Pretense” Has Issues | Abby Has Issues

  8. Oh Kristen. You are such an outstanding mother and this was so beautifully written. I cannot tell you how much I love this. Thank-you for sharing this. You are wonderful, friend.

  9. I can’t help but see so many similarities between your son and mine. He too is the type that would rather explore the room than sit still for storytime. I have yet to put him in preschool, mostly because I prefer him home with me, but also because I know he would have trouble in that environment. I am not ready to label him with anything yet. I am just glad for people like you who offer valuable insight into a difficult subject matter.

    • Hi there. I wanted to give you a little bit of comfort if I can. My middle daughter has ADHD and, while she was at home before pre-school, she was insanely destructive. When we put her in school, there was so much for her to do she improved a lot. (We do not medicate.) I know it’s not the same as all kids, but school isn’t always a nightmare. I hope your son is happy when he does finally get there.

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