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.
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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  1. It is ABSOLUTELY enough. But those fears are shared among most all parents, regardless of diagnosis. Good parents are guilty. They are afraid. They are worried. And they all make mistakes, have bad mornings and have moments of weakness. It’s one of those life struggles you just have to go through together.

  2. You’re doing a great job, never doubt that. I totally relate to this story. My son is pretty difficult right now, but I try and remind myself that life is about moments and phases…..and like most moments and phases, this too shall pass. You’re awesome

  3. We’ve all done it. And regretted the words the moment they’ve left our mouths. If you didn’t feel so bad about it you wouldn’t be such a great mum. My son is so “easy” compared to his older sister (who’s got a few emotional problems), it’s kinda easy, if not correct, to like one child more than the other at times!

  4. You can only do what you can do. I also have a child with ADHD and he does require extra discipline that my other children don’t. I think at the end of the day we have to keep telling ourselves that we are being the best mommies we can, because face it – if it isn’t this we fear, then it will be something else. There will ALWAYS be something else to worry about. That’s what being a good parent takes.


    I totally get that there are days when we simply aren’t good enough parents. I just hope that as my kids grow up those arent the days that they remember. I want them to remember the days that I was super mom, not super bitch mom.

  6. I completely get where you are. I have two “high maintenance “type children and two who are really easy in comparison. Most days I like to think that I keep it together pretty well and there comes a time when I’ve just had it and I’m screaming like a crazy woman. I too feel like a failure when that happens. We just need to apologize if needed and carry on. Parents are human too.

  7. So honest and so raw. Parenting is hard enough as it is, but when there are added obstacles, it can be down right soul crushing. I have compared my kids. It’s a horrible thing to do, but in the midst of it, it seems like a natural response to their questions and complaints. We’re all doing the best we can (well, most of us), and I think in the end, that’s what counts most.

  8. One time my mother asked me why I didn’t have more than one child. I went into all of the usual reasons: age, health concerns, money, etc. But I also said: “And I don’t want to end up liking one kid better than the others.” She said I couldn’t think that way but I really felt like it was a legitimate concern! I think it’s hard for parents to always treat their kids equally. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

  9. Oh jeeeeez. First off, yessss, it’s enough! More than enough! One of the first and foremost reasons I love you and was a fan of you way long ago, is that you are HONEST. UNPRETENDING (my way of saying unpretentious). SINCERE. I know what you’re saying when you talk about your more calibrated, specialized love for Lucas, (we talked a bit about our sons’ “sensitivity” when we met in person). I fight to not compare my younger twins to my older son, but I cave in from time to time. It wrecks me when I do (and it turns out badly), but I’m only human too! Sometimes I just want to make things easier for him. And that can’t be good either. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. Hopefully we can all find them together. 🙂

  10. I read this entire post nodding my head (with a brief grimace when I read about the cereal, because I find cereal with milk to be repulsive). My oldest (11) is ADHD. He’s medicated, but first thing in the morning and last thing at night, he is not, and I tend to come down harder on him because, frankly, he needs it. But I feel “mean” because I say to the non-ADHD ones (I have four–2 ADHD/ADD, two not), “Go upstairs and get in bed,” and guess what? They do. I have to be much firmer and sometimes harsher with the older one (and sometimes the ADD one) to get them to FOLLOW MY DAMNED INSTRUCTIONS. I have the same fears about having two children who are the CEOs of Berkshire Hathaway and Citigroup, and two who live in the Greyhound bus station. I never say “Why can’t you be more like…” but sometimes I feel like we treat the oldest more harshly because if we don’t, he just won’t fucking listen and will keep dancing around and ignoring our instructions. And I’m right there with you with the…special? Different? love for that child. I too am more protective of the ADHD one (not so much the ADD one–for a long list of reasons) than the others. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one!

  11. I have 1 7 (almost 8 yo) & I would, 99% of the time put her in the ‘easy to parent’ category (1% she’d be in the banshee freak child category, which she of course gets from her father)
    All that to say I feel the same mother inadequacies you’ve described. I think we need to have mandatory mom’s recognize mom’s day once a week. Where you randomly pat someone on the back foe being such wonderful mother’s. Because ladies…we ALL know that daddies couldn’t wrap their heads around what we do (with very minor exceptions) every day! And damn it we do it well! ….my 2 cents worth.

  12. I don’t know how the flip you get your four year old to do all that. Things are gonna change around my house, STAT!

  13. I had tears in my eyes as I started reading this. I just discovered your blog through another share on Facebook but I feel like we are living a dual life, except for my children are about 3 years older than yours. I have an almost 11 year old son (with ADHD) and an 8 year old daughter (without ADHD.) I deal with guilt because sometimes I feel like I “forget” my daughter in my stress to keep my son on track. She does her homework without complaining, he would never get his homework done (and if it was done, it would come back the next day wrong and have to be re-done which sets off a meltdown of epic proportions.) My son spends summers in Florida with his dad and step-mom. So many ask if I miss him over the summer. I do miss him; however, summers are a nice respite for all of us. It gives me a chance to focus on my daughter and for her to be the center of attention. I try to balance us out during the school year (I am a leader for her Girl Scout troop) but there are days where I pray, they don’t grow up to resent me (him for always being on him and her for feeling like I neglected her to help her brother.)