Happy Mother’s Day to me. Or maybe not. It’s 6:01am, I’m awake, my son is having the mother of all meltdowns. He’s crying and I’m crying. This is why I hate Mother’s Day, there’s too much expectation. But I’m sleep-deprived and would desperately have liked a lie-in. That is all.
My bet would be that you’re reading this and assuming my son is a toddler - he’s not. He’s 7 and has ADHD. When you think about ADHD no doubt the obvious behaviours spring to mind such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Forget the misconceptions about bad parenting or naughty boys. ADHD is real. ADHD is a complex neurological disorder. It’s a hidden disability. It’s exhausting.
His insatiable energy knows know limits. He is like a Duracell Bunny, he literally never stops and has volume levels that are not for the faint-hearted. But that’s the easy part. The bit that most people have no idea about is the intense and volatile emotions that explode frequently without warning.
It’s like there is a mini caveman inside his brain, so when he feels any kind of emotional stress his parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, flooding him with adrenalin and causing him to get locked in Fight mode. Often, it’s hard for him to distinguish between feelings of anxiety and excitement so his angry outbursts can be triggered by positive experiences or events, as well as negative ones. Punishment is not effective for children with ADHD, so when he is in Fight mode, all I can do is calm and comfort him. These behaviours are impulsive. They are not deliberate. He’s not giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time. But it is draining, soul destroying and utterly heart-breaking.
Sometimes it starts before I’ve even got out of bed in the morning. Then come nighttime, his anxieties are in full flow which often means sitting outside of his bedroom door until he falls asleep. By which point I’m drained and have no real break before it starts all over again. It’s 24/7.
It seems to take more and more from me each day. I’m struggling. But it’s my responsibility to help and protect him. Help he so desperately wants. I’m doing everything I can, but it is a slow process with no short-term fix and no end in sight. There’s no immediate solution. No magic wand. And I feel unbelievable gut-wrenching guilt for even saying this stuff out loud. The worst thing is the feeling that I’m doing him a huge disservice by sharing this.
I’m probably painting a really bad image of my son, because the reality is that he is absolutely not a naughty boy. He’s challenging. Oh my god he’s challenging. But he is not a naughty boy. He’s an incredibly sensitive, kind and caring little boy. A really sociable kid. ADHD is also his super power. He is bright, has an absolute lust for life and boundless energy which he channels into lots of sports to great achievement. He’s only 7 and was just awarded his 600m swimming badge. Then there’s his creativity. His imagination knows no limits. And when he draws, he has the ability to hyper focus, getting lost in his illustrations.
ADHD was diagnosed almost 18 months ago. The diagnosis itself was a shock as until then I thought I was just a rubbish Mum. For a brief window the symptoms provided explanation and temporary relief. But things seem to be getting worse. I haven’t spoken about it publicly until now as I’ve been so frightened that sharing this label with the world would make things worse for him. It’s only become aware to me recently how much of a hidden disability it is. He is not a neurotypical child, something I’m learning to recognise. So, I’ve been summoning the courage and confidence to write this. Because ADHD is real. It’s not an excuse. It’s not his fault. It’s a description of his brain. It’s unhelpful and unhealthy to expect certain things of him. So please don’t judge him, because he’s the boy I love most in this world. I just have to dig a little deeper.
Mother’s Day wasn’t a complete write off, I got to eat pizza and drink wine at tea time. But I’ve decided from now on it’s best not to distinguish it too much from any other Sunday. That way it removes the anxiety-inducing expectation for him, and the disappointment from me. But I’d still really like some sleep!
Claire Quigley Ward MBA
Co-founder & Managing Director