‘He’s a HORRIBLE little boy.’ My heart broke into pieces.’: Mom details parenting two children with ADHD, ‘The tears and tantrums were worth it’

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“When I was approached to write about my experiences parenting two children with ADHD I was so excited. I have wanted to write about and share my experiences for about 10 years, but being an expert in procrastination and deeply private about my life has made this a challenge. I am not embarrassed or ashamed, but I am anxious about finding the right balance of sharing whilst not oversharing, being honest without being melancholy and being humorous without too much swearing because my Mum may read this! But here we are and it is time.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

My son turned 18 at the start of January. A milestone I wasn’t sure we would make all in one piece or still together. The last 18 years have been harder than I could have ever imagined. They certainly didn’t follow the plan I had in my mind. My marriage has nearly ended on multiple occasions, I have suffered more than one crisis with my mental health, I have the darkest of circles under my eyes, that no miracle eye cream or concealer are going to cover, from the many sleepless nights and crying, my physical health has been impacted, I am constantly exhausted and I probably drink too much. But without all the struggles and the trauma I wouldn’t have found out that I am a warrior queen, who has the most amazing strength and resilience. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn so much through courses, parenting classes and reading articles and books. I am surrounded by the most amazing network of friends and family who are only a phone call away. I also believe the experience has made me a better and kinder person, with the patience of a saint. It has also improved my practice, working in early years education. If there’s a crisis, I’m your lady. The last 18 years have taught me that there is so much out of our control and the only way to deal with it is to remain calm and ride the wave.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

My son was born in 2003. I was 22 and he was perfect! I was full of excitement and love. Being a Mum was just wonderful! That first year R hit all his developmental milestones early. He was running around at 9 months and had an advanced vocabulary by a year. He was also exhausting and had a knack for finding mischief. He had never ending energy and needed constant stimulation. He was unable to sit still, apart from when he was strapped in his highchair eating. Meal times gave me precious respite. Then he learnt to climb, and oh boy could he climb! At any opportunity that boy would go up. I used to liken him to Spiderman, convinced he had hairs on his fingers. But what goes up must come down and R’s way of getting down was to jump. I have lost count of the times I’ve held my breath as he leaped from a great height before I could get there. Thankfully like Spiderman, he always lands on his feet.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

As time went on parenting became less about new experiences, fun and enjoyment and more about risk assessing, being on high alert and always having to watch him. R was diagnosed with pediatric asthma and would often be very unwell due to chest infections and difficulty breathing. Did this stop him? Nope. We would be sitting in the doctors with my GP deciding whether or not to call an ambulance and he would be running around the room, pulling the couch roll and trying to climb out of the window. I didn’t know it then, but his ADHD was a good thing. His constant ‘being on the go’ had made his chest strong and it wasn’t going to let him give in to poor health. I am convinced that without his ADHD, R would have ended up extremely ill in hospital on more than one occasion. My GP and I often laughed that if R was ever lethargic or not moving I would call an ambulance straight away!

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

I was becoming concerned about R’s constant need for things to do and be busy and occupied. He was no longer sleeping in the day and no matter what I tried, discipline and rewards were ineffective. I was doubting my parenting. I made an appointment with the health visitor when R was two to voice my concerns. She reassured me that all was fine and that he was very bright. Here I would like to point out that during this appointment R ran out the room that many times she had to lock the door and then once the door was locked he pulled the drawers out of the filing cabinet and used them as stairs to climb. I was embarrassed, deflated and tired. One day I walked him to the local supermarket. I gave up with buggies as he would only find a way out of them and walking was a way of trying to tire him out. Once in the supermarket, at a counter, R said in the loudest of voices ‘why is that lady so fat?’ Sadly the floor did not swallow me up. The lady glared at me as I said ‘we will talk about this in a minute.’ I already knew that to try and discuss this now was not going to end well for anybody. We left the shop and I explained to R that it was not very kind to speak about people like that and it would have hurt her feelings. R looked at me very seriously and said ‘but she was fat.’

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

I was working as a nanny whilst R was small. As a family we needed two incomes but luckily nannying meant I could take R with me. Attending toddler groups and other activities was always challenging. R was tall for his age and was very articulate so people often assumed he was older than he was. He was like a bull in a china shop. Not spiteful or unkind but would run through people to get to where he was going. From a young age R was charming and friendly and adults warmed to him, even when he was being all he could be. But there were always those who judged or were unkind. One memory comes to mind, one that I never talk about as it still upsets me to this day and it has left scars that will never heal.

I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my second child and a little hormonal and we were at soft play with a friend. R pushed another child into the ball pit (he always assumed that because he wanted to be pushed into the ball pit or down the slide, everyone else did). Understandably, the child was upset. I apologized to the parent and R apologized to the child and sat with me for time out. Later in the session R approached the parent as she was holding her baby whilst sitting on the bouncy castle. He reached his hand out smiling to the baby and the parent moved away. He tried again and she moved away. On the third attempt I walked over to the parent and explained that he loved babies and was only trying to say hello. She looked at me and said ‘I don’t care. He’s a horrible little boy.’ R was 2. My heart broke into pieces and has never fully healed.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

It took time to get R assessed and diagnosed. During my daughter’s 8 week check with the health visitor, she agreed to check R too. The pre-school was raising similar concerns as mine. I was dismissed and told his behavior was because he was so clever and because of my training I was doing a great job with regards to his development. Her recommendation: to get him a computer. I went to my GP as my gut was telling me something wasn’t quite right. Thankfully, he was supportive and agreed with my concerns, having witnessed his behavior during numerous doctor appointments. He referred R for an assessment. I was relieved to have someone listening to me at last.

But my relief was short lived. Our appointment was awful and humiliating. Our parenting was blamed for R’s behavior, in particular mine. I left in tears. The strategies that they suggested were disastrous and for the first time my little boy was aggressive and lashing out. Thankfully his nursery teacher, who was also a family friend that had known R from birth, was amazing and reassured me that when he started nursery in September she would document his behavior so I could go back to the GP. We had a second assessment and I was flooded with relief when the consultant agreed that he needed a full assessment. After numerous appointments my partner and I drove to the diagnosis appointment. He said, ‘What do we do if they say there’s something wrong?’ I replied, ‘What do we do if they say there’s nothing wrong?’

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

R was diagnosed with ADHD at 4 years old.

After endless research we made the difficult decision to use medication to support R with his ADHD. He was struggling at school and the evidence showed that a good start in education would help later on. Though as it turned out his education would be a mix of fantastic and complete disaster!

When R is unhappy or his needs are not being met it is reflected in his behavior. He loves to throw things, particularly chairs. He will try endlessly to escape. He swears, screams, shouts and lashes out. On top of all this he still has the endless energy and is up throughout the night. The sparkle in his eyes disappears and his mischievous grin is no longer there. You know that he is so unhappy and it is heartbreaking to watch. But he has me on his side. Whatever he has needed I have fought for. I have been his voice and advocate.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

My daughter was born in 2006. Being her Mum was a completely different experience. She was just the cutest, with sticking out hair. When she was upset, only her brother’s singing would soothe her. O wasn’t energetic; in fact she was the complete opposite. She was laid back and happy with her own company. O met all her developmental milestones and was just delightful. I remember my Mum saying that she had cuddled O more than R because he always moved away. Once O started school and was having regular playdates, she realized that no one else’s family was quite like ours. Their mealtimes were quiet, no one interrupted their play, there was no shouting, no meltdowns, no chaos. She found this difficult to negotiate.

She loved her brother and was very protective of him, but she was now aware that things were very different for her. School holidays were particularly hard. R took up most of my time as the lack of routine unsettled him. He would find any way to get my attention, running out of the house naked was one of his favorites. I felt like a jailer having to carry around or hide door and window keys to ensure he couldn’t escape. Any activity that was O’s choice he would go out of his way to ruin or refuse to take part. School became her respite and the holidays which should have been fun were anything but.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

O has always been a daydreamer, away with the fairies, but it was a part of her personality I loved. As she progressed through school it became obvious that she struggled with handwriting and reading smaller text. She needed constant prompting during daily routines, such as getting ready for school and she would only be able to complete half an instruction. At first I thought this was because of the stresses from her brother and because I often wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with her. It was on a parenting course for parents of children with behavioral difficulties that I had a lightbulb moment. The speaker was talking about ADHD in girls. I thought to myself, ‘That sounds just like me’ and then DING, ‘That sounds just like O!’ I decided to ask the GP to refer her.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

The appointment was quick and her diagnosis was given by the end of the appointment. ADHD diagnoses had changed since my son’s diagnosis. She was diagnosed with Primarily Inattentive ADHD (My son has the whole shebang, Combined ADHD). The clinician recommended I have her assessed for dyslexia as this often runs alongside ADHD and she was displaying some of the traits. We had her assessed and although it was decided she wasn’t dyslexic but she does suffer with difficulties processing information and that impacts her learning. Can you imagine not only struggling to focus and concentrate, but alongside that you have difficulties processing the bits of information you do manage to get? To this day, she amazes me with her ability to do well at school. Her most recent virtual parents evening was glowing and she is achieving better than she or I expected. I couldn’t be prouder. We are currently on a medication journey with her. As school has become more challenging and she is fast approaching exams we decided together that maybe medication may ease some of the challenges. We haven’t got it quite right yet, but we will.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

Now for those of you with the belief that ADHD isn’t real, let me tell you it is real and you are more than welcome to spend time with my family and see it in all its glorious chaos. My children are both fed home cooked food with minimal additives and sugars. They are both disciplined when needed and any threats are followed through. I have sat through meltdowns that have lasted hours, I have dragged my child from parks, parties and people’s houses when he continued to behave badly. I have taken away phones, Xboxes, turned off the WIFI and even the electricity. Both my children have been brought up to know ADHD is a disability, it is not an excuse. I am a bloody amazing mum who educates herself on how best to manage her children and I have two amazing children who I love just as they are. Perfectly imperfect! At a recent family wedding I was repeatedly complimented on how wonderful my children were. It was the greatest feeling and a parenting high. All the hard work, tears and tantrums were totally worth it.

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

Am I a perfect mum? Definitely not! I mess it up all the time! I have some really epic parenting fails under my belt, but I go to bed saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Parenting two teens with ADHD, one of whom is now classed as an adult, is a walk in the park, if that park is Jurassic Park! You have to be quick thinking because they will always be one step ahead. You will also need to be quick on your feet as you will have to run and run fast. A good sense of humor is also a must because if you can’t laugh about it you will be endlessly unhappy. You will also have to embrace the fact that your children will embarrass you beyond belief. This will lead to judgy looks and tuts under people’s breaths. Ignore them, they are ignorant and have their own struggles.

Welcome to our beautiful chaos!”

Courtesy of Jennie Brooks

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jennie Brooks from Greater London, UK. You can follow their journey on  Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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