parent opinion

'People constantly ask why my son is the way he is. I don't have the answers.'

I’m a problem solver. I get off on puzzles, I want to fix things, and I love to analyse and solve problems – even big, hairy professional problems. It’s a natural born skill, and one that has proudly been a cornerstone of my career. 

So, it’s perfectly natural that I would look for answers and reasons behind every problem and difficulty in my private life too. If you know why a problem has occurred, you are more able (potentially) to find solutions and preventions. Right?

But what do you do when there are no reasons? When there’s no sense to something? When no one, including you, has the answers, or more wishfully, a solution?

To me, raising a son with ADHD has been a continuous cycle of searching for reasons behind problems, and hunting for solutions to those problems. It’s largely been just a very long, straight road to nowhere.

Watch: Be a good mum. Post continues below. 


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Where I’ve constantly come unstuck (and unravelled; maybe even a little unhinged at times) is in asking him the killer question, “Why?”

Why did you do that?

Why did you say that?

Why are you making loud animal noises?

Why did you leave that there?

Why did you leave that behind?

Why didn’t you do what I told you?

Why don’t you sit still?

Why did you call out in class?

Why did you get up and walk around when you were told to sit down and concentrate?

Why didn’t you do your homework?

Why did you leave your homework at school?

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Why don’t you know where your homework is?

Why did you disobey your teacher?

Why did you disobey me?

Why did you hurt your sister?

Why did you deliberately hurt yourself?

Why? Why? WHY? WHY? WHY?

The enormous challenge of being the parent of an ADHD child is that you tie yourself in mental, emotional and physical knots, constantly asking this banal, and largely irrelevant, question. 

For me, it screamed in my head, every day for 10 years. Every time my child did something we both knew he’d been taught not to do, or knew was wrong, I asked him. Why? Every time he didn’t do the right thing, or something he’d been asked (aka told) to do, I asked him. Why? 

To my exasperation, whenever I asked the question, he would grunt, “I don’t know”. And he would deliver this reply with perfect predictability and monotony.

This is an answer no parent who’s constantly questioned and judged for their child’s ‘bad’ behaviour or ‘poor’ performance can do anything with. (Queue steam from ears and a rising vocal volume.) 

“What do you mean you don’t know?!” 

But the reality is, ADHD kids often don’t know why they do (or don’t do) the things they’re responsible for. And these poor little people constantly have adults seeking these answers where there just aren’t any to be found. 

Others constantly ask this inane question too. Teachers and family members would ask my son the Why question all the time. Then, when they couldn’t get a satisfactory answer from him, they’d ask me! "Why did your son…? Why doesn’t your son…? Why won’t your son…?" And I never knew the bloody answer! 

I read every book. I took him to every expert. I attended every course. I searched and researched. Yet I never found the answers. It was painful and frustrating. How can you solve a problem if you can’t find the answers?

I would ask myself, “Why?” just as often as I would ask my son, “Why?” 

And when we ultimately received the diagnosis that our son had ADHD, I fell to my knees and screamed to the universe a soul-level rhetorical, “Why?”

This is a gelatinous trap for parents to fall into. A huge, dangerous, bottomless trap. The truth was that neither of us had the answers.

Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess, where hosts Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo chat to Louise Kuchel about parenting a child with ADHD. Post continues below.

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It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally learned to NOT ask “Why” – to not question a child who has no answers and agitate and depress myself by searching for them. 

Sometimes, there is no reason. There just is. That’s what we, as parents of ADD/ADHD children must learn.

We simply must stop asking “Why?” It’s the unanswerable question.

We need to look beyond why a child does something, and instead try to understand and interpret their underlying intent. Let’s pose more meaningful questions, with more potentially powerful answers. 

Like asking what – What do you need? What do you want? What would you like? What do you think? 

Or we might ask how – How do you feel? How can I help you? How can we fix this? How can I make this better for you? 

These are better, more informative and more helpful questions. These are the questions that lead us to defining helpful/workable solutions – solutions that build capability and self-esteem rather than limiting or destroying them. We need to start asking these questions instead, if we are interested in truly understanding, supporting, and improving behaviour.

Did he mean to hurt someone or was he actually trying to get their attention or get them to like him? Was he trying to frustrate his teacher or was he frustrated and overwhelmed within himself? Did he choose to not sit still or was he unable to sit still? Did he choose not to concentrate or was he unable to? 

The key is to share the problem with the child, rather than putting all the responsibility onto them for things they can’t control, avoid or change. That’s simply too large and unfair a responsibility for them to bear. 

For more on this topic: 

"I am the mother of 'that kid'." The lonely reality of having a child with ADHD.

Shelly is a management and business communications consultant, trainer, business writing coach and mother of two. She lives in Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast with her husband and two children. When not creating business strategies and communication pieces, she writes children’s picture books, and is currently completing a non-fiction book about ADHD parenting. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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