Raising a Toddler with ADHD: The Fuller Family Story
Written by Michelle Fuller
Going into parenthood, you expect you will be challenged. You are prepared for late night feedings, tantrums, potty training and eventually college and weddings. You go into parenthood fully prepared for a roller coaster ride because you know the blessings and beauty that will come from watching a child grow.
There are a few things that you CANNOT prepare yourself for… first being, the sheer amount of love that you can have for another tiny human. Your heart grows bigger than you thought it ever could. You become so selfless and all consumed by your child and you would not have it any other way.
The second thing that we have experienced as parents that we were not prepared for is a behavioral disorder. This is where I want to elaborate….
It started even as my first son was a toddler. I struggled to keep up with him; I could not walk away for a single moment to start a load of much needed laundry. I would notice other moms quietly reading to their children during story time at the library, while I was pulling my son off of the nearest bookshelf.
For many years, I would take the blame- there must be something I am not doing right as a mom. I would cry! I would get mad at myself, get mad at God, get mad at him- surely this was something that could be controlled! What was I missing!?!?
This went on for years. What started as an insecurity of my parenting grew and grew into a full blown parental anxiety. I started not wanting to go out in public for fear of what outbursts I might have to deal with. I would avoid play dates and activities because I didn’t want to be judged as a mom. There were times where unknowing strangers would discipline my child or make comments. I could not leave him with anyone else for fear of how they would handle his behavior problems. I never took a moment to myself to regain patience or perspective. I just accepted this lifestyle we had because I loved my son.
It was hard to sit back and know of all the great qualities my son had while others only saw the outbursts. It was hard to be judged on a single incident or parenting moment. I silently suffered. It was a viscous downward spiral for years.
Then school age came. My fear set in of how he was going to get through his day without me by his side. I signed up to help in class weekly, I made countless play dates in our home to help him make, and most importantly, keep friends. I read every parenting book under the sun; which resulted in: countless behavior charts, reward systems, and an unending list of strategic parenting moves. To no avail, his behavior problems were causing me to have severe anxiety, causing fight with my spouse, and making me feel like even less of a mom for not giving due attention to my other children. Not to mention the breakdown of the relationship my son and I had from all of the disciplining.
Finally, enough was enough and I spoke up and got help. I had known for years something was just different about my relationship with my son and his thought process. It was such a relief when he was finally diagnoses with ADHD. It took all of the pressure off of me. Of course it was going to be work to help him learn and grow, but now there was an explanation for his behavior and now there was hope for our future.
I had finally realized that no one was at fault- not me as a mom, not him! ADHD is just that… a behavioral DISORDER!
There was a vivid moment, when he came to me so mad at himself because he felt out of control and could not stop from making poor choices. Watching his instant regret was heart breaking for me. Watching his struggle with friendships, watching fights between him and his siblings, and seeing him with a lower self-esteem was harder for me than all of my mommy guilt. He was begging for help that I could not give him! No amount of behavior charts, rewards or punishments could fix this problem.
When I felt I had exhausted all of my ideas and had done everything that I could do for him, I finally turned to medication. My husband coached me through it as he reminded me that our family needs to get our son this help and allow us to turn our focus from just discipline rebuilding our WHOLE relationship with him.
My son is now 7 years old and it is still an uphill battle, but a battle we can fight and manage. His medication helps him to get through school- the hours when I can’t be his coach or biggest fan. The Medication wears off when he gets home; which is when I get the teaching moments to implement techniques I have learned to help him with focus, impulse control, etc. I can now be more of the parent I have always dreamed about because his outbursts are fewer and further between. I now have the time to regain the patience that I need in order to handle future situations wisely.
Our son still meets with a counselor but that treatment has become more effective because the medication helps to slow him down enough allowing him to retain the information. His medication helps him to regain control of his life and through that he is learning accountability. He has regained his confidence and self-esteem. I still read all of the parenting literature I can and am still trying different motivation techniques but our family has become much more united.
My biggest fear in turning to medication was that my son would no longer be himself. It has proven to be quite the opposite- he is more often like the boy I know and love and now the rest of the world gets to see that side of him! I am confident that we will be able to stop medication in the future after he has a chance to grow, learn and gain life experience.
I am so grateful for my child. As difficult as it is to be the mom of child with a behavioral disorder, it is equally rewarding. My son is brilliant, out spoken, creative and caring. He and I both are going through the refiner’s fire and are becoming better people through this challenge. As a mom, I wish I had reached out sooner for help. I didn’t have to manage this on my own. I didn’t have to emotionally bear the burden with no understanding. I am grateful to doctors, teachers, mental health professionals and other mothers who understand these little minds. I am grateful that my family got the help and support we needed!
There is my story! My biggest motivation in sharing this is my hope that some mom, somewhere who feels alone, exhausted and fearful of the future like I did reads this and realizes that her feelings are normal. I want her to realize that she is not alone in her struggles. I want to motivate people to get help for their families. I want to encourage parents to research the disorder, talk with professionals and educate themselves on treatment options. Kids with behavioral orders need treatment and education. We treat patients who have cancer, patient who are fighting substance addiction, patients with cold symptoms, why would we not treat patients with behavioral disorders.
Information on Dr. Fuller
Dr. Fuller started medical school with the intent to study neurology. In our discussions while picking a specialty, he was interested in neurology mainly due to experience with family members who have had strokes, autism, and other neurological problems. In the back of my mind, I knew that Dr. Fuller needed to work with kids. One of my biggest attractions was how great he was with children. I watched him interact so well with his nieces and nephews and I saw their eyes lit up when Uncle Josh came to shoot hoops. I also saw how Josh’s eye lit up when he was spending time with the kids; it was obvious that he was truly happy! After more contemplating, we decided together that he needed to become a pediatric neurologist. Dr. Fuller matched into the neurology program at Duke in North Carolina and the Pediatric program at Medical College of Georgia.
During residency, he discovered how much he loved interacting with patients and parents in a private healthcare setting. I also realized how hard residency life was on our family and how much time he might not be spending with our kids if he took a job within a hospital. As a result, we decided to have him just stick with general Pediatrics, knowing that he was still licensed and educated to treat neurological patients.
He has spent time volunteering with support groups for autism, epilepsy and has completed an externship at Primary Children’s Hospital in their pediatric neurology department. Dr. Fuller loves waking up each day knowing he is helping families and kids. His main goal in life has been to serve others. After personally experiencing parenting an ADHD child, he is even more committed to educating and helping families who need support.