Is It ADHD Or Bad Parenting?

It’s a question I think we ask far too often. Is it ADHD or bad parenting?

I met with a family last week navigating a new ADHD diagnosis.

In the midst of making decisions about medication, trying to navigate next steps for an IEP at school and letting the reality set-in, the mom was also having to navigate all the judgement associated with telling people her child has ADHD.

In tears, she asked me where the line between bad behavior ends and ADHD begins.

Even worse, she asked what any parent of a child with ADHD has felt the sting of at one point or another.

How much of this is ADHD and how much of it is my parenting?

adhd or my parenting

I have already written about my experience with folks who genuinely believe that ADHD is not a real diagnosis. You can find that post HERE, but let me summarize the essential premise.

Yes, ADHD is real and if you question this, spend more than a solid week with a child who has an ADHD diagnosis and report back to me. 

But far beyond the medical reality of an ADHD diagnosis, beyond the research and the brain scans (which incidentally show a distinct difference in brain function when a child is clinically diagnosed with ADHD) there is a pervasive and devastating belief that children with ADHD are somehow the product of poor parenting.

So much so, that this sweet, gentle mom was asking about it herself.

Is It ADHD Or Bad Parenting?

Is It ADHD Or Bad Parenting?

My heart breaks any time I have to address this question.

Today, I am going to break it again in an effort to share with you what I shared with the family last week. 


This shameful, not-at-all reality based question is flat wrong. 

Consider what we know to be true about ADHD.

Important Facts About ADHD

ADHD is not a new disorder.

ADHD isn’t a disorder of the modern age. It may have been first described in the medical literature in 1763 by Scottish physician Sir Arthur Crichton, who observed patients so unable to focus that “the barking of dogs, an ill-tuned organ, or the scolding of women, are sufficient to distract patients of this description to such a degree, as almost approaches to the nature of delirium.” Those patients, he noted, referred to their own symptoms, including anger “bordering on insanity,” as “the fidgets.” – Denise Foley, Time Magazine

Look at these facts:

#1 – ADHD, despite a selected number of incredibly biased blog posts, exists around the world in the same approximate percentages of the population. This is true even in countries with much cleaner diets, and/or little to no access to screens or the information overload we often blame as a cause for ADHD.

#2 – ADHD is almost exclusively genetic with as many as 85% of diagnoses in families with existing ADHD features and symptoms. (This rate is incidentally, second only to autism.)

#3 – Brain scans show distinct differences in the brains of children and adults with ADHD versus their neuro-typical counterparts.

The fact is, you cannot parent yourself into an ADHD diagnosis.

No matter how bad you may be at it.

And my experience has been, you are not that bad at it. 

Is It ADHD Or Bad Parenting?

Now, the greater truth in all of this is the moms I meet who are navigating an ADHD diagnosis for their children, are some of the most engaged, concerned and active parents I know. 

ADHD kind-of requires you to be an amazing parent just to keep your family going.

It’s not your bad parenting. It’s not your child’s _________ (fill in the blank – laziness, rowdiness, lack of discipline, need of a spanking) either.

It’s a clinical reality that your child needs help learning to accept and ultimately learn to live well as an adult with ADHD.

In the meantime, my best advice is the same I shared with the sweet mom last week.

You do the best you can. 

That’s all you can do. That’s all any of us can do.

Is It ADHD Or Bad Parenting?

An ADHD diagnosis does make life a little more complicated, but it changes NOTHING as far as the basics of your mothering are concerned.

You’ll feel really, really good sometimes.

You will totally fail sometimes.

Your child will amaze you in all the best ways.

Your child will amaze you in all the wrong ways.

You’ll cry, a lot.

You”ll pray, a lot.

You’ll laugh, a lot.

ADHD or not, your love is what matters most. 

For More ADHD Support and Encouragement:

The Best Advice I Have Ever Heard About Parenting A Child With ADHD

The Truth About ADHD and The Middle School Years

When The Child Who Needs Structure Fights It Most

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  1. I’ve been searching for printables to give to our Pediatrictian- we have 1 son diagnosed though we believe 4 our 6 are going to be tested- our doctor needs more information he doesn’t seem well informed on the the medical research!

  2. Love this post. So true. And honestly you could replace “ADHD” with any diagnosis and this would still ring true. I was once asked (accused?) If my son’s dyslexia was because I didn’t read to him enough during his preschool years. I can’t even.

    1. Yep! Me too. All of my boys’ diagnoses would fit as well.

  3. Shana McCrady says:

    Wow!!! Love this!!! I have asked myself this question SO MANY times!!!! Where did I go wrong? What do I need to do differently?? Am I a bad mom? I’m embarrassed thinking (knowing) ppl are judging my parenting. But I look at my other kids who are raised by the same parents in the same circumstances and they are totally different. It is something my son struggles with that he cannot help anymore than I can. I still doubt myself sometimes, it’s so helpful to know others have the same fears.

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