Why Do You Think I’m Not Responsible?

On our way to the National Institutes of Health, Dylan and I argued constantly.

“You need to be responsible,” I was saying.

“I am responsible,” he was saying. “Compared to everybody I know, I am the most responsible person there is! I don’t do drugs or drink or hurt other people. I don’t sneak out or skip school. I do everything I’m supposed to be doing! Why do you think I’m not responsible?”

I thought about all the times he did his school work, then didn’t turn it in. I thought about him sleeping through his alarm on the last day of school – and on the morning of his learner’s permit test. I thought about the huge projects he was supposed to do for school, when he waited until the last minute and put in minimum effort. I thought about him running out the door without any of the right stuff. I thought about him endlessly texting when he should have been studying.

“I have told you what you do that’s not responsible,” I said.

This has been a major point of contention between us for … well, forever. And here we were, facing it again, on our way into the National Institutes of Health.

Coincidentally (or not), we were going to the National Institutes of Health because Dylan has been taking part in a study for kids with ADHD. We’ve been doing this study for years. He takes tests and plays games and gets an MRI, and I fill out a bunch of paperwork.

But this time, I saw my paperwork in a brand new light. One familiar form was titled:


I had filled out this form many times since Dylan was in third grade. So I recognized it right away. It’s a list of 86 behaviors, and my job is to say whether Dylan does these things “OFTEN,” “SOMETIMES,” or “NEVER.”

The form mentions behaviors like…

…Does not check work for mistakes

…When given three things to do, remembers only the first or last

…Has good ideas but does not get job done

…Forgets to hand in homework, even when completed

…Blurts things out

…Has trouble getting started on homework or chores

…Written work is poorly organized

…Does not take initiative

…Becomes too silly

…Has a messy closet

…Has to be closely supervised

As I sat in the waiting room repeatedly circling “OFTEN” on this form, it hit me – hard: THIS is why I believed that Dylan was irresponsible.

While he is responsible with his major life choices – which is incredibly hard during the teen years – he still isn’t doing the small stuff. His larger choices – whether or not to drink alcohol or skip school, for example – are actually solid and positive. He’s doing a great job with the important stuff.

Dylan’s “irresponsible” behavior is irrevocably tied to his ADHD.

I looked at the form, and the list, and thought seriously about why I really believed Dylan was irresponsible. And it turns out, it’s almost entirely because he has ADHD.

So, while he needs to figure out a way to live with his issues (like homework and a messy closet), I need to give him credit for being as responsible as he can be, given his disorder. I need to recognize that he is responsible, that he just has some behaviors that he has to work on.

I can’t fix those things for him.

Things changed for me that morning.  I recognized that the moral choices in life are the ones that matter, and that the small choices are his to make.

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