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My Terminally Ill Boyfriend Can’t Handle My ADHD Son

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From the U.S.: I am a single mother with a 9 year old son with ADHD. I have been raising him on my own with little to no help from his father since he was born. 2 years ago I met my boyfriend who has terminal cancer. My boyfriend and I have a great relationship except we can’t see eye to eye on the way I raise my son. His father is no help as he has actively defied all of my requests to help discipline my child and teach him responsibility.

My boyfriend has enough stress with his illness and can’t handle any extra stress. It has gotten to the point where my son is in danger of failing school for the 2nd year in a row, and my boyfriend is ready to leave. I don’t know what to do anymore. My son’s father has refused to participate in any counseling for my son, in correcting him when he gets in trouble at school even refuses to allow my son to attend a program that he desperately wants to do that will help him manage his ADHD because it is Christian based. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

My boyfriend has made many attempts over the last 2 years to bond with my son and be a positive role model in his life but my son continues to get in trouble at school and lie when he is home. I am dealing with a boyfriend who is stressed and depressed due to his medical condition, a son who struggles with ADHD everyday and an ex who refuses to co-parent. I am stuck in the middle and looking for some sort of guidance on what road to take. I don’t want to lose the man I love and I can not give up on my son. Please help.

My Terminally Ill Boyfriend Can’t Handle My ADHD Son

Answered by on -


What a difficult and stressful situation. Trying to juggle all these competing issues must be a terrible strain. Let’s see if I can help a little:

First things first. I always start with the person who is the most vulnerable. In this case it is your son. You are correct that it is important to deal with his issues now, before the teen years. ADHD is not a tragedy. It can be managed. Kids with ADHD do grow up to be successful in life. But they usually do need help learning how to manage their own thoughts and behaviors.

It seems to me that there has to be some recourse for you for getting treatment for your son. Talk to the special education department in your school system to see what other parents have done when divorced parents don’t agree. Consult with a parent advocate for parents of kids with special needs about your rights. (Your school system should be able to provide a list of qualified advocates.) If the problem for the father is that the program you’ve investigated is Christian-based, do consider alternatives. There may be equally good programs in your area. Ask the school counselor for advice. Further, I hope your son is benefiting from an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) through the special education program at his school. If not, do get that process going right away.

Meanwhile, reassure your son that you know it is hard to have ADHD, but that you also know that he is a smart kid who can start to figure out how to handle it. There are some excellent books for kids that speak to the issue. Explore the book sellers’ websites for ideas. Perhaps the two of you can read them together.

At 9, your son is old enough to understand the facts about your boyfriend’s illness — and to know how hard the situation is for you. Remind him that part of growing up is to take other people’s feelings into account as much as he can.

You can’t make your son’s father cooperate. What you can do is help your son understand that there are often different rules in different situations. The rules in the classroom, for example, are different from the rules on the playground. There may be rules at your house that are different from his father’s rules. That’s okay. Another part of growing up is figuring out what to do in each environment. Talk it over with your son. I bet he already knows what to┬ádo where. Emphasize that you have faith in him that he can do it.

As for the stress on your boyfriend: Please consider relieving him of all responsibility for being an active co-parent. It’s enough that he care about the boy and respond positively whenever he can when there are natural interactions. That’s all. It will reduce his stress if you take on dealing with the school, the child’s responsibilities at home, and discipline.

Get out of the middle by refusing to be there. Don’t ask your boyfriend to parent. Make it clear to your son that you are his responsible and loving parent and you expect him to go by your rules while at home and at school. Instead of fighting with you ex, call in some help from the school and, if necessary, a lawyer.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

My Terminally Ill Boyfriend Can’t Handle My ADHD Son

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). My Terminally Ill Boyfriend Can’t Handle My ADHD Son. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 May 2018 (Originally: 6 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.