Lost in His Older Brother's Shadow: A Letter to My Youngest Son

A mother reflects on her two sons, one with ADHD and one without

mother with young son having a pillow fight

I write a lot about my 12-year-old son with ADHD. My Facebook, Twitter and personal journals are filled with stories about him. My friends and family ask how things are with the boys and I always start with what is happening with him. As a result, my younger son is so lost in his brother’s shadow, I often forget he needs me too. It’s time to change that. 

Little Son,

I’m sorry I’ve missed you. I’m sorry that you often have to yell even louder than your brother to be heard. And then, because you’re being so loud, in frustration, I yell at you to stop. With Big Son around it is already so loud and chaotic; when you chime in, my world goes dark and I need it to stop.

I’m sorry that Big Son is the one I talk about most with friends and family and that you likely hear this. Granted, the talk is usually about how frustrated/worried/stressed/overwhelmed I am, but I doubt that matters much in your 7-year-old world.

I’m sorry that homework time is usually you doing your work all on your own, while I spend my evening helping Big Son. You do your math problems, reading and spelling like a champ and I don’t often praise you for it because I am so worried that Big Son will hear and feel bad about himself. I let my fear of his reaction keep me from acknowledging your hard work.

I want you to feel seen and heard. I want you to be proud of everything you bring to this world because you bring a ton, Little Son.

I feel guilty that you often have to endure my bad moods because I am at my wit’s end trying to get Big Son out the door in the morning. You go upstairs, get dressed, brush your teeth and try to brush your hair. I come up and see Big Son playing with the dog and wearing nothing but dirty underwear and a Halloween mask. I yell. You look at me with your big blue eyes and I see that you’ve noticed. You’ve noticed that I didn't notice. You see that once again my focus is Big Son.

I’m sorry Big Son is so mean to you. I see how much you adore your brother and how when he is mean to you, your little face falls. You’re not stupid and you’re not a baby. I think you’re smart and amazing. But I don’t say these things because I worry Big Son will think I am comparing you and he’ll see the comparison is tipped to your side. He might feel worse about himself and that might make things even worse for you. I try hard not to compare you two because I know you are different people with different personalities, struggles and strengths. But in my not comparing, I have not given you the praise and attention you need and deserve.

It is not all about Big Son. You need me, too. You need validation, praise and thank yous. You need them whether he gets the same or not. You need to know how amazing, funny and intelligent you are. You’re in second grade and working at a third-grade level. You’re so coordinated in basketball (and most sports, for that matter) that I’m blown away when I watch you play. My heart aches when I tell you how talented you are and you look sad and say, “I’m not any good.”

You are good! You are more than good. You are amazing. While I want to and will help Big Son navigate his way through the world, I will help you too. I want you to feel seen and heard. I want you to be proud of everything you bring to this world because you bring a ton, Little Son.

There will be no more shadow for you to get lost in. I want the light to shine on your wonder, greatness and beautiful strawberry hair. I want you to know and feel this light. You’ll never walk in the shadows again.

I love you.


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