Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Guilty thoughts: What parents of gifted children really think.

We all have these thoughts sometimes. Guilty thoughts. The thoughts just about every parent has...but rarely acknowledges. "I'm bored." "I need a break." "I wish my child would be more...." "I wish my child would be less...."

But parents of gifted children have their own set of guilty thoughts and feelings. They often struggle in isolation with ambivalence and confusion, and with emotions that range from elation to despair. So few people understand. So few really get it.

Yet, the more these thoughts and feelings are acknowledged and understood, the less they will interfere with child-raising or with a parent's own well-being. Here are a few of the most common "guilty thoughts" parents of gifted children experience.

Which ones seem familiar to you?

I am embarrassed by my child.

Your gifted child may show signs of asynchronous development, show delays in social maturity, or have an absence of social skills altogether. When his intellect is so high, it is particularly hard to witness acting out, tantrums, or rude behavior toward other adults or children. You feel embarrassed when he misbehaves in public, cannot get along with other children his age, or is disrespectful or immature. Yet it's also hard to admit to these feelings. After all, how can I be embarrassed by my own child, especially when some of these behaviors are not his fault?

I am bursting with pride.

You know that accomplishments aren't everything. Yet you are bursting at the seams with pride over your child's abilities. It could be, for example, when she reaches milestones at a remarkably early age, achieves outstanding success at a particular task, or conveys unusual insight into the complexity of the world. You are in awe of her abilities/talent/precocious behavior, and slightly stunned that you have such an amazing child. But you sometimes feel guilty, since giftedness is not a choice, and you know you would love your child regardless of her talents.

I wish my child would be normal like other kids.

As much as you appreciate your child's unique abilities, sometimes it would be easier if he were just like other children. If he didn't need so much advocacy for accelerated, challenging school work... If he could just get along with peers his own age... If he were not so overly sensitive and emotionally intense...If you didn't have to explain and sometimes apologize for his offbeat behavior...It seems that life would be easier for your child, and for you, if he didn't require so much additional energy. Parents often feel alone with their reactions, as other parents often cannot understand the challenges and difficulties these families face.

I wish my child could just fit in and be popular.

While you might feel pride in her uniqueness, you also may wish for a time when your child would fit in with the rest of her peers. You worry about her social and emotional development and whether she will find friends who will appreciate and accept her. Will she get bullied because she is different? How will it affect her if she only has a small group of friends? Will she miss out on high school social events, like dances and parties, and feel regret? It would be such a relief if she could be popular, and not always feel so different and misunderstood.

I have something to brag about...but can't.

Sometimes, your child might do something really amazing, and you have no one to share this with. You don't want to brag. You don't want to seem like you're exaggerating. You don't want to "bore" your friends with yet another story of your child's amazing success. When other parents broadcast their child's accomplishments ("my son made honor role this semester," "my daughter will be in the school play"), where is there room to mention, for example, that your son always gets straight A's, or that your daughter consistently has the lead in both the school play and community theater? Unless you are speaking with other gifted parents, or with family and friends who truly understand, it may be difficult to honestly share your child's strengths without fueling discomfort, envy or even disbelief.

I have had it with my child's school.

You tried to cooperate and patiently accept what the school offered, hoping they would meet your child's needs. Then you met with your child's teacher, and requested more challenging work. After this failed, you educated yourself about gifted education, went to administrators, and spoke up at school board meetings. You considered alternatives, such as private schools, cyberschools, or homeschooling. The more you read, the more frustrated you become; it is hard to accept how few resources are devoted to gifted children, how misunderstood they are by those who presume to educate them, and how your child and family are caught in the middle. And yet, you don't want to harshly criticize the school to your child. You might feel guilty when you advocate for your child (you don't want to stand out and be viewed as one of those parents by teachers) or when you don't (you feel hopeless about being able to create any meaningful changes).

Guilt is one of the "hidden emotions" that can make parenting gifted children even more difficult. It gets in the way, makes you feel worse, and distracts you from actually taking care of your child's and your own needs. Recognizing that these thoughts and feelings are commonplace, understandable, and part of the package, is critical. Gaining support from other parents of gifted children through local and state organizations, or online sites such as NAGC, SENG, and Hoagiesgifted can provide a reality check on the normalcy of these feelings. And if feelings of guilt or isolation become overwhelming, counseling can be helpful. Raising a gifted child is a challenging venture; recognizing and accepting the impact it has on you as a parent is an important step toward being available to your child, and reducing stress for yourself.

For more perspectives on parenting a gifted child, see the following:

Parenting a gifted child is...

The social and emotional needs of gifted parents

Your child is gifted: A parent's reaction

How to recognize the parent of a gifted child

Parenting gifted children...Does it have to be so hard?

I DON'T brag about my gifted child

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: Gifted parents parenting gifted children

Profoundly gifted guilt

Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

23 comments:

  1. Yes, yes, yes - to all of these! I just wrote about this myself today. It's taken me a while to learn how to discuss my child's abilities with others. I shouldn't say learn because it's an ongoing process. As we approach middle school the fitting in is looming large. And of course the guilt about if we're making the right decisions is always present and sometimes oppressive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree that it is SO hard to know how to share both the positives AND negatives with others, who often don't get it. I think that the more parents share the "guilt" with other parents of gifted kids, the less guilty they will feel and the more commonplace these feelings and thoughts will seem. Good luck with middle school!

      Gail

      Delete
  2. Oh, Gail. SPOT ON. I am sharing this immediately. I can relate to every single word and have felt all of these things at one point or another. Especially the first one :) Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cait, Thanks for your feedback. I think most parents of gifted children routinely have these feelings and thoughts - they're just not spoken about very much. The more parents share these commonly held thoughts, the less taboo they will be. Thanks again.
      Gail

      Delete
  3. Gail, I often hear people say, "you just wrote my life's story" and this is the first time I can say it. So much of what you said is exactly what my family has experienced--the advocating at school, fear of bragging, wanting your child to be normal. On one hand, we all feel alone on this journey, and then on the other, our experiences seem to all be alike. Either way, parents of gifted children should not have to find themselves so often in such situations. You are right, it is so helpful to be able to find other parents of gifted children who are also likely experiencing many of the same situations. This one really hit home and should be a great help to so many parents of gifted children. Thank you, Gail!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Celi, So glad this hit the mark for you. I agree that all of us who have gifted children have similar experiences...and personal reactions. Finding support in a variety of ways is so important.
      Thanks for your kind words.

      Gail

      Delete
  4. Thank you for the post. Recently I have been struggling with how to introduce my son who is extremely asynchronous. He is gifted and autistic. Do I say one or the other? Both? What order? I feel guilty saying he's gifted bc he is so young and I feel like I'm bragging so I quickly follow up with autistic to explain the "difficulty" of parenting him. If I list autistic first I feel guilty presenting the "worst" or most difficult aspect of his identity and I follow up quickly with gifted to say but it isn't so bad bc he is so smart, too. Argh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julie, It's tough to feel you have to "explain" anything to anyone. Whatever you decide, perhaps it can be offered with the spirit of providing a description rather than an apology. Good luck.
      Gail

      Delete
  5. Wow, Gail. I'm sure so many parents will relate to this. I'm starting to include your blog in recommendations to parents when I consult with them. It's such a great resource.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Paula. So appreciate your support and kind words.
      Gail

      Delete
  6. I too relate to most if not all situations. Recently, I feel guilty about being a "just right" advocate for my oldest child. I wish the local gifted parents group would meet more regularly, too. I would love to chat with you offline regarding my own son & outreach possibilities in the Phila. suburban area.
    Beth bethjlove@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beth, Thanks for your comments. Hopefully you can feel good about any form of advocacy, without worrying about whether it is just right or not. I would be happy to speak with you further.

      Gail

      Delete
  7. Great post. I'm working on a presentation for this weekend's TAGT parent conference near Houston and one of the things that I'm going to talk about is "compassion fatigue," which is a real issue for parents of G/2E kids. So I might add "I'm exhausted" to your list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Pamela. good point about how exhausting and overwhelming it can be - and how parents can feel guilty about this understandable reaction. Sounds like your presentation will be a good one.
      Gail

      Delete
  8. Beautifully written, thank you for sharing! With the embarassment with asynchronous development...My son is almost 4 and he will occasionally have a tantrum in public, but I feel like people aren't shocked, that it's common for his age. Is it common for tantrums to continue later in gifted children?

    I find isolation to be the toughest thing right now. I can't talk about my son with anyone who doesn't have a gifted child themselves. But when I meet another mom who has a gifted child, we immediately connect. Our kids can be night and day different, but that whole "comparing" our kids to each other or worrying about bragging is just gone and we can talk and laugh and cry.

    A random question for you: do you have any suggestions on what to say to people when my son calls me by my first name? He does this occasionally because "it's your name" as he says and he can be very black and white about things. I could care less (well, maybe I care a little-I do love to be called Mama), but the horrified looks I get from people make me feel like I should have something to say. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michaela, Thank you for your comments. Yes, tantrums can continue, but often not as intensely. Hopefully, they will diminish for your child. It's great you have found some other parents of gifted children to share your experiences with. Calling parents by their first name occurs for some kids, and you may need to decide how you want to laugh it off when other parents make a big deal about it. As for calling your by your first name, do others have any ideas for Michaela about this?

      Delete
    2. Coming from the other side of this equation, I would suggest trying to explain the situation to him as you would any rational person of his "mental age/ maturity". ie, Yes, my name is Michaela, but I would prefer you call me mama. You can point out that it is a sign of affection if he understands emotional conventions, or if he is more of a rules person, just explain that it is considered standard social practice/ more polite, just like calling a teacher by their last name instead of their first. Also, keep in mind that for a 4 year old it might just be a phase and/or might just be BECAUSE of the reactions of the other parents/ audience. My younger sister called her mother by her first name and called me mom for awhile, not because she actually felt I performed the role, but because of her mother's strong reaction to it.

      Delete
    3. Thank you both for your responses. I've tried approaching it from the emotional standpoint and it was a no-go. I'll try from the societal/polite standpoint next. ;)

      Delete
    4. My daughter called me "Mommy Leslie" at around that age - I told her that she was the only person in the world who was allowed to call me Mommy (she is an only), and she kind of liked that it was special for her. It ended fairly quickly and I returned to Mom/Mommy. :)

      Delete
  9. Wow! I can so relate. My son came home in tears just today because he claims that he has no friends and no one likes to be around him. He is in 6th grade and having a very hard time. I go to bed every night wondering... what could I do different? How can I socialize him more? He is a cool kid, why don't other kids get him? Will he turn out okay? On and on. It hurts to see him so upset.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous, You describe what so many parents experience. It is heartbreaking when your child suffers emotionally. Hopefully, your son will find his niche and connect with a group of friends who appreciate him. And as we all know, middle school is a tough time socially for most kids, not just gifted kids. Good luck.
      Gail

      Delete
  10. Thank you for posting this. My son can articulate his feelings so well that I am amazed. But, it takes the guess work out of how he is feeling, and to really know how hard it is for him is devastating to me as his Mom. My heart aches for him. I go to bed exhausted feeling that I am not doing all I can for him to thrive. I have not seen an article that describes us parents and our feelings until now. Nail on the head!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comments, anonymous. It is so hard to witness your child go through such difficult times. I am sure that your empathy toward him goes a long way toward helping him. Good luck.
      Gail

      Delete