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.