Sunday, July 20, 2014

What hidden emotions complicate parenting a gifted child?

What hinders parenting your gifted child? Yes, the usual...time, money, a limited school system, lack of support.

But are there other hidden barriers that we, ourselves, create? Despite our best intentions, can underlying feelings interfere with our child's emotional well-being or academic success?

Parents often experience emotions ranging from excitement to confusion to anxiety when they first learn that their child is gifted. And many feel frustrated and helpless when their child's teacher doesn't "get it" or the school fails to provide educational resources. These reactions are shared by most parents of gifted children.

But sometimes more complicated emotions creep in. Parents need to dig deeper and explore what is often unspoken: those dark, nagging unconscious wishes and fears that lie just beneath the surface, feelings that ultimately influence how we treat our children.

Frequently ignored and sometimes unconscious, those "darker" emotions and behaviors can interfere with parenting. Envy, shame, bitterness, regret, and guilt are no stranger to most parents of gifted children. Competitive strivings, overinvolvement, projection of hopes and dreams, and ambivalence also may come into play. These attitudes, feelings and behaviors may influence decisions without your full understanding. Eventually, though, awareness starts to develop, whether through self-reflection, comments from others, or even confrontation from your child.
This additional difficult aspect of the gifted parenting journey - the sobering jolt of reality when hidden emotions surface - may completely take you by surprise. It can smack you in the face and send you reeling.
It is human nature to avoid self-reflection, especially when what you are facing is unpleasant. By digging deeper, though, and truly understanding your feelings and motivations, you can gain perspective and forestall behaviors that might create problems for you and your child.  The first step is honest self-appraisal. Here is a list of statements/questions. Don't hold back. Check as many as apply.

____  I sometimes feel jealous of other children who receive greater recognition for their accomplishments, and feel they don't really deserve it as much.

____  I am embarrassed by my child's social behaviors (e.g., acting different from other children his age, not fitting in, having unusual interests).

____  I sometimes wish she were "normal" and did not require so much extra time and effort.

____  I push my child to succeed well beyond his wishes.

____  I sometimes think my child's behavior (e.g., underachievement, perfectionism, social discomfort) was prompted by subtle messages I might have conveyed without realizing it.

____  I want my child to be the best and always be number one, surpassing her classmates and friends.

____  I sometimes wonder if my desire for my child to succeed is because of my own unfulfilled dreams, or pressures I felt from my own family.

____  I have become completely immersed in my child's activities and goals, much more than other parents are with their children.

____  I deeply resent that other families seem to have better opportunities and that my child has fewer chances to succeed.

____  I know I have mixed feelings about my child's abilities; I am proud of her, but often wish she would just be a popular kid with "normal" interests.

____  I realize deep down that I am especially thrilled about my child's abilities because it makes me feel better about myself.

____ I feel guilty that I have not done more to push my child to succeed, have not advocated enough, or taken more time out of my schedule to educate him.

____  I worry that my child will be a nerdy kid and adult, and will never have many friends.

____  I expect my child to accomplish a lot, since he has opportunities I never could have imagined.

Difficult statements to consider. What were your reactions as you answered them? Did they evoke any feelings? It takes honesty and courage to admit to these thoughts and emotions. It is hard to admit to feeling jealousy, bitterness and fear. It is hard to admit to competitive feelings toward other children. It is hard to admit that your own personal needs, wishes, and dreams can become entangled in what is best for your child. Yet all of the above statements reflect thoughts and emotions commonly experienced by parents of gifted children. You are not alone if you responded to one, two or even all of the above statements.

Awareness makes it more difficult to behave unconsciously or act in a manner that is counterproductive for your child. Awareness pushes you to take stock in your viewpoint and appreciate that it may not be appropriate. It creates an impetus to change behaviors, find another way of coping, or challenge long-standing beliefs that no longer hold true.

It is natural to want to run to the nearest exit: to flee, ignore, dismiss, minimize or rationalize away these feelings. Some parents feel so much shame about their emotions that addressing them at all is impossible. Others may become defensive and deny that there is a problem. Still others may doubt themselves and their abilities as parents. Acceptance that these thoughts and emotions are commonplace and understandable is critical. Shame, defensiveness and insecurity blur the picture and make it more difficult to move past these feelings and behaviors.

Ask yourself the following:

1. Do I subscribe to any of the thoughts, attitudes, and feelings from the list above?

2. Do I understand the basis for these feelings and beliefs (e.g., family pressure, insecurity, anxiety)?

3. Can I accept, without shame, that it is commonplace and understandable to have these feelings?

4. Can I develop alternative strategies, coping skills and behaviors that are more appropriate?

If you cannot answer these four questions, you may need to seek support from family, friends, or a therapist. You can also gain perspective and validation from parenting advocacy groups in your school community or even online forums. Again, the more you understand your own motives, the more you can support your child. (More to come about emotions and parenting in future blog posts.)

What has been your experience with emotions and self-awareness
as a parent? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below.


This blog post has been part of a blog tour sponsored by SENG for National Parenting Gifted Children Week.