Parents of profoundly gifted (PG) kids seem to do themselves two disservices: they seldom take credit for the many good ways they do to impact their PG child, and they absorb much of the blame when something in their child’s educational progress goes awry. In one of life’s many ironies, parents are willing to excuse their child’s imperfections while refusing to allow themselves any flaws of their own. The result? Guilt abounds related to mistakes made, opportunities squandered and dreams squelched.
It’s time for a turnaround. After listening to parents of gifted kids for three decades, I found that those parents who were willing to forgive themselves some errors in judgment were very much oriented toward finding new solutions that worked. Conversely, those parents who continued to flog themselves mentally and emotionally for having chosen the wrong path at some point for their PG child seemed less able to see alternatives that were brighter. In essence, some people seemed revved for the future while others seemed chained to the past.
Believing that the only direction our lives move is forward, I have compiled some of the best “advice” that parents of PG kids offer one another about living with a PG child in a non-PG world. Some of the advice will sound like common sense—which it is-- while other tidbits are nuggets of knowledge worth keeping around for a time when they can be put to good use. Here is some of the collective wisdom shared:
1. There is no one-best-alternative, educationally speaking, for your PG child. As is mentioned frequently, everyone from school personnel to family members really “don’t get” how different a PG kid is from a more typical gifted child. Their abilities, needs and emotions, while similar in some ways, differ in intensity in many developmental aspects. What this means is that when you approach school personnel for some special considerations for your PG child, you must talk as specifically as possible about your child’s needs. Offer definite ideas for what might be done in the future based on what has worked in the past. And, if at all possible, find even one person in the school district who reads your concerns as genuine and unique. That person may be your child’s best advocate when you are not there to advocate yourself.
2. What works for one PG child, educationally, does not work for all. Even within the rather narrow range of PG intellects, there will still be as many ways to address your child’s emotional, educational and social needs as there are kids who have them. While homeschooling works for one, and a one-on-one mentor works for another, neither may work for your child. Although this lack of a unified approach to educating PG kids makes decisions more difficult, it also opens up the array of options dramatically. Talk with other PG parents who have tried different approaches, with varying degrees of success, to see if there appears to be a good fit for your child. Too, share your own stories of instances where learning was a joy for your child. For, despite our differences in locale and resources, some ideas transcend both.
3. Give yourself credit for your attempts, not just your successes. If your PG kids tried a new sport or other activity just to test the waters, you would reward them for taking the time to explore something new. Whether or not it worked out as expected, the attempt itself would be seen as a sign of victory. As parents, we need to adopt this same positive attitude towards our own behaviors. I often note that many parents feel a sense of defeat if a plan they suggested to help their PG child is met with indifference or rejection. And, of course, such feelings are natural. However, this loss must be countered against the honest attempt you made on behalf of your child. As long as your kids know that you are trying, and that you will continue to do so as best you can, you are doing more for them than you acknowledge.
4. Have your own ego. The PG parents who seem to find the greatest successes are the ones who realize that their child is a vital part of their lives - -but not the only part. Adults who take the time to cultivate their own interests and to set themselves apart from their children, temporarily and occasionally, to reclaim their own sense of individuality, are the ones who seem better equipped to trod the rocky path that parenthood sometimes entails. When we become so enmeshed in our children’s worlds that it becomes difficult to separate theirs from our own, every perceived “loss” is doubly multiplied. Without a sense of personal ego and a cache of interests that validate our own identities, we have little to fall back on. It makes sense: if we are not our own best advocate, how can we advocate effectively for our child?
5. You are not alone. Despite outward appearances, you are not alone in trying to do your best for your PG child. In families, it may appear that one adult takes on the role of caregiver, while the other provides comfort in other ways. But, in effect, you function as a team—or at least try to. With extended family, there will be many who admonish you to just let your “PG” child “be a normal kid”, without realizing that you are doing little more than following your child’s lead down an unknown path of learning and growing. You can’t dismiss these people, but you can find the chance to surround yourself—in person or online—with that one relative who “gets it”, and sees your PG child as “special in a good way”. Thank them for their support, insight and kindness. And, don’t forget, that you have ready access to one another through DITD, a place where your views will be considered as important and your child’s needs perceived as legitimate. The resources are there, and sometimes, very close to home.
Our PG kids are forgiving of us. As parents, we are forgiving of them. Now, only one thing remains: for us, as parents, to be forgiving of ourselves. Have a good ride.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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