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Struggle Care in Neurodiverse Families

Gifted Parenting and Strategies

What is struggle care?

Struggle care is a useful way to think about the challenges facing individuals when completing daily life activities. At its core, struggle care is about understanding that many of us are having to complete “care tasks” when we’re already running on empty and recognizing the guilt that accompanies those tasks. Care tasks are described by KC Davis as “morally neutral” like laundry, dishes, or meal prep. We also feel shame when we put off, avoid, and neglect these tasks, which is how they tend to chip away at our sense of worth and wellbeing over time.

As we described in this article, The Spoon Theory can be a useful visualization for struggle care. In the Spoon Theory, you are asked to imagine that each day you wake up with a certain number of spoons. For the sake of this example, let’s say you start with 12. Each spoon equals 1 unit of energy. As you go throughout your daily activities, you spend spoons. At the end of the day when the dirty dishes are staring you in the face, you may feel that burning sense of shame for just wanting to skip them and go to bed. You might judge yourself in that moment as lazy and a bad parent. However, if you apply the perspective of struggle care, in this moment you aren’t being lazy; you are depleted, signifying that it is time to replenish yourself.

How does struggle care apply to neurodiverse families?

At the Davidson Institute, we know many of our families are trying to operate from a place of struggle care when raising their gifted or twice exceptional (2e) child. Raising a neurodivergent child is challenging, and as a parent, you may find that you are constantly running out of “spoons.” Parents feel the stress, guilt, and burnout of parenting outside the mainstream for many reasons. For example, the needs of neurodivergent children can change quickly. That classroom accommodation your child finally received (after months of school advocacy)? Well now perhaps their underlying ADHD calls for a different strategy or their giftedness means they’re ready to accelerate to another class. Other reasons might include but are not limited to: there are not as many experienced professionals and educators who understand their needs, giftedness isn’t often acknowledged beyond a child’s achievements, parents must wear multiple hats (advocate, cheerleader, chef, chauffer, teacher) every day, it’s a small community and hard to find your peers, and the list goes on!

As described in one of our favorite articles, “Dear Tired Mama of Gifted Kids” by Colleen Kessler, there are OEs, 2es, and everything in and between and around to deal with when raising a differently wired child. Often, the physical exhaustion is enough to deal with on its own, but for many parents in our community, it is the stress of the “Shoulds” that take the biggest toll on them. I “should” be able to help my kids with their math homework, pick the best high school for them, afford all the fancy summer programs, find all the right mentorships, and so on. This truckload of shame is dumped on top of every other care task a parent feels required to do in a given day. Suddenly, you find yourself struggling to get groceries, forget a birthday, or drop the ball on any other number of seemingly simple tasks.

What do I do if I’m experiencing struggle care?

You may not feel up to the task of raising your neurodivergent child some days (or even most days, depending on just how empty your tank is!). You may not even feel up to the task of being human. But if you find yourself living from a place of struggle, then it might be time to try the following tips.

As KC Davis reminds us in her work, there is a big difference between perfect and functional, and functional is just fine. Give yourself the permission to cut corners as needed using her helpful tips and resources for house upkeep, hygiene, and more. Look to others in the neurodivergent community like Debbie Reber, Dan Peters, Gail Post, Seth Perler, and others for additional parenting resources and life hacks!

Self care is probably a term you are tired of by now, but it and every other spoon, fuel tank, and oxygen mask metaphor are here because they’re all trying to tell you the same thing: you are important too. As much as we love our kids, partners, friends, job, etc., our happiness is just as worthy and important. Take time to replenish yourself in a way that is really meaningful to you, whether it is a 3 minute mindfulness break or a day trip to your favorite quiet spot.

One important piece of advice that parents of gifted and 2e children need to understand is that they aren’t going to ruin their child. In the words of the esteemed and beloved gifted expert Jim Delisle in his article “Profoundly Gifted Guilt:”

  • Parents of profoundly gifted children often feel isolated in seeking solutions to these and other life dilemmas…Each dilemma seems dire and life-changing (how else could you describe the decision to allow a 10-year-old to begin taking college courses?) and parents of profoundly gifted children often feel as if the wrong decision will result in the most awful of consequences. What is often forgotten is that in almost every case, a decision is reversible.

Parents can and should retire the idea that they need to be a superhero, Einstein, or clairvoyant to raise their child. The expectations we place on ourselves can drain us before we even get up in the morning. As Delisle says, decisions are reversible, so our parenting can be flexible, and we can bounce back from our less-than-perfect parenting decisions.

The tried-and-true advice from other parents in this community and experts alike is that it will always be worthwhile to take a step back and check-in on yourself, whether as a parent or just as a human. Being more in-tune with yourself and your needs will better inform your decisions and relationships with those around you. The rest, like the gifted utopia school or the dishes sitting in the sink, can wait.

How do I find out more about struggle care or parent self care?

If you’re interested in this topic, we suggest you check out some of the following titles as well:


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