Parenting a gifted or Twice-Exceptional child is exhausting, and that’s why it’s important we get appropriate self-care. Mothers of gifted children aren’t crazy. We just can’t give our children what we don’t have.
- Daughter #1: Exhibits great anxiety about social and environmental issues. Fears growing up and losing herself.
- Daughter #2: Exhibits great anger and situational anxiety. Fears people getting lost or hurt; worries about whether or not we love her. Believes she is not very smart.
- Son #1: Exhibits great need for mama. Has a headstrong streak and fears (okay, loathes) not getting his way. Craves constant stimulation and engagement.
And then there’s me, just as sensitive and anxious and headstrong as they are, wondering how the heck I’m still standing, and how much longer that’s going to last.
The Perils of Gifted Parenting
Parenting a gifted child is exhausting. It’s more akin to special needs parenting than elitism or privilege, and the vocation is a lonely one, for sure.
Who’s going to believe your 11-year-old just learned how to tie her shoes and ride a bike when she’s been reading Tolkien since the day she turned four?
Who’s going to believe you’ve backed out of a social obligation because it is windy out, and the 7-year-old refuses to leave the house?
Who’s going to believe you don’t have a single sleeper, even though each child is out of diapers and can solve mathematical equations like a pro?
The internal struggle of gifted parenting lies in the disparity between social perception and the reality we face every day. Gifted kids are supposed to be easy, right? They are supposed to work hard in school, be natural leaders, and find satisfaction as the popular, well-liked kid in the neighborhood.
But while our children are indeed wonderful, there’s a lot most people don’t understand. Asynchronous development and Twice-Exceptionality can make academics difficult; sensitivities and perfectionism can make classroom and home life a bear. As parents, we continually course correct for lack of external motivation; we pull them out of depression and the depths of impostor-fueled despair. Add a general deficit in executive function and you’ve got the real picture of a gifted kid.
Research Proves it’s not Just You
Life with a poppy isn’t all sunshine and roses, but the social perception of giftedness makes us wonder if it’s all in our heads. In 2016, Australian researcher Natalie Rimlinger noted the difference between these social expectations and the reality of gifted parenting, pondering what sort of emotional toll this took on the parents of gifted kids. Rimlinger devoted her doctoral thesis to “evaluat[ing] whether or not parents of the gifted truly do have a quantifiable and significantly elevated level of stress compared to parents of “average” children.”
According to Jill Williford Wurman, Head of Research at The Grayson School in Pennsylvania:
“Dr. Rimlinger’s conclusions were perhaps more striking than even she had anticipated. Using an instrument called the Depression and Anxiety Stress Scales[ii], Rimlinger profiled the parents of 265 parents of gifted children in the US and 117 parents of Australian gifted children, and her results were clear: while the parents were less stressed[iii]and depressed than she had expected, they were much more anxious than she had expected.[iv] And during her analysis, she realized that the DASS scoring profiles looked familiar.
Indeed, the Americans were strikingly similar to another group: parents of developmentally-delayed children.[v] The Australians “looked like” those parents, as well — and also very much like parents of clinically-referred children, meaning children whose psychological issues were pronounced enough that they were seeking professional help.”
What does this mean?
“The effect of parenting a gifted child is indeed quantifiably (and significantly) similar to the impact felt by parents of children whose struggles are widely acknowledged to actually be struggles.
In other words, it’s not your imagination — these extraordinary children, unsurprisingly to those who know them, do not always feel like a “gift” in terms of ease of raising them. In fact, this effect may be partly due to the fact the there is a widespread societal misapprehension that advanced intellect in a child paves a smooth road for their progress through life: while it’s hard to feel supported in your efforts as a mother or father if your child’s needs are out of the ordinary, it’s all the more stressful if no one believes you.”
To some extent, Rimlinger’s research and Wurlinger’s commentary both confirm our experience and comfort our woes. But validation only goes so far, and, in all honesty, it doesn’t do much to alleviate emotional stressors. Parenting a gifted child requires concrete and intentional self-care. When we are exhausted, when we are anxious, when we are worn out beyond the pale, we can’t offer the shelter or the refuge they’re craving.
Especially if we can’t find it for ourselves.
Self-Care for the Mother of Gifted Children
Seek Out Knowledge
Learn as much as you can about the children you are raising. Not only will it help you when you need to advocate, but also, it will prevent you from feeling like you’re crazy and your children are broken. Check out these websites for a vault of information, from scholarly articles to fact sheets you can print and save:
- National Association for Gifted Children
- Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted
- Hoagies Gifted Education
- Gifted Homeschoolers Forum
Form a Community
Isolation’s only fruit is resentment. That’s not exactly great nourishment when you’ve got kids. Find or form a community of like-minded individuals who understand and can sympathize, whether it be in person on online.
To find local gatherings and groups in your area, check out
Then, join a Facebook group for parents of gifted children
- Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (secular, all-inclusive)
- Parenting Gifted Children (secular, all-inclusive)
- Not So Formulaic – Just Between Us (Catholic, all-inclusive)
You’ll find immense relief in learning you aren’t alone.
Find a Mentor
Seek out someone who understands your child, who brings out the best in him and his abilities. This could be a coach, a teacher, a grandparent, or even an older kid in the neighborhood – a person you trust and your child likes. Schedule regular time for the mentor to work with your child. Both of you will benefit from the opportunity to grow.
Take a Break
Some special needs families qualify for respite care – a few days or a weekend where trained professionals care for the children while the parents take a break. There is no shame in taking this sort of opportunity for yourself. Take time away from the kids to enjoy the things you love. Read a book. Take a walk. Go to Church and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Ask a friend, a neighbor, or a mentor to watch the kids for you and come back home fully restored.
Lower your Expectations
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in a decade of gifted parenting, it’s that life needs to move at our own particular pace. Sometimes that’s fast, sometimes it’s slow, but it is always according to my family’s needs at the moment. On occasion this means some chores won’t get done or that some aspect of schoolwork gets left for another day. This does not mean I am failing at motherhood. On the contrary, I’m listening to and adjusting for my children’s needs.
There are moments when, in a flash of violent clarity, I understand how my children feel.
There is too much noise. Too many frustrations. Too many possibilities and things that could go wrong. And in that moment, there is absolutely nothing I want more than to hide in the closet and make it all go away.
But I can’t because I am a warrior. So are you – and together we are adovcates on a hostile stage. The constant barrage of fears and emotional triggers can do significant damage, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We don’t have control over the world’s perception of giftedness. We don’t have control over the whims of our children’s brains. What we do have control over is the ability to focus on our own wellbeing.
Life is not a Cassat painting, but good self-care will make it beautiful anyway.
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