Once I eventually found other parents who truly understood the challenges of gifted parenting, I could finally relax. I no longer felt compelled to downplay, minimize, or “undo” my sons’ experiences. I stopped worrying about whether my motivations, concerns, or joys would be misperceived, and could engage in a supportive, meaningful dialogue about strategies and resources.
As a psychologist, I thought I would be prepared. But like many of you, I was blindsided by the unexpected challenges that accompany raising a gifted child. It was daunting—complex, exhilarating, isolating, and downright overwhelming at times. Parenthood is hard enough. Parenting a gifted child presents an array of additional and unanticipated surprises—and as parents, we deserve support.
What Are Some of the Unique Challenges Parents of Gifted Children Face?
Parents of gifted children typically experience a crash course on giftedness, gifted education, advocacy, and navigating others’ misconceptions. But what can be particularly troubling is the sense of differentness and isolation that emerges. Unless your friends and family have raised a gifted child, it is doubtful that they fully grasp your child’s unique challenges—or your own joys and struggles.
This sense of isolation creates a barrier from others, forcing you to play by different rules. When your friends’ children excel at sports or ace an audition, you readily share in their excitement. But you say little about your own child’s accomplishments—aware that you might risk the appearance of bragging. If you encourage your child to excel or enroll in an SAT prep course, you could be judged as pushy or overinvolved. If your child needs additional academic support, or you advocate too forcefully for improved gifted education within the schools, the accusations might be even worse. Elitist. Unequitable. Helicoptering. Selfish. The list goes on.
Parents of gifted children develop restraint, not only to avoid personal attacks, but to shield their children from potential backlash. They carefully weigh their words when describing their child’s needs to coaches, camp counselors, or babysitters. They learn to soft-peddle complaints at school, include the needs of other classroom children in any request for services, and present strategies to teachers and administration that are cost-effective and will not impose a burden on staff.
When parents of gifted children finally muster up the courage to communicate their child’s accomplishments, they often add an element of “undoing” into the mix. If their child receives a compliment, they may counter or “undo” the success with something negative. Yes, he excels at math, but you should see his messy room! I am so proud of her for winning that science award, but boy, you should hear her mouth sometimes! Playing by different rules takes its toll. It demands vigilance and a dampened spirit, and it delivers a crushing blow to spontaneity. When you cannot jump for joy at your child’s concert, math league, or award night, your experience is diminished. And your child may sense—and possibly misinterpret—your lack of enthusiasm.
As the parent of two gifted children (who are now young adults), I also experienced these reactions. Although well-meaning family, neighbors, and friends tried to understand, they could not fully grasp the unique dilemmas inherent in raising two gifted boys. And I struggled with concerns that I might seem boastful or convey false humility. So, I often remained quiet.
What Parents of Gifted Children Need
Once I eventually found other parents who truly understood the challenges of gifted parenting, I could finally relax. I no longer felt compelled to downplay, minimize, or “undo” my sons’ experiences. I stopped worrying about whether my motivations, concerns, or joys would be misperceived, and could engage in a supportive, meaningful dialogue about strategies and resources. I even obtained ideas that helped with college planning— as overworked school guidance counselors had few resources and minimal experience with gifted students.
How Do I Find My Community?
- I reached out to friends who also had gifted children. We were friends before our children were born, so the bond already existed. Sharing the gifted parenting experience was an added bonus— and a great source of support.
- I found parents of gifted children in both expected and unexpected places. At the playground. On the soccer field. Outside of music lessons and chess tournaments. No explanation was necessary. They understood completely and often had words of wisdom to share.
- I joined— and eventually co-chaired— a gifted parents advocacy group within our local school district. Frustrated parents, discouraged after years of witnessing the schools’ watered-down gifted programming, shared stories, concerns, and strategic plans for change. The group offered support, information, and validation, and directed our energy toward improving gifted services. Persistent, yet respectful of the district’s fiscal constraints and the realistic demands facing teachers within the classroom, we were able to leverage some change in gifted education policy and procedures. We also offered workshops and guidance for other parents in the district.
- Through my writing, I have met psychologists, academics, educators, and writers within the gifted community who understand the dilemmas gifted people face, and who are committed to changing policy and perceptions. I offer this additional comment to emphasize that support and enrichment can be found through unanticipated sources (i.e., outside of school activities or homeschooling cooperatives). And you still might benefit from connection and support— or even choose to advocate for the gifted—after your own children are grown.
Every Parent of a Gifted Child Can Benefit From the Support of Like-Minded Parents
The greatest obstacle to building support can involve finding other like-minded parents. If you do not have a network of family or friends who get it, you must look further. You might advertise through your PTO or other school or extracurricular organizations, ask your child’s gifted education teacher for a list of parents, contact your state-based gifted advocacy associations, or participate in respected online forums, such as Gifted Homeschoolers or Davidson Gifted forums. If you are homeschooling, you could pursue connections through homeschooling cooperatives or online gifted parenting groups. With some effort, you should be able to find a group of parents who can provide support along this parenting journey. It will provide an invaluable personal benefit— and help as you parent your child.