Gifted Child, Gifted Parent

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A post caught my eye the other day. It is about how a gifted childhood prepared a person for parenting gifted children. It got me thinking about what aspects of my childhood helped prepare me for parenting my kids, and which makes things more complicated.

I was a gifted child. Probably. I was definitely a bit of a weirdo, an avid bookworm and someone who saw things a little bit different. I learned to read as a way of escaping my surroundings at school. Reading I could pretend I was someone else somewhere far away or at least try to hide a bit from the people around me. I took ethical questions very seriously, particularly that of how to try to love my enemies, which for a school child was the bullies that kept teasing me. Starting in grade seven I homeschooled, doing correspondence courses at first and then through an sort of semi-correspondence / semi-independent learning method. That gave me a bit of space to feel more comfortable doing my own thing.

Being gifted lets me relate somewhat to my children’s struggles, like to a son’s perfectionism, and his desire to do big things. I could sympathize when learning about the scientific method made him cry because he wants to actually discover something for himself and not just rehash what others already know. I can sometimes intuitively grasp the missing piece of the puzzle to why a child is misbehaving, or at least I know (on my better days, at least) to pause and give the child an extra minute to try to show me what is really wrong before just judging. I know that things can have deep and hidden meaning behind them, and that unless we know the meaning something has to a child we can’t necessarily understand how the child responds to it.

My dad commented once at supper that our family lives in a bubble where people care about learning things. My parents and my brothers are obsessive learners too. When I’m around my family and they are busy talking about what they’ve been learning, I often feel slow, ignorant and illiterate. I know at least one of my son’s has commented about feeling that way around his dad and I. I don’t want to pass on insecurity, and I definitely don’t want things to be competitive, but at the same time I like that my children too are growing up in a bubble where learning matters and where if they have to compare themselves in that way, they compare themselves with others who want to learn.

I think being gifted also gives me interests to share with my children. I want to learn about crazy math things like graph theory and Euler’s circuits or how astrolabes work. I can share these with my kids. As a child I would note those little references to famous pieces of literature – like The Highwayman – and wish that I could know all about them, and now as an adult I can read, constantly read, and introduce my children to so many things. One moment of pride for me the other day was my nine year old noticing that a picture book I was reading to his younger sister had the same rhythm pattern as Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot. Another moment of pride was the day we had a long car ride discussing which Star Trek characters would probably have related best to which Shakespearean plays. I’m pleased at being able to share great literature with my kids, and I’m proud of them for having their own insights to discuss.

My oldest child has spoken of worrying that he doesn’t fit in. As a homeschooling parent, I wonder if I should have done things differently, if I should have encouraged him to spend more time with his peers so that he might fit in. But I also know from my own experience that having times of not fitting in doesn’t mean one will always feel alone either, and I know in theory at least that more important than fitting in is having the ability to create a meaningful life on one’s own, and to interact with others on one’s own terms, knowing when to go ahead and blend in more and when to put one’s foot down and stand out.

Probably the biggest challenge being a gifted parent brings to parenting gifted children is keeping the children’s issues separate from my own. Sometimes I worry I homeschool them – inadvertently isolate them – because of my own experience, and not because it is best for me. (My husband thinks they’re probably better off at home. When I think my own judgement might be clouded, I trust his.) I worry too that I’ve set them up for loneliness by raising them to be different than their peers, though at the same time I know that can’t be true. I know they were different anyway, and that they bring a difference to the table, so to speak, that isn’t just a reflection of my own differences. They are themselves.

One of the strong differences between one of my children and I is his willingness to misbehave, to dare adults to challenge him. I was a timid child determined to listen to adults. My mom told me about once when I had forgotten my lunch and she brought it to the school. She stood in the doorway to the classroom, the teacher acknowledged her presence and invited her in, and I still wouldn’t get up from my seat to go and get my lunch from her because I hadn’t been given permission. There are times now as a parent I watch a child misbehave and I feel this sense of panic, the same panic I would have had as a child, like it was me breaking a rule not him. But I know that I don’t have to give my children quite the same fear of doing wrong I had. It is okay for them to be different people.


Another post about how a mother’s giftedness helped her relate to her gifted child is available over at The Gift of Home, while over at Building Wingspan there is a post about how being a gifted child in no way prepares one for parenting gifted children.


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  • Mrs. Warde

    Wow, I feel like you have completely described me as a kid! I once sat at a dinner, not eating, because I had been told before hand to wait and no one told me to stop waiting. (Given your literary examples, were you by any chance a fan of Anne of Green Gables?) I wish I could have had your family growing up. Thank you for sharing, and being so aware. <3 (Oh, and if your family is interested, you can buy Hamlet translated into Klingon.)

  • Nicole

    Our family sounds similar to yours…I feel like everywhere we go, we are different for all of the reasons that you described. For example, when we go camping with friends, DD6 brings her snake & reptile research books to carry with us on hikes, so she can look up everything she sees on the way. I am sure you can imaging their reaction. 🙂 I hope to raise them to be confident in their differences, and find their own little bubbles of others who prize learning the way we do!

    • Christy Knockleby

      I was camping last weekend and wished so much that I had brought my plant research books. I did recognize a dolls eye plant… I searched for more dolls eye plants and couldn’t find anymore so that one special plant seemed to me a symbol of people being willing to be who they are, unique and special.

  • ljconrad

    It’s funny how we want to please our parents … I worried about this long into adulthood. I do think it is wonderful that life-long learning is so important in your family …. a great legacy to your children.

    • Christy Knockleby

      Over at Building Wing Span there’s a post with the author arguing that being gifted in no way prepared her for homeschooling gifted children.

      I wasn’t trying to talk just about encouraging them in their own pursuits, but about being able to encourage them in their own pursuits because of understanding the need to quickly gather information and in different ways. Anyone can do it, yes, but that a childhood of wanting to know all the random details and connections helps me understand and connect with the gifted kids. My kids feed on information every bit as much as food, and without new information, new ideas, new things to make connections with they become restless and have a harder time controlling themselves. (This was very painfully visible when my oldest was three, and his ability to play by himself would vastly, vastly improve after he was introduced to new ideas and stories.) Yes, any parent could come up with the information necessary for them, but I think being gifted myself has made it easier for me to fill the house with this mental food for them.

      I think giftedness isn’t just helping me homeschool them, but parent them. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, and there’s odd quirks like one child’s desire to read nonfiction books about fictional worlds rather than read the novel in their first place, or his way of making connections between seemingly unrelated things… knowing that minds work differently, understand things differently help me to accept that it isn’t ruining a story for my child to read the wikipedia page about a movie before they watch the movie. Anyone could come to similar ideas but I personally came to the ideas through relating with my own childhood and how it felt to think differently.

  • Jo Freitag

    I can really relate to all you have said in this post!
    Our son really enjoyed studying Arthurian legend from so many different angles when we were homeschooling

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