Grace for the Gifted

“People tell you it’ll be easy raising a bright child, leaving you frustrated when your child begins to act a little…intense.

…there are parenting books to help–too many parenting books. 

Most of these books don’t address the unique needs of gifted children.  In fact, as you attempt the strategies typically found in them, things often get worse. You’re left feeling angry about your own inability to execute the strategies that are supposed to work so well.” (Christine Fonseca in Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings) 

I have a confession to make. We often feel defeated in our parenting journey over here. With at least one gifted+intense kiddo, we are slowly learning that what works for everyone else will not work for at least one (if not all 3) of our kids.  Intense mood swings and anxiety-like behaviors often rule our life and our schedule. We have the alphabet soup of diagnoses (ASD, SPD, possible ADD) as well as giftedness and emotional intensity spread among our sweet offspring. The unique wiring of our children’s brains enables us to look at the world a bit differently than most. This is our normal and we do our best to function well within the realm of society, but we also take for granted that others might not understand our “normal” because we don’t look very different than other typical young families.

We have learned to filter nearly every decision through the lens of whether or not our kid(s) can handle it (whatever “it” is in any given situation) and more often than not, the answer is (as my husband likes to put it) “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.” The benefit of whatever we’d like to do, is often outweighed by the emotional chaos that will ensue afterwards so we have learned to say “no” more often than we’d prefer.

Often times, the need for structure and routine outweighs the benefit of almost ANY evening activity for our kids. This is hard. Our oldest, Bailey, has always had a really hard time sleeping. She also thrives on routine and knowing what is coming. This means we almost always have to prioritize her need for an early bedtime so that she’ll get the sleep she needs (her brain absolutely will not allow her to sleep in and even she knows the later she stays up, the earlier she wakes up). Without it, oftentimes several days afterward will be spent in emotional upheaval. Yep, dayS of chaos as the reward for one late night.

This means we miss stuff.  We miss a lot of stuff actually. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes, honestly, because if something is set to happen after 5 pm I often ignore it because it almost never applies to our family. A routine dinner and ample time to calm down and prepare for bed is essential. What’s usually touted as a good idea to everyone else is literally survival for us.

We just can’t come. And it’s often too hard to explain why, so we rarely are able to even help people understand this doesn’t mean our desire is any less. It just means we’re doing our very best to care for the gifted and emotionally intense little people God has put in our home, regularly needing to put their needs above our desires to see friends and family more. To participate in, well, anything that happens after 5 pm! Flexibility, in this season at least, is a luxury we can’t afford most times, and we so appreciate the grace and care (we hope!) our people extend to us.

Mamas of gifted+intense+anxiety kiddos–please know you’re not alone! I started reading the aforementioned book (Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students) and knowing there are other families who are learning to parent their intense children helps ease the burden of isolation that can creep in when everyone around you starts to look a little too “normal.”

And finally, those in the lives of the families of these child-enigmas (or merely observing them, or wishing you were in their life but they never accept your invitation to a 6:30pm dinner or game night!)–extend these families lots and lots of grace. Pray for them. Text them encouragement when you think about them! Believe the best about them, even if the choices they make in parenting don’t necessarily make sense to you.

And then bring coffee, because their kids don’t sleep. And probably never will.

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