By Dr. Dan Peters, Parent Footprint
What did you feel like when you were growing up? Did you feel accepted and understood? Did you feel like an outsider? Did you have people who got you? Did you have a place where you felt you belonged?
If you are reading this blog, it is because you found your community. You have found where you belong, where you are understood, where you have peers and others who understand your strengths and abilities, as well as perhaps your challenges. You and/or your child are gifted. You are different from most people in many ways, but you are not alone. Many others like you feel and think differently and deeply. You are needed and you are valued. But did you always feel it? Do you now?
I have been privileged to work with many amazing gifted people and families over the years. Every parent I talk to cares deeply about their children. Every parent wants the best for their child. They want them to be happy, have friends, enjoy life, and have meaning and purpose. While these desires are common to all parents I have known, what is less common is their unique childhoods, experiences, and paths to becoming the parent of a gifted child.
Some parents grew up identified as gifted, given enrichment and differentiation, had gifted peers and friends, and came from gifted families who talked about it. Other parents were not identified, were not given enrichment and support, did not know they were gifted, did not have a peer or friend like them, and felt isolated. And so many others had variations of the above—some support, some isolation, some success and some failure. Do you think our experiences as children impact our parenting?
To say that our prior experiences as a child impact our parenting is an understatement! Our experiences as children guide our parenting beliefs which determine our parenting behavior. It’s that simple. What is not simple is becoming aware of how our past experiences and parenting play out in our current relationships, parenting behavior, and decisions regarding our children.
As parents, we need to separate our experiences of the past from our children’s current experiences. Do we want our children to have more friends because we didn’t have many? Do we want our children to achieve academically to their fullest potential because we did not? Are we emphasizing our children’s happiness over everything because we were or are not happy? The answers to these questions are not as important as the awareness of what is driving our parenting behavior. When we are aware of what is driving our parenting behavior—our parenting beliefs—we can choose how we parent and parent with intention.
Based on my personal and professional experience, I can say that parenting is by far the most difficult job one can have. Parenting gifted kids, like other kids with special needs, adds to the complexity, challenge, and joy. We know how vulnerable our kids can be, as well as their awesomeness, which many people don’t get to see or, if they do, don’t fully understand. It is our job to protect our children while they are vulnerable, guide them based on our experiences and knowledge, and be open to learning from them. Because they often know stuff we don’t know.
Parenting takes courage. But parenting with awareness, purpose, and intention takes more than courage—it takes inquiry and honesty. We need to be honest with ourselves about what we want for our children and why. We need to be honest with ourselves about our goals and aspirations versus our child’s. We need to honest with ourselves about trying to heal ourselves through our children instead of allowing our children to have their own path.
If you are reading this, you are a loving parent who is courageous. If you think about what you want for your children and what your children want for themselves, you are loving and courageous. If you take the time to listen deep within yourself and listen deeply to your child, you are loving and courageous. If you take the time to be fully aware of what drives you as a person and parent, you are modeling for your child the person you want them to become. Show your child how to live fully and with awareness. Show them what it is like to be the best human they can be.
Daniel B. Peters, PhD is a psychologist, author, and co-founder of Parent Footprint, an interactive parenting education community and website that offers Parent Footprint Awareness Training with the mission to make the world a more compassionate and loving place—one parent and one child at a time. Dr. Dan is also Co-Founder/Executive Director of the Summit Center (CA), specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families, with special emphasis on gifted and twice-exceptional individuals and families. He is host of the “Parent Footprint Podcast with Dr. Dan” and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Dr. Dan is the author of Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears and other books.