Dear Today Show:
Thanks so much for perpetuating the stereotype of gifted kids as hot-housed children hyper-managed by over-competitive suburban helicopter parents. In a brief, throwaway segment during this morning’s interview of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, you managed to make it even tougher for parents who really are raising gifted kids. I needed more challenge this week; it wasn’t nearly difficult enough homeschooling my twice-exceptional son without society again being fed this line with its morning caffeine. Tasty, tasty stereotypes.
So I’m going to just flat-out ask: Why was mocking gifted children funny?
I really do want to know. Is it because you perceive them to be an easy target? Oh, they have it easy, gifted children will be just fine. Besides, they need to be taken down a peg. Would you have mocked developmentally delayed children on your show? Would you ever dare? Because giftedness is wiring, how they observe and interpret and respond to the world. Giftedness is not pushy parents. These are children as far from the norm as any child on the other side of the bell curve. I can only imagine the deafening uproar if your hosts had mocked delayed children.
Oh, but you weren’t mocking the children, but the parents? You mean, me? You were mocking my challenges? You were poking fun of the difficulties in raising and educating a gifted or twice-exceptional child? Ah, because I’m seen as a pushy, out of control parent, that’s right. I won’t deny those parents exist, because there are a lot of them out there who think their kid’s shit don’t stink, but frankly I tend to see them more in athletics (and music and theater) than in giftedness. A parent raising a truly gifted child isn’t pushing, trust me. I don’t push my kid, because he will push back, and that doesn’t end well for anyone. He is where he is because of who he is. I’m not pushing, he’s pulling, and he has one hell of a grip.
But it’s fun and easy to mock the parents, isn’t it? Because we’re over-invested in our children, living vicariously through them, pushing them to be better than anyone so that we look good. Let me tell you what it’s really like. Might be eye-opening.
I don’t know a single parent of a gifted kid who, in a random conversation with a stranger, brings up that her kids are gifted. Parenting a gifted child is lonely. You don’t dare talk about his accomplishments because you are perceived as bragging. Sometimes you luck out and stumble across the right code words in a conversation and suddenly you find yourself talking to a kindred spirit and you have to do everything in your power to keep from bursting into tears of gratitude when you realize this other person gets it and doesn’t judge you and your struggles. You can find other parents in the same leaky and precarious boat, but they don’t live across the street but in your computer. Lonely. Everyone has a gifted kid? Hardly.
Imagine a child who is several years ahead of his same-aged peers in mathematics, but can’t get words on paper for love or money. Or a kid with an unquenchable curiosity about everything and the memory to match it, but does not test well. Or the child whose ability is sky-high but whose processing speed is the mirror opposite. There is more to gifted than the oft-ridiculed high-achievers-with-pushy-parents; these three examples are gifted. They’re also more likely to be passed over for acceptance into a school’s gifted program, and they’re the ones who need it the most.
Parents of gifted kids have worries that parents of non-gifted kids are unlikely to have. Existential depression, for example, is much higher in the gifted population. Let me tell you, it’s all kinds of awesome to have a preschooler losing his shit over flooding on the other side of the world at 5:30 in the morning. Or a teenager working himself into a lather over GLBTQ equality or the environment or political hypocrisy or the future of the human race at 11:00 at night when I’m walking into walls with exhaustion. We worry about our children finding friends (because when you’re that much of an outlier, they’re hard to find, and let’s not even get into dating), about the asynchrony in their lives tearing them apart, about bullying and over-excitabilities and what the future might hold for a kid who marches to the beat of a drummer few can hear and even fewer can understand.
These parents, myself included, are working miracles raising and educating gifted kids despite what is thrown at us. We are the butt of jokes, our advocacy is met with derision, we are ignored and ridiculed and told to “suck it up.” I’ve been on the receiving end of administrator condescension, ambushed in school meetings, and essentially been told that my experience and opinion as a parent is invalid. It’s not surprising that mockery is part of it, but it’s certainly undeserved. You mock the hard work of raising children who are unquestionably different. You mock the sacrifices we make, sacrifices like careers and savings and security and normalcy. You mock children who struggle against a society that thinks they are a punchline and the parents who work damned hard to protect them from that while at the same time teaching them that it’s not true.
Mocking gifted kids is cowardly. Mocking their parents is insulting.
And we’re not laughing.