My kid isn’t doing T.V. shows about his amazing knowledge of anatomy. He isn’t wowing college professors with his math acumen. He isn’t reading yet at the ancient age of 6, and he doesn’t even like Harry Potter. (Too anxiety-inducing.)
He thinks poop jokes are hilarious. He talks alllllll the time! He loves building things, but what 6-year-old doesn’t love Legos, right? What if he’s not really gifted after all? What if he’s just an average, slightly nutty kid with some special needs? What if everything I thought was true wasn’t, and I’ve been blogged about giftedness all this time when he’s not gifted at all?
Imposter syndrome takes many forms, but this one has to be the oddest I’ve encountered. I’m going to call it Imposter Mom Syndrome – because it’s not really about me, it’s about my kid.
For the record, I know in the marrow of my bones that the Engineer is gifted. I know it. I can’t always define it, I certainly can’t provide test results, and I have trouble emphasizing just how far from “normal” our lives are. He’s gifted. He’s a gifted kid from a gifted family who celebrates and accepts differences to the point that they are not differences, they’re just us.
But I go on these parenting groups for gifted kids and I read things like: “my child just went on NBC Tonight to discuss her passion for elderberries.” Or “my son is so into anatomy he has all the bones of the legs and feet memorized! And he’s only 2!” Or the most hurtful: “all gifted children read early. Mine started reading at 15 months, and I just thought that was normal.”
Good for them! Yay for these awesome kiddos who are so intense and interesting! The problem is kids like mine. The kids who don’t look or act like people think gifted kids should. The kids who fall through the cracks because they are “behavioral issues” instead of “gifted needs.”
I get it, I really do. Parents are proud of their kids. They should be. But they shouldn’t assume that every gifted child is like theirs. They shouldn’t assume that if a child isn’t like theirs, that the child isn’t really gifted. We shouldn’t judge giftedness by our own yardstick.
I’m guessing part of it is the social myths of the gifted child. You know, the ones with the stereotypical bright, high-achieving child who wows everyone with their knowledge and abilities. The genius level kids who stand out in a big way. The ones who ace the SATs at 8, go to college at 11, and are slightly nerdy, adorably cute, and are going places.
Those kids exist. But they’re not the average. And they’re not common, even though media portrays them as being the average gifted kid. I’m betting the average is more like this:
Sensitive. Daydreaming at school. Highly creative, yet struggling with tying shoelaces.
Loud and obnoxious class clown. Always going, always talking, always in trouble.
Emotional. Everything is high drama, and heaven help you if the child loses something dear to them.
Struggling with reading. Brilliant when you talk to them, but completely unable to write anything down.
Gifted is a spectrum. It’s not an either/or scenario, it’s how much and what type? Some kids are on one side of the spectrum at fairly average, and some kids are way over there at genius level on the other side. It’s not better or worse, it just is. It’s how their mind works.
As the parent of a not-stereotypical gifted child, I often feel out-of-place in these groups. My kid isn’t reading! My child isn’t publishing a book, going to college, or going on T.V. I don’t fit in. My kid is the average vanilla gifted child out of the bunch (and so am I) and I feel like an imposter.
It feels like we’re all wearing a mask of gifted that hides the imposter underneath. My kid isn’t gifted, I’m just a pushy Tiger Mom trying to justify my actions by saying he’s gifted! Or my kid isn’t really gifted, he just has special needs and I’m saying he’s gifted so that I feel better about his behavior.
I feel like claiming my child is gifted is a blatant lie. Even though I know he is gifted, he’s just not in the same category as a Sheldon Cooper (thank goodness!) He’s not a genius. He’s not brilliant. He’s just … gifted.
At its core, this imposter mom syndrome is about us searching for a place to fit in. To find our tribe, as it were. On one hand, we have the nebulous animosity of the average because kiddo is advanced, and on the other hand we have the disbelief and slight pity of the exceptional. We’re neither. We are stuck somewhere in the middle of annoying and weird.
I’m fine with that for me. After all, I’ve lived with it my entire life. As a child I mockingly told myself that I was doomed to be a dabbler at everything but a master at none. I didn’t want that for my son. I don’t want him to grow up feeling inadequate because he’s not a genius. Or not reading.
Karma really is a brat. I lived this. I am living this. So now I’m stuck trying to guide my son through the same path and show him the love and acceptance he needs to feel secure. To not feel inadequate his entire life like I did.
I know this path. I know the bumps and the hurdles. I know the heartbreak and the anguish of not being good enough. I don’t want him to deal with the same crap, so I’m doing my best to show him how awesome and amazing he is and how the struggles and failures do not define him.
I hope that’s enough.
p.s. You’re probably thinking “why the raccoon?” Because mask, duh! Yeah, that one was a stretch. Sorry. I’m not great at visual puns.