Along the Journey of Raising a Gifted Child
by Michelle Bodwell, LMFT, ATR
As parents of gifted children, we all have our own memories of the moment or moments which led to our realization that we had a gifted child. Whether it was the comment of another, the feedback from an evaluation, or our own intuitions, we remember it clearly. Our world changed in that moment, and marked the beginning of our journey into the world of giftedness.
My own journey as a parent began with the birth of a wonderful son, who after his first birthday went from an observant baby to a highly verbal, quite independent, and intense toddler. Since his birth had ushered me into parenthood, I didn’t have any other benchmarks to compare his development against, but there were times that I noticed that his seemed different from his peers. When my mother would marvel at my son’s quickly paced development, I shrugged it off as a grandmotherly-bias. However, about 5 years into his life, when a psychologist friend, who also had a child of the same age said to me, “He’s gifted,” the light finally went on for me. This was my moment of realization.
After testing confirmed that he was highly gifted, I threw myself headlong into learning more about this new world that now was my reality. Reading books, attending SENG parent meetings, pursuing various evaluations, seeing therapists and doctors, and researching educational options were part of my life for the next several years. Navigating the 2e path for my second son who came along 18 months after my first, proved to be a little smoother since part of it had already been paved. Now, more than a decade later, I can say that I am still learning as a parent, how to address all the needs that gifted children have: intellectual, educational, emotional, physical, relational, spiritual, etc.
One of the biggest challenges for me as a parent of gifted children, has been learning how to address to their emotional sensitivity and intensity. My bookshelves hold a host of books aimed at parenting sensitive, intense, explosive, inattentive and out-of-sync children. Even though prior to motherhood, I was educated and trained as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I had to dig deep to find new tools and methods to handle what my parenting duties required: navigating huge meltdowns at transitions or changes, soothing the deep anxiety and existential crises that would ward off sleep night after night, or quelling the anger and rage that ensued after a perceived injustice. I remember the relief that came when I learned of Dabrowski’s research on overexcitabilities, which normalized these responses for gifted children who felt deeply and expressed fully. This knowledge also helped me to adjust my responses to my children’s behavior; to offer more understanding and empathy, and to work on reinforcing the connection that I had with them, so that when we had rough times, we had a strong foundation to support us. Through these changes, I was able to shift from seeing these challenges as “issues or problems,” and rather to acknowledging them as the gifts that they are, the capacity for deep emotional awareness and relational depth.
As I learned more about giftedness, I began to see more clearly that some of the clients I was seeing as a therapist were raising gifted children, or dealing with their own giftedness as adults. As parents of exceptional children, they expressed feeling exhausted and tired from the non-stop energy of their children, or being overwhelmed with handling intense emotions, or feeling isolated and lonely from those around them who couldn’t relate to their parenting stories.The mothers described all the energy they were directing towards getting all the necessary support for their children, while desperately being in need of support for themselves.
This became another moment of realization for me. In response to hearing about these needs, I launched A Mother’s Retreat, a group designed to support the mothers of children with emotional intensity and sensitivity. By providing a safe and nurturing environment, my desire is for each person who attends to be encouraged, supported and to most importantly, know that they are not alone. Taking what I have learned from the past decade, I now have the opportunity to provide for others a unique space where mothers can come together and share their lives, to gain insight, and be refreshed. And so my own journey continues, being informed by what I see and learn as I raise myown children, while listening to the stories of others. Wherever you are along your own unique journey of raising a gifted child, I hope that you have understanding people to encourage, support, and share the road with you.
To learn more about A Mother’s Retreat or gifted friendly therapy services, go to www.michellebodwellmft.com
Michelle Bodwell, LMFT, ATR specializes in providing individual and group therapy for women in all seasons of life. Her goal is to provide each woman with a safe and therapeutic place to explore their feelings, be supported, find creative solutions to problems, and to become a more fully integrated whole person. She is a mother to two amazing gifted sons, who have been by far, her best teachers in life.
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