The Awkwardness Of Raising A Genius Child

by Eliana Osborn
Originally Published: 
Kontrec / iStock

How do you talk to mom friends about the struggles you are having with your gifted child without sounding like a braggart? We all know people who do the humble brag (“so stressed packing for this cruise!”) and it gets old.

The thing is, I want to talk to someone about the stresses I’m having with my son. The problems and worries I’m having happen to not match up with what everyone else seems to be facing. And that’s where I’m running into trouble.

My youngest son is gifted. And then some. I’m not just saying that because I think he’s great. I do think he’s great and funny and sweet and a host of other things. His intelligence is the only one of his qualities that can accurately be measured though.

You’re already rolling your eyes, aren’t you? Another mom who thinks her kid is special. I’ve written hundreds of published pieces over the years, but this is one of the hardest for me. I don’t need to get into specifics, but we’ve done all the tests. Why did I go through the hassle when I already knew how smart he was? I did it to get people to listen to my concerns without writing me off as an overzealous mother.

Driving around one day, my son, who was 4 or 5 at the time, asked from the backseat about square numbers—as in “5 times 5 is a perfect square making 25, right? Five groups of 5.” He went from not reading to reading fluently over the course of a month. He “read” diligently for years. I suspected that he was doing more than looking at the pictures, but he wouldn’t read anything out loud till he had the whole thing down pat.

There’s smart. There’s gifted. There’s this whole other category. That’s where we are. It sounds great, but trust me, I’d dial back the brain cells in my boy if I could.

After a month of kindergarten, I had to pull my boy out, even though we loved most everything about it. Why? He was losing skills and started counting on his fingers. He wanted to be like the other kids, I get it, but it was a huge red flag.

For the rest of kindergarten, I homeschooled him. I let him guide the process. We spent a month on plants, covering pretty much everything I learned in ninth-grade biology. He’s asked to film a Bill Nye the Science Guy episode about all he learned.

After that was the periodic table. Not all of it—we didn’t get through every single element—but pretty close. Atomic structure, quantum whatever, all infinitely fascinating to my 5-year-old. I bought books, we watched endless YouTube videos, and I tried to keep up.

I love watching the Olympics, more for the pre-competition videos than the actual athletics. You know the stories of those parents who move around the country so their kids can get the best coaching? The early morning hours, endless driving? I’m glad someone is willing to do that, but I always knew it wouldn’t be me.

But now? We talk about doing whatever it takes to get our kid what he needs. We consider leaving our community of 15 years, our state, our stable jobs, because it is clear that the status quo isn’t going to cut it.

Chatting with other parents at after school pickup, I seem aloof. I don’t know how to answer courteous questions. “How’s your kid liking Ms. Gordon?” My kid isn’t in that class, even though he’s younger than your child. He skipped a grade (which didn’t help much).

“You must work with him a lot at home.” Nope. I actually try really hard to hold him back since you can’t skip five grades.

“How did he get so smart?” Same way I got to be tall. A combination of nature and nurture: genes plus good nutrition.

I don’t mind talking about this stuff—he’s my kid, I could talk about him all day—but there’s not a short version that I’ve come up with that doesn’t feel dishonest.

When I say I don’t know what to do, other moms tell me how lucky I am. That’s never helpful for any of us to say to each other. Your problems may seem easy to me and vice versa. We’ve each got our own road. Comparing our difficulties doesn’t help anyone.

The challenges of a child with autism, ADD, asthma, or dyslexia are more commonly met with sympathy. Giftedness? It is a brain difference, a condition with challenges, the same as anything else. Try finding the right reading material for a little boy who reads at a higher level than many of my community college students.

So as a mom of an unusual boy, a kid I’m trying to raise to the best of my ability, please listen. Don’t judge me. Our issues might not be ones that sound serious to you. Trust me, they keep me up at night. Trying to get appropriate education is at least as difficult for my son as it is for a child at the other end of the spectrum.

What does middle school look like with a kid who’s already smarter than me? I try not to think of it. For now, his peers are charmed by his tiny body and stellar vocabulary. I hope that positivity remains, and that my son can learn to handle his friends who don’t yet understand why he’s excited about the Nobel Prize in physics announcement.

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