In a perfect world we would all have one gloriously gifted and nutty treehouse of family life. We would be able to morph and change and grow together, with some drama of course, but with the end goal of moving in a forward motion; that is, if we lived in a perfect world, but our world is not perfect and split, melded, and single-parent families are the norm. Parenting our gifted and twice-exceptional kids is a challenge in the best of times, but it can seem excessively lonely and impossible when you add to it the difficult task of helping them thrive in situations of co-parenting, single-parenting, or two completely divided homes.
My experience is with a twice-exceptional kid who has to shuttle between two homes, one who believes in gifted education and the needs of the twice-exceptional and one who believes gifted and learning disabilities are just an excuse for bad behavior. I find that the disconnection between the homes creates a tumultuous journey which will play out over and over again when my son is upset, frustrated, hurt, or unable to express himself. I remarried when my son was three and we spent over ten years trying to find some solid common ground upon which to co-parent our highly gifted ASD/SPD child; but when that didn’t happen, the only move we had left was to press forward as if both families were on the same page and provide the safe and known that gifted kids need so desperately.
This herculean task is much easier said than done. Special needs constantly mask my son’s giftedness when it is important to be present and know the answer; likewise, when it is time to work on his special needs, to show the teachers or his father what he needs in terms of accommodations and understanding, the giftedness takes center stage and erases all need for additional support. As difficult as this is as a parent when advocating at school, in court, or trying to find common ground in a split-home situation, the frustration my son felt was far greater and he almost always pointed that frustration towards himself.
The effort it takes my son to be who he thinks he should be at each home, to be normal at his father’s home and gifted at my home, leaves him emotionally and physically drained. He strives for perfection and becomes angry with himself when he can’t read social cues and be a normal boy while with his dad; then, he shuts down or acts out at my house when he can’t find every answer, motivate himself at school, or when he feels lost in the classroom. He is living in a split home of lose/lose and his giftedness, asynchronous development, and overexcitabilities, along with considerable learning disabilities, only make him feel more vulnerable and confused.
My son often blames me for his troubles, as teenagers are wont to do, and because I want to be honest, brutally honest, in my blog, I will say that I heard on more occasions than I dare count that he was only gifted because I wanted him to be. He said I just want him to be my perfect little gifted son and so I push for that. This became such a commonplace quarrel that two years ago we settled it by having him tested again; but this time, we did it for him and the results were given directly to him. Case closed. The new problem… Darn, I’m gifted, now what’ll I do mom? I just want to be normal like the other normal gifted kids.
I wish I could tell him that it all will get easier; but instead I have to tell him the truth. The truth is that life isn’t always easy but every decision doesn’t have to be so hard. The truth is that being gifted isn’t always easy but being different doesn’t have be so hard. Still, the day to day work of raising multiple gifted children with one sharing time between two homes is a challenge which requires a ton of patience and support. My son is a brilliant and comedic joy to be around, but he is also a sensitive orb of confusion, anger, sadness, and emotion that we send rolling back and forth between homes. As he rolls, he picks up bad habits as he tries desperately to learn to deal with the extremity of the motions. He holds on to the bad habits, rolling rolling rolling, and then releases them at the worst of places and at the worst of times. As a parent, there are times when all I can do is put out my arms and get ready to catch him upon his return. The truth is that I made choices which were not easy, but his landing shouldn’t be so hard.
It all sounds so dire, but honestly it has been a wonderful ride and I wouldn’t change a thing (well, okay, I’d change a thing if the Thing Changer came to call… I mean, who doesn’t have a thing to change??) Here is what I do: I embrace the fact that our family is not perfect and find ways to help my child on his journey. I never judge another family and reach out with advice or a shoulder whenever I can. I advocate every chance I get and push for greater understanding of giftedness, twice-exceptional needs, and the support system necessary for parents of gifted and 2e children, no matter what their living situation may be. And I make sure that no matter how tempting it is to be right, no matter how easy it would be to give up because it’s just too hard, I make sure to be my son’s known.
The hard truth? The hard truth is that you can divide up the record collection, lay out the perfect visitation schedule, set up child support payments, and move on with your life, but you can never and should never split gifted.