Confession: I am supposedly unschooling, but I sneak math workbooks. Not because I think the kids are craving them. I do it because my six-year-old is doing fourth grade math and if I give him workbooks for a few months, he’ll get to fifth grade. It blows me away. He’s impressive. I like telling people. I like telling people too much. It’s messed up. I wish I didn’t care.

I have a family of gifted learners, and tons of us have Asperger’s. Which means we do exceptionally well at some things, like, for example, getting into Harvard, and very poorly at other things, for example, staying out of jail. (Side note: mental illness and innovative thinking are often linked.) So I am aware that IQ is not everything. And, in fact, I fought very hard to get my older son, who has both Asperger’s and an extremely high WISC  score, to get an IEP as soon as possible by arguing that IQ is irrelevant when determining if someone qualifies for special edudcation.

That said, I see that I am too enthralled by my younger son’s math abilities. So I read a bit about parents who overly identify with their kids’ success. The literature was predictable. To be honest, I found that the most informative book was one he found at the library: The Berenstain Bears and the Big Spelling Bee. (Plot spoiler: Sister Bear wins by spelling vicarious, but it’s a poignant, revelatory moment for Papa Bear.)

The article that really helped me understand myself was one from New York Magazine, by Jennifer Senior: Why Parents Hate Parenting. You should just go read the article because it’s incredible, and Jennifer Senior is my favorite journalist in the whole world. But here’s a quick summary: The research about how parenting makes us miserable is so universal, ubiquitous and deep that the most controversial research in parenting was a piece from Europe that said that parenting might actually make some people happy. (Though the research was largely discredited.) Daniel Gilbert, psychologist from Harvard summarizes the research this way: Children bring you joy, but they kill all the other things that used to bring you joy.

Anyway, the article talks about how day to day, minute to minute, child-rearing is difficult, monot0nous, and ungratifying. (Please, do not argue about how you are the exception until you read the article, okay?) So parents have to look for the overarching things that make parenting worth it in order to keep themselves in the game; otherwise they’d go nuts.

This doesn’t mean that it’s right for me to get stuck on math genius. But it means it’s understandable that I help myself get through a tantrum or two during the day by hanging my hat on the math. And maybe that’s okay.