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.

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17 replies
  1. Jason
    Jason says:

    Ok – neither of my kids is old enough to be gifted at math, but I’m still hoping… I’m also trying to learn how best to help them love math (most importantly). Anyway I thought this book was pretty good – although it is probably more relevant to kids in school since homeschooled kids already get to do many of the suggestions in this book.

  2. Mel
    Mel says:

    My older son was reading everything by the time he was four. He didn’t know what some words meant, but he could read them. I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn’t really matter. Other kids will catch up to him. And in Finland–the most literate country in the world–they don’t start teaching kids to read until they are seven-years-old. Still, I feel kind of proud of myself to have such a young, accomplished reader….

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s really interesting about not teaching reading until seven years old. As a kid I remember feeling ripped off that when I learned to read people stopped reading to me.

      Also, my son with Asperger’s was in a preschool for kids with Asperger’s and many of the kids were able to read at 3 or 4 and the therapists were adamant that parents should discourage it because the brain’s focus on decoding words meant a lack of focus on the social skills a four year old needs to learn.


    • Pamela
      Pamela says:

      Wondering if the rationale in Finland is because of the 4 to 7 shift. Hmmm…. It makes sense to teach reading when the majority of kids are biologically AND developmentally ready.

      I’m pretty sure that I mentioned Gifted Homeschoolers Forum in a previous comment, but I’ll give Corin et al another shout out. Fantastic resource.

  3. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    Parenting today is so difficult because we adults are not designed to be our kids’ playmates. The best periods were when kids were together being kids with adults available but not as entertainment.

    Unschooling takes a lot of pressure off parenting, but I still felt pressure to see the “gifted” child do something bigger than be a cool person, like be a doctor or something. Reflecting with perspective, now I’m just glad she’s ok and independent.

    We skipped the rebellious adolescent phase, I guess because one kid’s “special” and the other was more of a partner than an adversary. She assures me it would have been different if she had been forced to go to school.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      “Parenting today is so difficult because we adults are not designed to be our kids’ playmates. The best periods were when kids were together being kids with adults available but not as entertainment.”

      Love this!

  4. LJM
    LJM says:

    The article really should be titled, “Why Some Parents Hate Parenting.” It’s an obvious truth that there are many parents who enjoy the process, and who aren’t made “miserable” by it.

    If everyone felt one way about something, it would be very easy to evaluate it. But humans are more complex than that, and so is the truth about how people feel about parenting.

    Finally, a six-year-old doing math designed for nine-year-olds isn’t as much an indication of being “gifted” as it is simply “enjoying math.” Labels like that create different kinds of anxiety for kids and parents (as you clearly demonstrate). He likes math. Let his happiness with it become more important than his progress with it.

  5. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    I definitely do not share the psychology and experiences described so well in this article. Actually, the feelings that some parents described match up pretty well with some of my fears before I became a parent. I thought maybe I would be locked into constant power struggle, as friends who already had kids often seemed to be. My mom assured me that “it doesn’t have to be that way!” – and I’m glad I listened to her, because she was right.

    There are several reasons that I enjoyed parenting kids (as I am now enjoying parenting adults), which boil down to a ton of luck and some choices that I made. Before I even got married and pregnant, I made a commitment to staying home with kids, if I had them, rather than working full time (I worked part time during some of the parenting years, but I stopped when my third was born). Also, I did attachment parenting/family bed/on-demand nursing, and I unschooled the kids. With those choices I eliminated most of the stressors the parents in the article talk about. (Essentially, I became much more like the Nimibian moms!)

    I think it helps that, because I’d done a lot of reading on education, child development and parenting (starting at age 13!), I went into parenting with an attitude of helping the kids to become their most authentic selves rather than assuming I was going to mold them into some pre-conceived ideal…

    Also, I spent a lot of time with a great homeschool group, and so we moms didn’t feel as isolated as many moms in modern societies feel.

    Finally, my parents were (and my mom still is) super grandparents. They literally spent two days a week, every week, at my house – to give me a break, help me with stuff, hold and play with the babies/kids, etc. I could schedule my errands and my personal dr. apts. that day! …When my oldest was 10 and my youngest was born, my parents (at my husband’s suggestion) bought a house a block away, breaking the two-days-a-week schedule — but from then on, they were almost always available to one kid or another, or all three of the kids, or me…and of course we were often able to help them out, too.

    Luck + non-stressful choices = kids being tons of joy, tons of fun, some heartache, quite a bit of “work” – but not onerous work!

    • Hannah
      Hannah says:

      I agree that how we end up feeling about parenting is connected to our choices as parents, and whether or not we allow/encourage our kids to be complete brats or contributing, valued members of our families and larger society. It takes “work,” especially on the front end, but it doesn’t have to be constant drudery!

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      I think a lot about how invaluable grandparent involvement is to making the parenting experience more enjoyable. One of the major goals my husband and I share is to be at a point financially later in life where we are able to be supportive of our kids and involved with our grandkids.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There are quite a few things I like about blogs. Like I can post a new comment the day after a post is published or even a week, month, or year later. I can post in reference to the post itself or to something within the comments section. I can even find a way to make a comment which is peripheral to intent of the blog post … and hopefully make it interesting. So I’ll comment on the photo above of your two sons in a library. Last night a post was published at the Good web site in the culture section titled “New Organization Helps Libraries Get Artsy To Support Local Communities” ( ). The organization is Library as Incubator Project and is founded by University of Wisconsin at Madison library science students. They’re promoting new ways to connect artists and library resources to enhance the quality of life in communities at a time when libraries and the arts are the first items to see a budget cut. I hope these students and communities everywhere are able to demonstrate the importance of libraries in one form or another and arrive at innovative and sustainable solutions.

  7. karelys
    karelys says:

    this is so interesting. both your kids seem to be gifted in different areas. i began watching a japanese show and the central characters are extremely gifted. and they look just like your kids. black hair and blond/brown hair.

    that’s the first thing i thought of when i saw this pic.

  8. karelys
    karelys says:

    except that the black haired character “L” has crazy hair like your younger kid. the prim and proper brunette character looks like your older son.

  9. Jodie
    Jodie says:

    Deciding who’s gifted is complicated. My son is in junior high and doing reading, writing and social studies at the beyond high school level, according to several tests during the last two years (in other words, one was not a fluke). His math scores are average and that’s fine. But the teachers don’t see his advanced levels the same way as the tests. He’s quite bored and is clearly not paying attention as he should — which is typical of gifted kids. Anyway, we’re thinking of homeschooling because he will do better in a class of one where he can pursue his interests than a class of 30. Have you checked out the numerous gifted websites for kids? Lots of resources for homeschoolers, if you’re interested.

  10. Sara Gallagher
    Sara Gallagher says:

    I’ll bet your kiddos are just as excited as you are to graduate to a new workbook! I love reading about the work being done to incorporate gaming concepts (like “leveling up”) into education. did a great comedy piece recently about the science behind addictive video games. It’s about time we started applying some of those concepts to learning!

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