My-Kid’s-an-Imposter Syndrome

A few weeks ago I was at a gifted conference and was speaking with another mom of gifted children.  At one point the conversation turned to a common (might I add, ridiculous) anxiety we both hold:

What if my kid really isn’t all that gifted?!  What if I’m just one of “those” parents who blindly oversells my child’s abilities?!

Maybe it is only myself and the woman who happened to be sitting at the lunch table with me, but it seems imposter syndrome can stretch out beyond our own feelings of inadequacy.  I confessed to this woman that I’ve even hesitated to bring my son to gifted kids’ events or programs, out of fear that the adults in the room will come up to me and say “umm . . . your child can stay for today, but in the future, you should know that he really is only slightly more than average and you shouldn’t bring him back.”  Of course, I haven’t held him back from programs he’s wanted to attend, nor have I been gently lead out to the hallway to have my child uninvited.

To be clear, I do not really care if my children are gifted.  I’m not overly concerned about performance or achievement or labels.  In fact, life would be easier if they weren’t gifted.  My concern has nothing to do with the label.  The only reason I care about giftedness or the label is to provide the appropriate understanding and support for my children. 

My anxiety roots itself more firmly in the fact that I’m making a career out of advocating for gifted needs.  And how humiliating if I’m found to have inaccurately understood my own child!  So, I guess, really this “my-kid’s-an-imposter” syndrome still boils down to my own personal insecurities.

Homeschooling allows this type of imposter syndrome to rear its ugly head more frequently, in some ways, than if my child were public schooled.  I’m thinking of my oldest at this point.  He’s not been identified as “gifted” by any schools because he hasn’t attended any schools.  He doesn’t need differentiated education, because his entire education is differentiated.  We swing between unschooling and structured schooling and don’t entirely buy into traditional grade levels, so I can’t say whether or not he’s performing above grade level.  And in many ways I am so very thankful for this!  And in some ways, this allows my own self-doubts to creep in more frequently. 

In reality, parents are often the most useful resource and identifiers of a child’s abilities and potential.  Most often, if parents identify their child as gifted, the child actually is gifted. I don’t know when we all learned not to trust our own parental instincts, but it seems like we are often still searching for some outside authority to direct our understanding of our children and tell us what to do with them.  Maybe it’s because we have too much information at our fingertips.  Maybe it’s because I was raised in a public school setting and was taught to trust authorities over my own intuition.  Whatever.  It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, so long as we start to challenge the impulse.  Yes, we need to listen to other people and refer to people who are more knowledgeable in certain areas than we are.  But, we also need to trust our intuitions and instincts a bit more avidly. 

One last point about this:  not all gifted children are alike.  There are levels of giftedness.  My children are not profoundly gifted.  They were not reading books at the age of 2.  Cub is not doing calculus at the age of 11.  Some gifted children are profoundly gifted.  Some gifted children are reading books at 2 and doing calculus at 11.  And there’s nothing wrong, right, better, or worse about that, just as there’s nothing wrong, right, better, or worse about the fact that Cub is not.  And yet, he is gifted. 

The other mom at the conference and myself were partially reacting out of insecurity when we heard the stories of profoundly gifted children.  We played the comparison game.  Which is silly, really.  There was a part of me that downplayed my own child’s giftedness because it wasn’t as big or dramatic as another child’s.  There was a part of me that was doing the exact opposite of what I try to advocate for.  Just because my child is gifted does not make him any more or less special than someone who is neuro-typical, yet I was believing I was inadequate or falsely identifying him because another child was more gifted, which made them more special.  How ludicrous.

We really need to stop comparing.  We can label and identify without comparing or assigning virtue to the identifications.  We can simply be contented within our own identities and with the identities of our children.  And someday I’ll get there.  Someday all parts of me will deeply know this and will stop dragging my children into my own senseless imposterdom.