My children do not go at life full-tilt. I have never had to deal with the “over-scheduling” problem. So far, they haven’t shown any interest in becoming either the Young Scientist, Young Writer or Young Musician of The Year. In fact, they seem like pretty normal kids and sometimes, in the company of the parents of other gifted children, I can’t help wondering…am I an imposter?
We hear so much reference to the need to make sure that the gifted “reach their full potential”. Now, what do we mean by that? I am a qualified doctor, but once my children arrived, I chose to prioritise them instead of my career. As a consequence, I am not a hot-shot surgeon; I have written no earth-shattering papers or devised any clever surgical maneuvers or instruments with my name attached. Does that mean that I have failed dismally to reach my potential? If my daughter follows a similar path, will she also have failed? If my son has the potential to become a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, but chooses instead to become a teacher, will he have failed? And will I have failed as a parent?
With all this talk of fulfilling potential and leaders of the future, I fear we are at risk of putting our kids under pressure to follow paths which may not be of their own choosing. If I bring my children up as decent human beings who are independent and happy, then I think we will all have succeeded. If one or both of them becomes a leader in their chosen field, well that will be fantastic, but it should be because they have chosen that path for themselves, not because they feel obliged to “fulfill their potential”.
Gifted children are not a homogenous group. They don’t all show signs of setting the world on fire from the minute they exit the womb. Many of them are late bloomers…some of them very late! Some are quiet and considered, some are loud and impulsive. Yes, we absolutely should bend over backwards to encourage and motivate them and to create the right conditions for them to excel. However, whilst some of our children no doubt need a little prodding and cajoling, we must remember to listen to them. We must support them to do what they want, not what we or society feels they ought to be doing. As parents, we must also be careful not to feel under pressure ourselves. Parenting should not be a competitive sport!