Mistakes of Perfect Parents

    Curiosity about the development of the bright child is certainly widespread. Self-help books, gifted associations, websites and parent support groups provide information and hands-on strategies for dealing with the often difficult smart child. Concerned parents of spirited, bright kids readily seek out “live” advice and insight from professionals to help them feel more competent about their parenting skills. In contrast, very little has been written about what is unique about the devoted and high achieving bright parents who strive to give their children rich intellectual and creative opportunities that will afford them better lives than they themselves experienced. If you are wondering why this topic is top secret, consider these thoughts:

1. Admitting to having problems with your gifted child is not something that you feel proud of because you want to get it right.

2. People will think you are slightly crazy and that is why you are having problems parenting.

3. If you try harder you will get it right some day.

From my years of experience consulting with smart parents and my own personal experiences as a parent of two gifted children, I know that how the parent sees and reacts to their bright child is incredibly important to their child’s well-being and overall development. Parental perceptions and reactions, which are based on personality, values, and childhood experiences, shapes a bright child’s future. More often than not, parents want to give to their child what they did not get from their parents. For example, a parent who had uninvolved and negligent parents will see their son or daughter’s emotional needs as paramount. While love and attention can be a blessing, it can also make the child overly dependent on their parents. With too much attention children can develop learned helplessness, which limits their motivation, internal resources, and confidence. Another example involves parents who grew up with serious financial stress. These parents can live through their children and seriously give them way too much comfort, luxury, and financial freedom, which also limits the child’s desire to succeed for him- or herself.  

 In essence, a child’s destiny in part is founded on the parents’ conscious and unconscious visions and expectations for their son or daughter. The manner in which these expectations are translated and projected is critical to the child’s sense of self. Unfortunately, smart and ambitious parents can and do have serious emotional blind spots which prevent them from being able to see how deeply rooted and unrealistic their hopes for their child can be. Whether parents expect too much or not enough, they can easily distort their perceptions or be blind to what is in the best interest of their child. What comes to my mind most quickly as an example is the parent who wants their child to go to an Ivy League college and does not see their child’s genuine artistic nature, need for self expression, and alternative types of schooling. Or the opposite, the artistic parent who cannot see their child’s entrepreneurial nature and yet insists on creative learning environments.

To intensify and rigidify emotional blindness, parental insights about their own parental identity―their sense of self and how childhood experiences shaped the direction of their life―is often seen from a superficial and judgmental perspective. Other professionals who work with bright children and their parents such as teachers, administrators and psychologists look for easy black and white solutions and understandings. They believe in psychological dynamics that might be found in a fortune cookie. I hear far too many reductionistic and vapid remarks from other “experts” that I work with. “The father is not involved; he just works too hard to be a real dad.” Or “The mother had such a chaotic childhood; how can she manage her children?” Or “The child is being bullied because his parents are too overprotective.” There is always more than meets the eye at first glance.

Simplistic formulas―recipes for success―for child rearing become guiding lights for smart parents who should know better. There are no easy answers when you are parenting a spirited child. For example, when I am talking to parents about how they developed their parenting styles, I hear this refrain too often: “My parents were bad or limited in their ability to provide for me. They moved around the country and ignored my education and talents. I will be a better parent than my mother and father. I am striving to be the ‘best’ parent for my daughter.” This typical better-than attitude seems to be enough insight for the majority of parents who I work with on a daily basis. Most likely, this type of concerned parent wants to give their child what they did not get. And mom or dad or both are over-identified with their child. In other words the parent, whether or not they are aware of their motivation, is living through their child.  Unfortunately, for many professionals, delving into why parents want to live through their smart kids is just too painful or just not worth the time it takes. In my opinion understanding over identification is the key to realistically assessing what your child really needs, as compared to what you want to give based on the deficits in your childhood.

Understanding what the child’s developmental needs are, which are different from what the parent believes the child must have, is crucial. And yet the difference is ignored for a variety of compelling and time-related reasons. Personally, I am always horrified when I hear the very certain straight and narrow “never enough” parenting approach. This unnatural and overly detailed approach justifies the “wanting to do everything right” parenting style. In actuality, raising a bright child from a self-righteous, idealistic, perfectionistic perspective is clearly a recipe for failure. The parents’ ambitions and expectations for their son or daughter create and intensify the child’s deep need or natural inclination to be doing everything perfectly. Social emotional development will eventually become stalled in a gridlock of self-centeredness between parent and child when thoughts and actions are based on intense perfectionism. Actually, because smart children have the ability to think abstractly, it is natural for them to try to do everything perfectly, which often creates intense anxiety. When parents approach their role with the intention of doing everything perfectly it can be a psychological disaster for the child and the family. When parents believe every little detail is important, a sense of reasonableness and reality is lost, which is crucial to parenting effectively. 

If you are too perfectionistic, please call or email and I can help you!

(310) 443-4182