Does Gifted Parenting Have You at Max Capacity?
If so, you're not alone. Here are reflections to help you match your demands to your capacity.
While traveling in late December, I lost my driver’s license in the airport.
When it was time to board, I patted my pockets and realized I didn’t know where it was. When I tried to remember where I put it after security, I had no idea - it had vanished from my awareness.
I learned that the airport has a robust lost-and-found system - I submitted a report, they found my ID, and they Fed-Ex’d it to me before my flight home.
But on that trip I also forgot some clothes in the washer of an Airbnb, injured myself in a small way, and missed our time window on a reservation at a local attraction (they let us in anyway).
Losing things, falling behind, and injuring myself are all signs that I am working beyond my capacity.
They are signs that I am doing (or have been doing) too much.
That I can’t manage everything I’m trying to manage.
That I am out of spoons. (See this comic by @neurowild on Instagram for a helpful explanation of spoon theory.)
Historically, I have not done a great job considering my own capacity.
I’ve probably spent most of my life operating beyond my comfortable capacity - as an IB student in high school, a middle school teacher, and a doctoral student/researcher in particular. But since becoming a parent, I find working-beyond-capacity harder and harder to do.
As I learn more about myself and my own neurodivergence, I also find working-beyond-capacity more tiring and less motivating. I used to think that over-working was a way to demonstrate conscientiousness and intelligence. But now, I see over-working as a result of our ableist, capitalist culture that tells people they must sacrifice their well-being and work beyond their capacity if they want to be respected and get their needs met.
In my coaching program and workshops, I often encourage parents to carefully consider their children’s true capacity and adjust expectations as needed.
I am increasingly realizing that as parents of intense and sensitive gifted/2e kids, we also need to consider our own capacity and adjust expectations as needed.
What I say about the children is this - “age appropriate” expectations often exceed an intense gifted child’s capacity.
It is easy to over-estimate the capacity of an intense gifted/2e kid. Because they understand things well and speak well, we often unwittingly think they can handle much more than they can. Then, we feel frustrated and confused when they struggle, melt down, or won’t cooperate.
The same can be said of me, and probably many of you - because I am a bright adult and speak/write/think/work well, I often unwittingly overestimate my own capacity. Then I feel frustrated and confused when I struggle, melt down, or can’t seem to complete everything I want to.
We also tend to under-estimate how demanding certain situations are for our intense and sensitive gifted/2e kids, and for ourselves. For example, daily tasks like brushing teeth, doing laundry, getting out the door, and eating meals seem easy, but these tasks actually involve executive functioning, organization, emotional regulation, and the need to focus on boring details. Socializing is “supposed to” be fun, but many intense gifted/2e kids and adults find some aspect of socializing tiring, confusing, or unsatisfying - and that’s okay. Our capacity also fluctuates depending on the time of day, our physical state, and other stressors in our lives.
Here are a few questions for reflection:
Have you been operating beyond your capacity?
Have your demands exceeded your capacity? Have you been managing more demands or stressors than usual lately? Have you or your family been affected by illness over the last few months? (many have) Have you been managing the needs of multiple people or generations? Have you been managing a lot of logistics for holidays, travel, or family?
If you’re not sure whether your demands have exceeded your capacity, have you noticed other signs you’re maxed out (such as losing things, persistent illness, irritability, forgetting things, insomnia)?
Can you reduce your task demands and expectations?
Are there tasks you can let go of, to reduce your own stress? Here’s an example - when packing for our trip, I misplaced one part of our baby monitor. When we arrived home and finished bedtime it was 9pm. Usually I would have cleaned and unpacked until I found the monitor, but I was exhausted. I decided to let go of that task for the night. Instead, I sat close enough to hear my kid’s bedroom and read a book for fun, for the first time in weeks. (I found the monitor the next day in, of all places, a kitchen drawer.)
Could you do less cleaning or tidying, either all the time or during certain times of the day or week? Would you prefer to socialize or entertain less often? Could you eliminate tasks that are supposed to be fun but feel stressful, like attending certain events or doing certain crafts or activities with your kids? You can start with something small, like I did - eliminate a task just for a night. Or you can experiment with eliminating bigger tasks that you know drain your capacity.
Can you reduce the emotional or psychological demands of certain tasks?
As a parent, you can’t eliminate all tasks and demands at will. When your child is sick, you care for them. When they’re upset, you help them manage their feelings. When they’re hungry, you feed them.
But even when you can’t change the physical reality of your situation, you may be able to adjust your expectations so you feel less pressure and stress.
When your child is sick, you can let them watch more screen time to help lighten the care-taking load.
When your child is upset, you can help them manage their feelings but not blame yourself if their feelings can’t be “fixed” and they can’t be consoled.
When your child is hungry, you can feed them simple foods to reduce your labor. You can feed them food they like, to reduce meltdowns. You can feed them where they like to eat, to reduce arguments.
How can you give yourself grace?
I tend to have a difficult time tolerating my own mistakes, so I was surprised by how calm I felt when I lost my ID.
My usual critical thoughts sound something like: “How could I do that?….What was I thinking?…That could have been avoided….If only I had…” But this time, I focused on the situation and the reality that I had just survived a very hectic, stressful December full of small family emergencies, illnesses, and inconveniences.
It really helped to think, “Wow, I completely lost track of my ID because I am totally maxed out. I did not have the bandwidth. I have been handling way too much,” instead of something self-blaming, such as, “How could I do that?”
If you’ve been making mistakes or struggling with something, can you find a perspective where your struggle makes total sense? Where it’s a natural result of being stretched beyond your capacity?
If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kid.
If you’d love to find a sweet spot where you and your child are operating within your capacity and feeling more ease, consider joining my group coaching program for parents, Support Your Intense Gifted/2e Kid. We discuss clear, actionable strategies to make tasks less demanding and to increase capacity through strengths, interests, accommodations, and regulation. If these ideas appeal to you and you want personal guidance making changes in your own family, I’d love you to join us!