There continues to be quite a bit written about the need for self-care when parenting – for good reason.
Speaking from personal experience, I know how easy it is to focus the majority of your energy on keeping your kids healthy and thriving, which can easily edge into little-to-no time left for your own needs and wants.
To a certain extent, this makes sense. When my kids were infants and toddlers, for instance, their needs from me were (appropriately) all-consuming. I got as much help as I could from others, and tried to expand my childcare “village” to a reasonable extent (actually a necessity, since I was keeping my career going at the same time) – but I still always needed to be ready and available for them, which meant cutting out nearly all “non-essentials”.
(Notice I said nearly all; I decided to keep my film review site going, for instance, as a sanity-saver.)
Over the years, as my kids have grown older, the question for me has become: how and when can I start easing back into more of the activities I used to enjoy before having kids? To be clear, I wouldn’t choose to go back to that era for anything; I was someone who knew I wanted kids from an early age, and was waiting eagerly to meet the right person and get started on a family. But eventually there were things I started to miss about my pre-kids life, back when I had a ton more time and energy to focus on taking care of my own needs.
In this post, I’ll talk about what it’s like to be a gifted adult practicing self-care while parenting gifted kids. It’s part of a tagged series I’m starting entitled “Gifted Parents, Parenting Gifted” (yes, I love palindromes and all kinds of word play; and yes, I know this isn’t exactly a palindrome, but, close enough).
To define self-care, I’ll use a phrase from the Very Well Family article linked above:
Taking care of your spiritual, physical, psychological, and social needs will help you feel your best so you can be the best parent you can be.
So – I’ll define “self-care” as “spiritual, physical, psychological, and social needs”, which seems to cover a pretty broad range. Also, just to clarify: when I use the term gifted parent, I am referring to a gifted adult who happens to be parenting – not simply a “parent of a gifted kid” (though there’s obviously huge overlap).
As I noted in my introduction, there is a LOT out there on the internet about self-care, and plenty on self-care specifically geared towards parents (with even more emerging during the pandemic). But, what are the unique self-care considerations for gifted adults who are parenting?
Of course, much if not all of the existing self-care advice – i.e., meditating, spending time in nature, listening to music, etc. – are good ideas for everyone to consider as part of their self-care menu. But I would posit there are a few additional needs for gifted parents to keep in mind as well. Below are my initial thoughts on the topic, which I’ll continue to reflect on and refine over time.
- In Searching for Meaning (2015), Jim Webb notes our need as gifted adults to make meaning in and of the world, and leave a lasting impact. He specifically suggests the following strategies (described in greater detail in his book, which I recommend): creating your own life script, becoming involved in causes, using bibliotherapy and journaling, maintaining a sense of humor, touching and feeling connected, developing authentic relationships, compartmentalizing, letting go, living in the present moment, learning optimism and resiliency, focusing on the continuity of generations, mentoring and teaching, and “rippling”. Several of these strategies actually relate very directly to parenting – i.e., “developing authentic relationships” (with our kids), “living in the present moment” (an invaluable parenting strategy), and “focusing on the continuity of generations” (definitely doing that by parenting!). Naming and acknowledging these strategies as inherent to our parenting can help to alleviate some of the existential angst felt by gifted parents, who may otherwise tend to relentlessly question if they’re “doing enough”.
- In Bright Adults (2015), Ellen Fiedler describes the following “significant needs and issues throughout the lifespan” of gifted adults: acceptance; meaningful connections; living with intensity (either intellectual, sensory, imaginational, and/or emotional); access to resources; relevant challenges; and finding meaning. Fiedler’s list reminds us that even as adults, we continue to live with various intensities of our own (while also dealing with those of our kids), and need access to resources and relevant challenges. Obviously, parenting itself could be viewed as the ultimate “relevant challenge”, and I know of many gifted adults who address it in exactly that way – i.e., it’s not just exhausting work (though it is that, too!) but also a fun project to dive into and learn from. The many podcasts and blogs out there on parenting (including this one!) are a testament to how fulfilling it can be to reflect on our parenting journey, share ideas with others, and maintain a stance of lifelong learning.
- Gifted parents, like gifted kids, benefit from finding like-minded peers to engage with. Joining a SENG parent group (which I now co-facilitate) was when I first made this a ha connection for myself. I was suddenly able to relate to other parents in a way that had eluded me for years; I could talk openly about the unique challenges I was seeing in my own kids, while never feeling the need to “dumb down” my thoughts or ideas. And, I found a few good friends! If a support group isn’t available near you, there are a number of private Facebook groups related specifically to parenting gifted kids, and/or you can sign up to hear about parenting seminars hosted by organizations such as SENG, NAGC, IEA, John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and local gifted organizations in your area.
- Allow yourself to join in with your gifted kids’ interests and hobbies. If you’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument, speak a language, or take art classes, now is an ideal chance to be inspired – by your kid! For instance, when my son first started learning the violin, it was literally painful for me to sit there watching and listening during his lesson while not joining in myself; so, I invested in an adult-sized violin and went to town. I ended up not having the time or stamina to continue for very long (I do have a rambling rainforest mind, after all . . . ), but it was extremely satisfying to at least scratch that lifelong itch and experience what violin playing was all about.
- Finally, an idea specifically mentioned in the linked article above on self-care strategies is to join a book club, which I would argue may be especially important for gifted parents. I plan to write a separate post about this in more detail, but for now I will share that in recent months I’ve joined two different book clubs (both online for the moment) and found them to be an awesome supplement to my “self-care regime”. They are very much for me – a great excuse to carve out time for enjoyable reading – but/and they also help me talk openly with my kids about the joys of prioritizing books and getting together with other people to discuss them. Win-win all around.
I’m excited to begin this exploration of what it means for gifted parents to be mindful of their self-care needs while engaging in the most (in)valuable long-term “project” of their lives: raising their kids.
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