Last night, I read Glennon Melton’s post about calling kids “gifted” and this response to her. Today, I read Glennon’s response on Facebook. Because I believe she truly does want to understand, here is my answer.
You will probably never read this, but I’m going to write it anyway because I sense that you honestly do want to know why some of us felt a little (oh, fine, a lot) defensive about your post on giftedness.
I’m going to be honest–I didn’t actually read your blog before unless someone linked to it. I admit that I always kind of felt a little judged by you. That might have been because the specific posts I read were often passed along by people who actually were judging me, so please forgive me for that. That said, I didn’t have an open mind when reading your post on the word “gifted.”
It made me angry at first. I’m the mom of a gifted child (in the label sense). My immediate reaction was, “Dang. How did we become a culture of people getting all tied up in knots over a word? Let go of your need to have your child be a special snowflake, people!”
So I did what comes naturally–I grouched about it on Facebook. In the comments, a friend suggested I watch your TED Talk. I rolled my eyes and replied that I would. (Yeah, I’m not very nice sometimes; I’m not proud of that.) And then I watched it.
I cried. I cried because I know intimately that feeling of wearing a cape and pretending. I’ve done it my whole life too. My cape is being angry and self-righteous. I’ve mostly shed it, but it sometimes begs to be taken out and worn. Kind of like how I reacted to your post about gifted children.
So I thought about it, and I decided I want to help you understand. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I wonder if you’re seeing the label of “gifted” as being a kind of cape–something to hide a child’s real self. If that’s so, then I want to tell you that you have it backwards. My son’s gifted label is not his cape; it’s his freedom.
For us–for my son and for me–being told that he is gifted and has ADHD gave him wings. Suddenly, he didn’t have to try to be just like every other child. He could have his needs met, just like the child who has a learning disability or autism or physical limitations. He could be fully, completely himself. No pretending. No cape.
Sometimes, I envy my son. He loves who he is: highly intelligent, creative, musical, energetic, sassy, cheerful, sensitive, friendly, confident. Unlike me, he is entirely comfortable in his own skin. Knowing there’s a name for some of the ways in which his brain works differently is an important part of understanding and feeling good about himself.
I know you believe the word “gifted” is a frustrating term. Right now, it’s the best one we have. It isn’t a descriptor of gifts, it’s about the overall way in which children like my son are unique, just like other labels for brain function. It’s not a reference to specific talents, such as playing the piano or being particularly good at math or art or soccer. One can be a gifted musician or a talented writer without being given the overall distinction of gifted. They’re not synonymous.
Maybe someday, we will have a better word that explains the difference between a gift and being gifted. Until then, children who are gifted should not be ashamed to be given that title, and parents should not be ashamed to use it to describe their children. Nor should children be ashamed for not being labeled gifted, in the same way no one should be ashamed of not having ADHD.
I hope that helps bring understanding, and I hope I’ve said it in a way that is kind and not shaming or hurtful. We’re all on this planet together, and we parents have the responsibility to our kids not to make it harder for them by arguing amongst ourselves, particularly over such small things as words.
Much love on this parenting journey,