One Spoonful of Peas: Parenting a Gifted Child with Emotional Intensities
“Giftedness has an emotional as well as intellectual component. Intellectual complexity goes hand in hand with emotional depth. Just as gifted children’s thinking is more complex and has more depth than other children’s, so too are their emotions more complex and more intense.”
Parenting can be difficult. Parenting a gifted child can also be difficult, but it seems there is no reprieve from the stress of parenting a gifted child. It is like being on call 24/7 all year long, every year until they are…… maybe 24 years old!
As a parent, I have at times been given the parenting advice, “children are resilient” which has been usually offered after a particularly drama-filled life event for my child. This is where I mentally draw the line in the difference between parenting a gifted child and other children who may be more typical. My gifted sons have hardly been resilient when faced with an event that was intensely emotional to them, but could be mildly aggravating to other children.
My first experience with emotional intensity and non-resiliency was with my oldest son. When he had just turned two years old, I was sitting at our kitchen table alongside my mom, and I was feeding my toddler-aged son. Like many children his age, he didn’t like vegetables very much and he was showing a bit of resistance. Instinctively, my mom-barometer was telling me not to push my toddler to eat all of his peas. Given a different set of circumstances, I would not have forced the issue. However, with my mom sitting there and me remembering my own upbringing in which I had to “eat all your vegetables”, I coaxed, rather ungently, for him to eat just….one….more…..bite…
Pea puke all over me, my son, the table and the floor!
I thought the biggest consequence of this messy regurgitation of peas would be cleaning and disinfecting the affected surfaces, but I was in for a much ruder awakening – a 22-year consequence! For the next twenty-two years of his life, my son never, not ever, let a hint of a veggie pass his lips! He literally stopped eating all veggies because of one spoonful of peas! He remembered the entire pea-feeding fracas with frighteningly-accurate details except for one – he remembers that it was my mom who fed him that last, fateful vomit-inducing spoonful of peas! I never corrected him on that one little erroneous detail, but I’m getting off topic.
This pea-puking event was so traumatic for him, that he could not stomach green veggies for the next twenty-two years, and he patently credits his two-decade long carnivorous diet on that one last mouthful of peas! My parenting skills were put to the test. For the next many years, I had to delude, deceive, lie and and use extreme levels of subterfuge to discreetly add veggies to his diet. Spaghetti sauce was laced with jars of baby food like pureed beets or squash. Mashed potatoes were whipped with a little cauliflower. And cookies and cakes were made all the more moister with zucchini and carrots. Despite my cunning and culinary skills, the veggies were always detected.
I fretted over his non-veggie diet, I was endlessly seeking out vegetable supplements, I worried what effects a veggie-less diet would have on his health and I chastised myself for twenty years for pushing that infamous spoonful of peas! As he grew older, he insisted that onion rings, pizza sauce, ketchup and french fries WERE considered vegetables. At the ripe old age of twenty, his first email account was i_hate_vegetables @ mail His veggie-less diet was a huge source of contention and a tremendous strain on my parenting skills. Finally, at 24 years old, when he started training for triathlons, he gradually started trying different vegetables. Just a few months ago, he texted me a picture of a plate of asparagus he had just prepared for himself to eat just to reassure me he is eating his vegetables!
Now, with all three of my sons, I am ever mindful of the emotional intensities that characterize them all, and most aware of the possible repercussions when they are faced with a situation that may evoke in them a depth of emotion that could result in significant consequences.
One wrong word, one bad choice, one misguided criticism, one uninformed decision…….one last spoonful of peas.