I know I already have blogged about this episode. But, we meet Sheldon’s mom here, and I felt she really deserves her own blog. Mary Cooper seems to embody a lot of the things I have observed or heard from parents of gifted kids over the years. We know from Mary that she does not see either herself or her husband as gifted. In fact, she makes it clear only Sheldon is gifted in her family. (I believe she says her other two children are “dumb as soup.”) As such, she has had to learn how to deal with his unique interests and eccentricities.
Mary’s problems in raising Sheldon are like any other parent of a gifted child. There is a lot of uncertainty of where the child’s interests and ideas may come from, and some parents even feel doubt they are equipped to raise a child who is likely smarter than they are. It can leave a parent longing for a “normal” child, no matter how much they love their gifted child. Any parenting advice out there is usually given with a typically developing child in mind, and the gifted child most certainly does not fit that mold. So, there may be little support or understanding from pediatricians, educators, friends, or relatives. At times, discussing the problems that come with raising a gifted child can lead to the parent being ridiculed or ostracized by friends and family due to an assumption that the discussion is really a brag session. That makes navigating tough decisions even more difficult. Can you imagine being Mary Cooper faced with sending her 10 year old to college and not having anyone to talk with who understands all the facets of her son’t life? That can be a very lonely time.
And yet, Mary handles it with grace and wisdom. She and her husband, despite their problems, seemed to have partnered in understanding their son. As a result, she knows when to step back and let her son be. She knows how to encourage his abilities, and, while he was growing up, she made sure he had appropriate academic opportunities to keep him intellectually stimulated (and to keep him from shooting the dog with a “death ray”). She has exposed him to things outside of his interests, such as dirt bikes, football, and spirituality.
And yet she also is not hesitant to define clear boundaries, making sure Sheldon knows who is in charge in the family. This can be difficult for parents when the gifted child speaks and reasons like an adult yet is not ready to handle the responsibilities and consequences of adult decisions. But, by setting those clear boundaries early on, the child is protected and learns the lesson that, in life, there is always someone in charge of you in some way, whether it be a parent, a teacher, a boss, or the law.
Parents, while Mary is not perfect, she definitely has a good sense of how to lovingly guide her gifted child to reach his potential while still being very aware of his limits. Follow her lead. Teachers and other professionals, Leonard is aware that the one person who knows and can handle Sheldon better than anyone else is Sheldon’s mother. The same is true for the gifted kids you encounter in your classrooms or professional practices. Their parents are their advocates and want only what is best for them. Because they know their kids so well, they can be great partners as you try to do your job. Don’t forget to call on them for help. Finally, find others in your shoes, whether it be fellow parents of gifted children or teachers of gifted children. Mary likely didn’t have this option given the rarity of Sheldon’s abilities. But, many states have gifted associations, such as the Ohio Association for Gifted Children, and may include parent and educator divisions within those organizations. There are also national groups, like NAGC, SENG, and the Davidson Institute. These types of groups can be a great place to network and find advice, safely share frustrations and successes, and just be generally encouraged that you are not alone. It will help you feel more confident, which will, in turn, help you be more successful as you interact with the gifted child(ren) in your life.