I’ve been thinking a lot about “letting go” lately. Many people are recalibrating expectations and adjusting to ‘new norms’ globally – in the face of natural and man-made disasters, and nationally with powerful and painful government and social politics. Letting go requires forging ahead in new ways, setting a course that takes into account relevant facts in an attempt to arrive at the best result under the circumstances. Sometimes it’s hard, or scary, or painful, particularly if you are a planner or suffer from perfectionism, have a strong sense of right or wrong or a staunch moral compass. But summoning the resolution to alter your approach allows for a fresh reboot and often a better outcome than tightly holding on to old ways, thoughts or assumptions in the face of adversity.
In homes and classrooms “letting go” is essential in order to achieve positive results for 2e kids and requires resilience, self-assurance and courage. While interacting with a 2e child, parents and educators find themselves traveling in unplanned directions and role modeling flexibility and strength as they let go of conventions.
I started thinking about one type of letting go when our oldest began her junior year in high school. I am a consummate planner so to me she already had one foot out the door. I dread letting go when she leaves, not because she isn’t prepared – fiercely independent and mature is she – but because I’m not prepared. I like seeing her every day. I like interacting with her and a big part of how I define myself is by being her Mom. At the same time, I am full of excitement for the opportunities she will experience and create. I know she is ready to expand her universe, share herself with the world and experience other perspectives. I really can’t wait to see what she does. This emotionally balanced ambivalence is healthy and will undoubtedly result in growth for each of us as well as for our relationship as a whole. This is one kind of letting go where a natural ending is replaced by another anticipated path.
Parents and educators of 2e kids experience this type of letting go – when their child or student reaches a well-deserved, hard fought milestone and they shift toward another predicted pathway. But parents and educators of 2e kids frequently find themselves needing to let go in other ways, ways they did not anticipate at the outset of their parenting or teaching journey. Parents and educators of twice exceptional kids find themselves needing to let go of 1) power struggles 2) typical trajectories and 3) expectations, all in order to preserve their relationship with their 2e child or student.
People who are twice exceptional like to be right. Of course, everyone likes to be right, but 2e kids fight to the death (or make you think they’ll fight to the death) to prove their point. When parents and educators disengage, they aren’t letting go of being right, they are letting go of the power struggle, they are “letting go of the rope.” You can’t play tug of war when there’s only one person holding the rope. So, when the child argues about homework, chores, or refuses to follow a rule, if the child is adamant about his position or animated in a way that doesn’t allow you to get a word in edgewise, back off, listen until he is done, or politely remove yourself or the child. When 2e kids tug in this case, there isn’t resistance on the other end.
This is exceptionally difficult if the adult was raised or trained to believe that adults (especially parents and teachers) have a right to say the last word. You are definitely not letting go of respect, you aren’t handing over the reins, you are recognizing someone else’s intense need and paying attention to what matters – what underlies the topic of discussion – not how that discussion happens. Was school particularly hard today when your child flat out refused to do a chore? Did he experience a social mishap that caused him to come home and throw his backpack or stomp up the stairs? Is he wanting so desperately to be heard when he calls out in the classroom? Is he trying to get to class early to tell the teacher something important when he runs down the hall?
Adults must recognize the 2e child’s need to “save face” and by letting go, adults role model kindness, not weakness, in allowing the child to express himself. No, this does not make you permissive and it doesn’t allow the child to walk all over you. You, as an adult, are choosing to concentrate on content rather than delivery. You as the adult are respecting the child’s needs and at another time, can (and should) bring up the delivery, the challenging communication style or why it’s important to adhere to certain rules.
Wow, this is hard. Why isn’t letting go in this instance giving up or giving in? You only give up or give in if you engage in the power struggle first; if you tugged on the rope. But when you take a broader view, step back and assess what is really going on, by not reacting, you are taking charge, you are affecting the course of action and how the scenario plays out in a non-confrontational way.
Parents find that what may work for neuro-typical kids often does not work in parenting their 2e child. The asynchronous development of being one chronological age, an older age for certain abilities and a third, younger age for social emotional abilities interferes with mastering some skills. For 2e kids, parents and educators may have to let go of what “pay attention” usually means in a classroom and may have to advocate for the child to move, doodle or even read in order to pay attention. Or maybe parents let go of what “sit properly at the dinner table” typically means. Therabands strung across the front legs of chairs, standing or pacing while eating, or letting their child eat in a quiet room alone – are some possible alternatives.
At times, parents of 2e kids need to let go of activities or experiences others seemingly do easily. They may delay or let go of sleepovers and extended playdates. Homework. Playing in the grass. Competition. Video games. Movies. Scented candles. Eating in restaurants. Wearing pants in February. Going to school. Going to camp. Parents re-assess and calibrate their needs based on their child’s abilities and sensitivities and have to let go, and therefore embrace, different ways of living.
Likewise, educators must let go of some boiler plate rules. Different kids need different things is what a wise educator once told me when she allowed my client’s child to chew gum in class against school rules. Then there is the empathy, star citizen or mindfulness curricula. Ironically these programs are particularly daunting for 2e kids and will most likely not affect the 2e child in the way we might hope. Often for 2e kids to accomplish being in school without getting into trouble, they expend an inordinate amount of energy. There is no program recognizing their daily herculean efforts and the pain of not receiving recognition from compassion programs magnifies their struggle.
This leads to another type of letting go – one where painful realization can result in disappointment but also has the potential to strengthen bonds in a, “it’s us against the world” comradery between parent and child, parent and spouse and teacher and child. This is when we have to let go of expectations of others and of ourselves.
Letting Go of Expectations – of Others
We start out as parents with certain expectations of the outside world and of ourselves. These assumptions often present the most challenging and emotionally painful type of letting go. New parents hope for a child with a sense of humor, ability to problem solve, and the gumption to say what he thinks. Quickly we learn that in 2e kids these traits are seen as insensitivity, perseveration, and disrespect. Rather than paying attention to the cleverness of a joke, the outside world focuses on the mode of delivery or timing. Rather than perseverance in solving a problem, the outside world sees hyper focusing to the exclusion of others. Rather than appreciating honesty and advocacy the outside world sees our child as outspoken and rude.
We have to let go of assumptions that our friends and sometimes even family will lovingly accept our need to parent differently. We have to let go of the expectation that friends and sometimes family will understand our child’s unique needs. We begrudgingly let go of expecting people to see the strengths above our kids’ challenges. We let go of the nurturing safety we expected from the outside world, let alone our intimate circles, when we brought our complex and fabulous twice exceptional children into this world.
Letting Go of Expectations – of Ourselves
Another type of letting go requires us to check ourselves so we don’t do exactly what disillusions us about others. Yes, as parents of 2e kids we need to let go of preconceived notions, and boiler plate parenting, of ways we were parented or our peers are parenting. We learn to ignore certain behaviors, check our adult egos at the door and get down and dirty with what lies behind perplexing and challenging behavior.
In our disappointment with the world around us, we have to embrace a new way of thinking, responding, reacting. We must role model what we wish others had done when we started this parenting journey. If we don’t let go and instead remain rigid, we role model to our kids exactly the behaviors we are so disappointed in the rest of the world for demonstrating. Adhering to set expectations we risk role modeling having to be right, having to stay the course of proven failure just to remain the same. This is exactly the opposite of who our 2e kids are and the most amazing thing about them – their ability to approach the world in an organically different way. In order to be outside the box, one has to let go of the structure. You have to forge new walls – flexible walls, that allow you to thoughtfully respond to situations you haven’t been in before or in ways you’ve never observed.
Letting go includes creating new ways as parents, spouses, and educators. We turn into advocates 24/7 for our kids and for ourselves. This gradual and sometimes painful growth may leave a trail of broken relationships behind on this path toward patient and enlightened behavior. But one thing is for sure, this road can lead toward enduring, meaningful and fulfilling relationships.
All forms of letting go can be terrifying, result in monumental transitions, and test our inner strength and resilience. But they are also exhilarating – like learning and communicating in a new language. Letting go opens up new doors and allows us to grow in ways that affect us and our children everlastingly. By letting go we are propelled forward, bringing our children and students along with us for a glorious ride.