Care and Feeding

I Had My Kid Tested for the Gifted Program, and He Didn’t Make the Cut

I couldn’t care less, but what should I say if he asks about it?

Worried mom on the phone next to a happy boy with a backpack.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by vejaa/iStock/Getty Images Plus and fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I recently had our son, who is in first grade, tested for the gifted program at his school. I will admit that it was mostly motivated partially by my vanity and peer-pressure from friends who urged us to give it a go. (I also find “gifted” to be a problematic term and a relic of a narrow perspective on learning and talent that should be retired.) And, to be frank, I honestly don’t think he is gifted. Funny, smart, cutely irreverent? Yes! But not talented academically per se.

Well, he did not get in. It’s fine. We barely mentioned it to him, and he just thought he was pulled out for testing that other kids got as well. If my son asks why he doesn’t get to go on the bus to the gifted school each Monday, what should I say? I should also say that his 10-year-old brother has been in the program since he was in first grade, and I worry about him feeling less than and left out.

—Not Gifted, but OK, OK?

Dear NGbOO,

I agree with you: The term gifted sucks, and it creates any number of unnecessary emotions for both the children who don’t gain acceptance into such a program, as well as those who do.

Tell your son that kids have different learning styles and that both he and his brother attend institutions that were determined to be the best fit for each of them by the folks who are in charge of the local schools. If he pushes further or seems to feel disappointed or insecure in any way about not being included, add that “gifted” is a poor word choice for the program that his sibling, and perhaps some of his former classmates, attend and that he is gifted in his own ways (with humor, kindness, creativity, etc.) Emphasize how he is special and capable—if there’s something he can do well or with ease that his brother couldn’t at that age, highlight it—and that he is in no way deficient or inadequate by comparison to any other child.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My cousin and I are both 33, and we’ve lived together for the past 10 years. She’s my best friend as well as family, and we’re both committed to continuing to share a home. She has wanted to be a parent for a long time, and now after much discussion and planning, it’s finally happening. I’ve never wanted to be a parent myself, but I do fully support my cousin, and I’m super excited about being a part of her child’s life.

That said, I wish I had some sort of model for how this is going to go. We’ve talked about it a lot, but I still feel like I don’t know what kind of boundaries and expectations are reasonable. I want to help my cousin make our house a loving, caring home for the baby, but ultimately it’s not my child. I also know basically nothing about babies. Is there a parenting book out there for nonparents?

—Cousin of the Baby-to-Be

Dear Cousin,

Congratulations to you! This is certainly an exciting development, albeit a somewhat complicated one.

As far as setting boundaries and expectations, ask your cousin pointedly what she has envisioned for your role in this child’s life. If she hasn’t yet developed a clear picture of what she’d like that to be, ask her to do so. Take some time yourself to figure out what you’d like to be able to offer, in terms of support, and what sort of things you may need to plan around (such as your work schedule and your other relationships). Then sit down with your cousin and devise a strategy for how your household of three will function.

When it comes to kids, be clear: The best laid plans can easily change. You may establish that you’ll be unavailable to help out with late feedings when you have an early morning the next day, only to find that you can’t sleep during those times because just the thought of your bestie struggling alone keeps you up—or that the baby typically sleeps peacefully through the night (it’s possible, mine did!).

Be flexible while also continuing to bear in mind that your role is not that of a co-parent; you shouldn’t look the other way when your cousin is having a rough time, but you also mustn’t take on 50 percent of the responsibility for caring for this child unless at some point the two of you decide that your role in their life should change.

I couldn’t find any books for folks who are looking to be supportive of parents (there are a few on “kinship care”—when other relatives and loved ones take on the responsibility of caring for a child that is not their own by birth, but they seem to focus more on trauma and doing the work of parenting oneself), but I do think it would be worth it to check out one or two that were written for parents so that you can learn more about infant development and the various mysteries of babyhood that you haven’t yet experienced up close. (I’d love for our readers to suggest the ones they found helpful in the comments!) You should also take a trip to your local book retailer and look for one that feels right for you, i.e., the tried-and-tested classic What to Expect series versus 2004’s The New Basics or The Wonder Weeks, an interesting look at infant life that contextualizes behavior based on developmental “leaps.” Wishing your family all the best on this special journey!

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 1-year-old. Some acquaintances who are also parents are concerned about and attempting to limit mobile phone/Wi-Fi radiation around their kids. This is … nonsense? I can’t find anything remotely plausible out there about this, but at the same time, I haven’t seen an apparent debunking of these theories that I can easily refer to either. And further, how do I deal with this with people when it comes up (assuming I’m right that this is not a thing)? I find it hard not to argue evidence, and I can come across arrogant.

—Tin Foil Hat

Dear TFH,

Not every debate is worth having, and there’s no shortage of other, more easily verifiable threats to your child’s safety to worry about. Let your friends obsess over Wi-Fi signal dust if they choose to, but refuse to engage more deeply than offering a “Wow, very interesting!” before changing the subject. Worst-case scenario: If they belabor the issue, it probably won’t be terribly hard to point to something they are exposing their kids to with abundance that is somehow dangerous or “dangerous” as well.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a beautiful, 1-year-old boy. My husband is a fantastic father who is beyond excited to share his world with our son. We’re both fortunate to be in careers we’re passionate about. Still, they’re quite different: I’m an academic in a field that involves travel to and fieldwork in remote areas of Africa while he is in the video gaming industry. We also had quite different upbringings: my husband spent a lot of time watching TV and playing video games, while I was mostly outside with my very active family. My husband’s generally on board with raising our son more in line with my childhood than with his, but we diverge on one issue.

We both want to share our careers with our son as he gets older, and we’ve talked about him joining me on fieldwork trips and agree this would be a good thing. However, we have arrived at a stalemate on how my husband can share his career with our son: His idea of moderate exposure to video games is playing only on weekends, while my idea is borrowing hardware from his work and playing when a game Dad worked on is released. This very discussion makes my (already sensitive) husband feel bad about the work he does and takes pride in. His company makes high-quality, nonviolent games. Please help me find a balance that my husband can be excited about but won’t harm my son’s development.

—No Gamer

Dear NG,

Are you saying that you do not even want to allow a video game console to take up permanent residence in a home that is, ostensibly, paid for and cared for with money that is earned in part by the creation of video games? Despite the fact that, by your own description, your husband’s company makes “high-quality, nonviolent games”?

Considering that 1) your husband makes video games for a living, 2) his constant ability to play them as a child did not result in him growing up to be a perpetual adolescent or violent sociopath of some sort (in fact, he both managed to find a career in gaming and a wife who accepts him despite being completely convinced that her own childhood was so far superior to his own), and 3) he has only proposed allowing your son to play games on weekends, I’d go so far as to say that your own proposition is completely unreasonable. Especially since you describe your husband as being sensitive about his work.

While I understand being concerned about an overabundance of screen time, your aversion to video games sounds to me more like snobbery than anything else. I hope that I am wrong, and that you’re just deeply terrified of some of the bad things that can happen because of overexposure to that sort of content.

Because surely you are aware that there are gamers at every level of our society, including many high-performing children and, most likely, the man with whom you chose to start a family. Furthermore, there are not only risks involved with allowing your child to travel with you to remote locales for your work, there are also those who might find whatever it is you are doing to be distasteful, of questionable merit and/or some other strain of “problematic” even if you are a native of this particular locale and especially if not.

I’m not trying to beat you up, but I want you to consider that the message that you are sending to your husband, in my humble opinion, is that his work sets a poor example for your son and that yours is not only superior in that regard, but so much so that you’d take him to the ends of the Earth to ensure that he sees it up close. That may not be what you mean, but that is what you seem to be communicating.

You can still raise your son to be the Gen Z Ross Geller you dream of, even if he’s allowed a bit more video game time than you’d prefer. He may not even take to them. Not all kids have the screen bug, and he’s your child, which means he’s likely got a better chance than the average kid at being naturally inclined toward serious academic work that takes him across the globe. But he’s his father’s child as well, and he may follow in his footsteps instead. You have to make peace with both that and the fact that those aren’t bad footsteps to follow. Video games bring a lot of joy into the lives of people in an often cold, cruel world. He’s found a way to work in a field that so many others dream of breaking into. These are admirable things.

Let the kiddo play a reasonable amount of video games on the weekend. As far as making a special exception to the usual rules when his dad has a new piece out? That needs to be in addition to the weekend time. Celebrate those moments as a family, they matter … and they won’t ruin your boy. Good luck, Mama.

—Jamilah

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