Dear Emuna: My Daughter, the Genius

October 17, 2013

7 min read


Our daughter is very gifted. How do we make sure she stays grounded and normal while bringing out her full potential?

Dear Emuna,

We have a very gifted daughter. She has an ear for languages (even at age two, she was picking up words from four different ones!) and is very sophisticated intellectually. She is only nine but her academic abilities and achievements are far beyond her years. We are very excited about the possibilities but also torn about her education. There are programs for the very gifted (which she certainly is), the gifted and the average student. There are also specialty programs with language, math or science emphasis. She’s even been asked to participate in a study at Stanford for unique children like her. What should we do?

Conflicted Parents

Dear Conflicted Parents,

We’re all conflicted about something with our children, aren’t we? I once saw a cartoon – it was a conference for Adult Children of Normal Parents – and there was one attendee. But back to your question.

Thank God, our schools have become very attuned to the needs of children with learning differences and remedial programs have sprung up throughout the country. Less attention has been given to the opposite challenge – the intellectually gifted child.

It’s a complex issue. Although you don’t mention it, I assume that you have some concerns about your daughter’s emotional development and her socialization.

I think you have to strike a balance. You don’t want her to be bored in school – that can lead to poor behavior, it can turn her off learning, and it’s just a waste of her time and potential.

But you also don’t want her to be a social misfit. Not only would that be lonely for her but it would be damaging psychologically – possibly in some permanent fashion.

I almost always err in favor of moderation. In this case, I would choose the “gifted” program (versus average or very gifted) I imagine that it would provide a reasonable amount of extra stimulation for your daughter without making her feel too “unusual.” And speaking of feeling unusual, I would definitely keep her out of that study.

You didn’t ask but I would also be leery of letting her skip a grade and certainly never let her skip more than one. There are many ways that you, as parents, can supplement her education – with reading materials at home, with trips to museums and science centers, and with the plethora of free online courses – while allowing her to remain a “normal” child and go play outside with the other girls on the block.

-- Emuna

Should I Move Out?

Dear Emuna,

I recently returned from a five-month program in Israel. As a 23 year old college graduate, this was my first time living away from home, making my own choices, and living in a foreign country. After learning so much about myself and embracing my own independence, I crave it once again. I now live back home with my parents, who are senior citizens and both not well, mentally and physically. My mother suffered a horrible stroke when I was 11, and since then, my father has been her primary caregiver (not working) while I completed school and work on the side.

While I was in Israel, I decided to quit my retail job of six years to pursue more advanced career paths. Unfortunately, I have had no luck in my job search and spend much time at home with my parents. I feel so stuck. What do I do if I feel that I am not really living my life, I'm holding myself back, not pursing my goals, and not living up to my true potential by staying home?

I feel that if I can try to move out to another part of town, or move to Israel, it can benefit me, even though it will be very hard. I will also feel very guilty for leaving my parents in the condition that they are in. I am a strong believer in fate, "bashert," and have had a couple of signs handed to me with possible opportunities to move out (one option is with my local Moishe house where I can help lead the Jewish community, something I realized in Israel that I want to do). Should I take the risks in leaving them and trying to move forward with my life in figuring out what I want and not what they want for me-- or stick around with them, and continue to save up money, live in convenience but suffer the depression and anxiety that I've lived with at home? All of this uncertainty makes me feel so lost. Any response will be greatly appreciated.


Dear Lost,

It doesn’t sound like you are accomplishing very much by living at home since your father is your mother’s caretaker. Therefore it doesn’t really seem like their needs are actually what’s holding you back. I think you are hesitant to leave the comfort of your home, like you said, the “convenience”, even though it comes with challenges.

But it doesn’t sound like a healthy environment for you.

While I don’t put much stock in “bashert” or “signs,” it does sound like your growth, in every aspect – maturity, career-wise, education, socially and jewishly – is being stunted while living at home.

I certainly can’t tell you what to do or make your decision for you (that’s part of the growing up you need to do) but I think you would derive great personal benefit – emotionally, spiritually, psychologically – from leaving home.

Whether you stay in your city or go to Israel (perhaps the better short-term choice in order to really make a break and have greater opportunities for growth), choose your program/strategy wisely and carefully. Make sure it has the components for personal growth and Jewish growth, as well as some healthy role models and mentors. Given your parents’ ill health, you need to find some healthy, stable adults who can play a parental role for you, who can welcome you into their home and who can provide ongoing guidance.

Start packing.

-- Emuna

Expectations in Marriage

Dear Emuna,

I feel like my husband and I were both deceived when we got married. He has a very good job and I expected him to provide for me financially and emotionally. I also expected live-in help with our future children so that my life and home would remain orderly and under control. He, on the other hand, expected me to manage the house without any help from him, to take care of our children, to hold down a job and not to make too many demands on him since his job already did. We have two beautiful small children but we can’t stop fighting. What do you suggest?

Unhappy in LA

Dear Unhappy,

You are correct in thinking that you were both deceived, although not by each other. You both had naïve and perhaps romanticized notions of marriage. You both had expectations that had nothing to do with reality.

Life, and particularly marriage and child-raising, is messy and difficult. We can’t control it. And it’s a recipe for constant frustration if we try.

But, more importantly, your expectations were way off base. You should have been focused on what you expect to give, not what you expect to get.

Everyone has complicated emotional and physical needs. You don’t expect your children to have no needs of their own, you don’t expect it from your parents, your friends, or even your co-workers; why expect that from your spouse? And yes, your job is to try to satisfy those needs. You don’t think that’s what you signed up for? Tough.

It’s time for both of you “man up” and accept the responsibilities you have undertaken.

You will be pleasantly surprised to discover that an acceptance of responsibilities actually eases their burden and that giving to your spouse, instead of making you resentful, actually brings you close. Just do it.

-- Emuna

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