Parenting A Nonconformist Child: How To Cope
Are you raising a gifted, nonconformist child?
A person you might call “different,” “unique” or “out of the ordinary?”
For a parent raising a nonconformist, there is many a challenge. And, raising a nonconformist teaches a parent life lessons they never ever expected to learn, but needed to.
When my nonconformist child was young, I was fortunate enough to discover and read the book “Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos” by Lucy Jo Pallidino.
This book was one of the few resources that helped me survive the ‘nonconformist’ parenting journey.
What The Book Taught Me
Pallidino makes the crucial distinction in this book – one that resonates like a beam of light – between “divergent” and “convergent” thinkers.
Convergent thinkers are focused, tend to operate in a socially accepted manner. They fit in.
Divergent thinkers are the opposite.
Divergent thinkers have unique styles, temperaments, philosophies, mannerisms, opinions, ways of walking, talking, dressing, operating; styles not easily accepted in a conformist world.
But these people can change the world.
Are They Valued?
Take the educational system.
Divergent thinkers often wander through it with confusion and dismay.(Read about my experience with the educational system, here.)
Over time, as this study suggests, the number of divergent thinkers die off. Little wonder. There is huge pressure (and expectation) to ‘conform.’ Divergent thinking is not easily tolerated or welcomed in regular educational settings.
Without a fierce mentor or advocate to help them reach their full potential, many of these kids sink into the cracks and disappear.
Divergent thinkers tend to be creative, willful, energetic, motivated and/or unmotivated, stubborn, easily bored, moody, difficult.
They tend to have struggles in school. Frustrate easily, procrastinate, buck conventions, rules and traditions, have strong opinions. They can be exceptionally bright and devastatingly persistent, perfectionistic – even masochistic – in their desire to achieve their goals.
Did I mention that they can also be highly disorganized?
(You may be thinking: ADHD? Special needs, too? Often, yes.)
In the school system, divergent thinkers are often scolded, bullied, and set aside – by those in authority. They are too much ‘work;’ they are challenging to manage, no one has the time.
They are also, often, highly charismatic, magnetic personalities; the memorable students that peers and teachers will never forget.
Still, they’re misunderstood and mislabelled: the late Robin Williams was voted “Least Likely to Succeed” by his high school class.
Yet They’re The Great Innovators
Where would the world be without the famous divergent thinkers: Henry Ford, Anne Morrow Lindberg, Emily Dickensen, Ted Turner, Maya Angelou, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, David Bowie.
Or, Thomas Edison?
Thomas Edison flunked out of school, not once, but twice. He went on to become a world famous inventor of the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the electric light bulb.
His success is attributed to his mother, Nancy Edison, who was utterly determined to harness her son’s astounding strengths.
John Gurdon, another divergent thinker, had his passions close to annihilated in 1949, when a teacher noted on his report card that Gurdon’s desire to pursue science would be ‘a waste of time.’
John Gurdon went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2012.
But It’s A Long Hard Road
If you’re a parent of a nonconformist child, get ready.
You must be prepared to fight a big battle in advocating for your exceptional child. Educators may call you “hostile” (as they did me) and they will tire of you. Homework and educational processes might devastate. Exhaustion may rule. Family life will not be ‘normal.’ (Read how I tried to get my child through it all, and somehow did, here.)
But. You’re on an essential mission. You’re on a mission to guide a uniquely gifted person through to adulthood- even though the stream of dissent is steady and merciless.
It will likely be the hardest challenge you’ve ever endured.
And, it’s an honour.
Stay The Course
With dogged persistence, and fierce advocacy, the divergent thinker can and will rise to their potential. Strengths can beat out weaknesses.
I’ve seen it happen first hand.
Getting there is akin to pushing a piano uphill. The social resistance to nonconformity is a shock and a bitter disappointment.
But the battle is worth it.
Blooming and budding divergent thinkers need fierce advocates.
In their very determination to buck conformity, divergent thinkers innovate and persist in being who they are. In this – alone – their strength and resolve is remarkable and cannot be ignored.
The world needs its nonconformists. And their many gifts.
Thanks to Lucy Jo Pallidino, PhD, and her immense contribution to this subject. Her book was first published in hardcover with the title “The Edison Trait: Saving the Spirit of Your Nonconforming Child.” The paperback edition has a new title: “Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos: How To Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored, and Having Problems in School.”
Another book well worth exploring in this vein is Far from the Tree, in which author Andrew Solomon recounts stories of parents who learn to cope with their exceptional children and are, in the process – both child and parent – changed for the better.