When Parent and Child Are Both Highly Sensitive
My six-year-old is highly sensitive. He is growing and learning about himself and the world around him. He is constantly thinking about everything, overanalyzing every situation and occurrence so that even the most trivial of things become challenging. Because his brain is in overdrive, he has trouble falling asleep at night. Tired, confused and emotional, he tends to get overwhelmed with everything, much too often.
I am a highly sensitive mother of two boys. I am an expat living oceans away from my family, trying to run a house, juggle two jobs, and raise my kids right while desperately struggling to take care of myself and enjoy life’s journey. I think too much. I analyze everything to shreds. I have trouble falling asleep. I am tired all the time. And I get overwhelmed with everything, much too often.
A few weeks ago, my son was making his way through yet another phase. During this unpleasant time, there was a lot of arguing, yelling, teasing, and door slamming. There was defiance, anger, and yes, even tantrums. The storm has since passed, but I find myself thinking about it now, wondering if it was triggered by something specific, fearful that perhaps something might have been me.
I have spent countless hours over the years asking myself if I’m doing the whole parenting thing right, spending enough time not at home with the kids but rather with the kids. Am I listening as much as I should? Am I giving them what they need? Am I yelling too much? Am I a yeller? And if I don’t like the answers to those questions, how can I change?
Most days I honestly feel like I have nothing left to give. I am drained physically and emotionally, incapable of even speaking to my husband once the kids are in bed. If I conclude that I in fact need to “give more”, how in the world would I do that? So here comes the big question: How do you give your highly sensitive children everything they need when you’re not getting what you need?
Too often, I come across advice articles online giving stressed-out moms the secrets to a happy life in the form of lists of things to do designed to help them cope with the grind of daily life. One common theme that stands out is “self-care”, and that’s about the only thing that makes sense to me while reading through them. The how-to’s on the other hand, while very sensible and lovely, serve only to plant a seed of doubt in my head that I can easily do without.
Drink a cup of tea in a quiet room. Run a warm bath with essential oils. Exercise. Eat healthy, balanced, warm meals. Get plenty of fresh air. Yeah, right.
Over the years, I have come to learn that life doesn’t always accommodate routines that are ideal, routines that make room for tea and relaxation and sunshine. The days are long, and they’re full on. There is constantly something happening and things need to get done. There’s no time for loveliness, which is very unfortunate because loveliness is essential.
That’s not to say that I don’t get any pleasure out of life at all. I do. Life is good (most of the time), even if it doesn’t involve candles and sweet smelling oils. With time, we adapt to the pressures of life and find our own little ways to empty our buckets. I have my coping-strategies list, but it’s one that works for me and my lifestyle and my circumstances. It consists of things like listening to music while cleaning the kitchen, drinking hot cocoa on a stool in the bathroom while the kids are in the tub, reading books on my daily commute, and meditating with Andy for ten minutes on Headspace. I can’t claim it works for everyone, but it works for me.
When I get my music, cocoa and ten minutes in the dark; when I empty out my bucket, I’m ready to help my child empty his. Once we’re both calm, we can sit down and talk to each other, share our feelings, discuss what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again. We apologize to each other and promise we’ll do better tomorrow. We hug, we kiss, we cuddle, and love washes over us, neutralizing all the negativity that consumed us when things got to be too much for either of us to bear.
The lovely people who brought Dr. Elaine Aron’s work to life last year with their documentary “Sensitive, The Untold Story” are working hard to do it again! This time, they’re working on an important piece called Sensitive In Love, which focuses on highly sensitive people and relationships. It was actually this project that got me thinking about my relationship with my highly sensitive son, one that has come a long way from the day he came into my life, a sweet little stranger, and will continue to change and grow as we both grow together.