The Highly Sensitive Parent

A friend was telling me about the book, The Highly Sensitive Person In Love not too long ago, and after reading this description of the book from Elain Aron’s website, I knew I had to add it to my collection of books.  I already had the Highly Sensitive Child, and am well aware of how high sensitivity can add a complex element to one’s temperament.  I know I am a highly sensitive person, scoring a 24 out of 27 on the self-test.  I always suspected that my sensitivity has given me difficulties in many areas of my life.

I recently wrote the following to that friend of mine:

I found some validation in the HSP in love book about something related to parenting.   [I think it’s very salient for me and other highly sensitive parents that might have difficulties in their parenting roles]. This passage really hit home:

Once HSW’s and HSM’s recover from the birth of their children (I’ve seen both react strongly), they usually become highly responsive parents….

At the same time, however, HSP’s can have a strong sense that they are terrible at parenting.  If you are a highly sensitive parent, you know what I mean.  You are often irritable, depressed, lack energy, want to get away, want to express your other talents, or secretly think how much better life would be without children.  Parenthood is a huge responsibility and source of stimulation.

I have thought, up until about 2 days ago, that there was something wrong with me…that I was too self-centered to have been a mother, because I had/have these feelings.  All of them.  Including the one about thinking life would be better without children. In fact, I started this blog a year and a half ago to help me record the GOOD things about being a mother, and diffuse some of the depression and helplessness I felt about being completely overwhelmed by the task of mothering, especially the overwhelming stresses of being a highly sensitive mother parenting a highly sensitive child who was selectively mute.

Even though I know that having 3 children in 3.5 years might take a toll on anyone, I always thought that I was particularly incapable of rising to the task.  I thought it was something evil in me that made me want to not be a mother.  I think now that it has less to do with something inherently evil in me, and more that my temperament is such that it makes the challenge all that much harder.  I feel responsible for EVERYTHING that goes wrong, even the fact that all three of them grind their teeth at night (must somehow be my fault, right?)

I do get overstimulated by my kids, more so when I don’t sleep well or eat well.   I definitely need more sleep.  Last night I went to bed at 9 pm and woke up at about 5 to move into one of my daughter’s beds because my two younger children climbed into bed with my husband and I in the middle of the night.  There was no more room and I was getting hot and squished.  Then I slept in until 7:30.  It was nice.

I know I need to get more sleep, eat more frequently (I have been skipping meals again), maybe even take a class to learn how to mediate or do yoga or something. My self-care skills aren’t the highest priority and they really should be.

Now that everything I had to get done this month is pretty much done (and I don’t have to shuttle the kids back and forth anywhere), I can relax and come up with some sort of self-care plan.

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8 Responses to The Highly Sensitive Parent

  1. Thuan says:

    Wow! I need to add that book to my collection as well. Everything you are saying is so true for me too. I only have one kid. I want another one, but I’m not sure if I can handle it. That’s incredible that you have three. I can’t even imagine that at this point.

    Sleep is a definite number one. I need to get more sleep as well. I’ve been sick for the last five months and I know that sleep is the key, but I just can’t get enough of it. I should be sleeping right now and not reading your blog at 3:12am. Of course, I’m up because my highly sensitive child had a crying fit again tonight and I couldn’t calm myself down to go back to sleep.

    I also skip meals or it’s just so off scheduled that my body starts to shut down because I’m so hungry. I know that I have to take care of my body better especially if I want to get well.

    I felt like I needed to take a class as well to mediate or do yoga, but my therapist helped me to see that I can mediate any where at any time. She has me doing these breathing exercise when I need to calm myself down. Since I my brain has a tendency to constantly be thinking about things, I actually have to count my breathes so that my only focus is on breathing. 1, 2, 3, 4 (deep inhalation-filling up your whole body), 1, 2, 3, 4 (deep exhale). It’s been helping me. I do these exercises when I’m putting my daughter to bed. It helps calm me because putting her to bed wasn’t one of my favorite things to do. It has been working because it helps calm me, which calms her. It’s funny because she has picked up on the breathing as well and has been doing it herself.

    It still think it would benefit both of us to take a class because it is time that we would have to ourselves. I’ll think about signing up once I stop going to so many accupuncturist and doctor’s appointment. I’ve been away from my daughter so much lately because of all these appointments.

    Let me know if you decide to sigh up for any classes and how it goes.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Thuan – I posted on your blog post from the 24th, but I thought I’d point you in a direction here.

    There are some ideas for sensory processing therapy you can do at home, that are also very calming for highly sensitive kids like ours.

    Maybe you can try some of them with your daughter, and it might help her calm and soothe herself. Honestly, I probably should use these things on myself as well.

    Anyway, you can look on this post, about mid-way down the page, to get some ideas on what you might try at home.

    https://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2009/02/02/so-what-worked-for-her/

    I hope you find something that might help.

    And yes…get more rest, eat better (more protein – helps regulate blood sugar).

  3. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Thanks very much for the breathing tips. I never realized it could be that simple.

  4. Thuan says:

    Thank you so much for all the tips. I will definitely implement some of them. I’ll keep you posted.

  5. Virginia Ripple says:

    I’m so glad to find another HSP who feels like I do, that I’m a bad mother (everything is my fault). My daughter just turned one in December and since Thanksgiving has been having problems sleeping, which means I don’t get enough sleep either. My husband tells me I’m a good Mommy, but when I have thoughts like you describe I sure don’t feel like it. Reading your story gives me hope that, with a little research and my own innate creativity, things can get better. Thanks again for letting the rest of us into your world.

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    I’m glad you find comfort in my posts, Virginia.

    It’s important to me to continue giving a window into my life, mostly because when I was going through some really challenging times…I really wished I could have had someone honestly reveal to me how difficult this parenting journey is. Instead, I got glib responses to my most difficult problems, or advice that was not only unhelpful, but potentially damaging to my highly sensitive children.

    But…more importantly, as I’m finding out…there’s more to the story than simply being a sensitive, overwhelmed mother. There are things that are coming to light with regards to my own childhood – where my needs were neglected and there was no healthy role models in my family.

    I’m going to start a new post or series of posts about the role of parents in identity formation in the child…keep checking back because it’s going to be an interesting series.

  7. Heidi Holtan says:

    I can’t even tell you how happy finding this blog has made me. I was recently signed off work for a month with depression and anxiety. After battling with my mental health for what seems like forever, I decided to take the time out to discover what actually makes me tick, and how I can change my environment so that life doesn’t keep overwhelming me on a daily basis. After some online research (where would i be without google?) I stumbled on the term HSP. It has totally blown my mind that there are other people out there like me! That it’s actually ok to love being alone, to need a break from everything. Including my children.
    I have two girls, 7 and 11, who I fully believe are also HSP. Their father and I separated 4 years ago, and yet, even though it’s all very amicable, they can’t seem to let it go. I realise they are struggling to find ways to express their feelings, without the risk of upsetting others.
    Added to this, I feel like I’m drowning in the responsibility of being a good role model. I am the main female figure in their lives. Which means I agonize over every little details of how I conduct my relationships (I mean, I’d really like them to go for better guys than I have, let’s face it..), my eating habits (am I making them too body conscious?), my friendships (sometimes grown-ups fall out too), my, at times, slightly chaotic lifestyle (will they grow up to crave order? or find it difficult to make plans?). You see where I’m going with this.
    While the 3 of us actually benefit a fair bit from being so intuitively in touch with each other, it also creates a cycle of guilt and getting stuck repeating the same negative behaviour patterns. I would dearly love to hear from anyone in a similar situation, or just any input, really.
    Thanks again, you’ve made my weekend!

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