By Megan Stonelake
I remember the exact moment when I learned about the concept of the “Highly Sensitive Person.” I was in my mid-20s, and all of a sudden every quirk that I wished I could change about myself was made clear. All of the typical kid activities that my peers seemed to love that I suffered through made sense. My intense need for solitude and quiet was explained. In essence, I was given validation that who I am and what I need is normal. More than just normal, it’s what makes me who I am. I could finally give myself permission to stay home on a Saturday night to read because that rejuvenated me so much more than a night out with friends.
Ten years later, I’ve learned that being a highly sensitive mama has great benefits. I’m attuned to my 7-year-old’s moods. I’m a pretty good listener.
We have long talks and I’m content to stay home and read aloud to him all day.
Being a sensitive mama also has its disadvantages. I tire easily. When the dogs are barking, my son is singing at the top of his lungs, and he has an audiobook cranked up and at double speed, I get so overwhelmed I can practically feel my nervous system shutting down. I hate loud, crowded play areas. I’m not much fun at an arcade.
Some of this is heightened by the fact that my son is spirited. He’s energetic, he has intense emotions, and his litigating skills rival those of Atticus Finch. He could bowl me over if he wanted. He’s a spitfire, and his brain is an incredible place. I love being his mama, but if I’m being honest it’s exhausting work. Most days at some point I feel weary down to my bones.
My son’s spirited nature makes him who he is – delightful, hilarious, and larger than life. My sensitivity makes me who I am – my emotional attunement, my perception, my heart.
These are our strengths, but at times they don’t feel compatible.
If you’re a sensitive mama raising a spirited child, here’s a guide to survival:
1. Ask for help
You need breaks. You need time to refill your cup. You need solitude to enjoy a cup of coffee in peace. No one will give you the breaks you deserve if you don’t ask for them. Don’t wait for your partner to offer to get up early with the kids so you can wake up slowly. Don’t wait for a family member or friend to offer to watch your kids every once in a while so you can grocery shop in peace. Advocate for your needs. Hire a babysitter if that’s feasible. You’ll be a better mama when you prioritise self-care.
2. Do what you both need no matter how unconventional it seems
Our culture can make us feel like there’s precisely one right way to live: you have two kids, you work full time, and you send your kids to the local public school. This lifestyle works for a lot of people. If it doesn’t work for your family, be open to exploring alternatives. Maybe having one kid is the right choice for you. Maybe it works better for your family if you only work part time. Maybe sending your spirited child to the local public school is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.