Making Highly Sensitive Parenting Work
Author's note: I interviewed three sensitive parents who have found workable ground to manage both their parenting and high sensitivity. I asked them for tips and thoughts about the unique challenges that highly sensitive parents face, and the solutions they have come to. Many thanks to Kara, Caryn, and Julie for their time, energy, and brilliance. ~ Jenna
Making Highly Sensitive Parenting Work
While these thoughts on highly sensitive parenting are not meant to be exhaustive, my hope is that it will stimulate your own thinking about what might work for you.
1. Be creative. Use your creativity to devise strategies and solutions that will make your sensitive parenting easier. One sensitive mother spends two nights each week in her guest room while her husband takes care of their 8-month-old daughter, so she can get a full night's rest. This helps her feel nourished, so she can give fully to her family. Another mother plans ahead to allow plenty of time for getting herself and her children ready to leave the house, even if it means getting up three hours ahead of time. She also makes strategic choices so she rarely has to do so.
2. Self-care is not optional. One of the mothers said, "Even though sometimes we can't get enough sleep, there is no excuse for not being well-hydrated and nourished." Another mother said that she focuses on remembering: "A happy mommy is a good mommy." The third mother lives by the adage, "remember to put on your own oxygen mask first."
3. Take breaks. Find ways to build-in breaks throughout the day, even if they are small moments. One sensitive mom takes five-minute power naps to "reset" her sensitive nervous system from the sensory overload that comes with being a parent.
4. Maximize your down time. When you do have time alone, how do you spend it? One mother said that when she has time alone in the car, she prefers quiet. While listening to the radio might seem like fun, it can also be unnecessarily stimulating. Also, give thought to what feeds you, and make it a priority to include that in your life. What that is may change: Some days spending time with your children playing quietly nearby may be exactly what fills you; other days it may be taking time alone or talking with friends.
5. Manage your stimulation levels. Children are stimulating by virtue of their mere existence. They are small people who require constant attention and nurturing. One parent said that her mind is constantly running through scenarios to anticipate their needs, but she has also learned that doing so keeps her from being fully present, which is ultimately most needed to support her children. Another mom lets go of control and uses "rolling with things more" as a strategy to keep her feeling better. Make careful choices about your internal processing and the sensory input you are allowing, so you can create a "well-nurtured emotional space," as one mother calls it.
6. Live at a proper pace. As Oprah Winfrey says, we must "slow down to the speed of life." It is easy to get involved in too many things and experience too much stimulation. When you find yourself falling into a frantic feeling, ask yourself: "Is this truly going to help me do this any faster or better?" Making a choice to stay calm, centered, and grounded will be make things easier for both you and your children.
7. Choose wisely. One mother said she used to have many things on her to-do list every day. Now that she is a parent, she has narrowed her daily list to only two or three of her most important priorities, putting "first things first." Parenting has clarified for her what is truly important to her, and has helped her set stronger boundaries with people. She is strengthened in her resolve to refuse to take on other people's energy and emotions. She said, "I am in such a taxed place already, I can't afford to get distracted or damaged."
8. Have a support community. Build a network of supportive, understanding parents. One mother noted how helpful it is to have other mothers to compare notes with, so she knows that she is not alone. Another mother finds ways to connect with like-minded parents by living in a co-housing community and associating with those who buy food from a local community-supported kitchen, because she knows they share similar values.
9. Question the givens and look out for the shoulds. There are so many beliefs about "proper" parenting. And we live in a society where the norms simply don't work for sensitives. So it's critical to question everything. Don't fall for implied guilt-trips about how you "should" be parenting. From a sensitive's perspective, many children (and their parents) in our culture are leading overscheduled lives. It's easy to fall into thinking that in order to be a "good" parent, you must adopt the mainstream approach. One mother, whose 5- and 2-year-old children don't watch TV, eat sugary or processed foods, or participate in organized sports, says to her children that "while there are people in the world making different choices, these are our values at home." She chooses what works for her family, even if they compromise a little when out in the world.
10. Follow your intuition. We face significant parenting choices about raising our children, and it seems like everyone has an opinion. For instance, there is so much debate about sleeping, feeding, and birthing children. We can be fraught with information, misinformation, unsolicited opinions, and well-meaning advice. In the face of information overload, I believe that the antidote is intuitive insight. As sensitive parents, our most powerful weapon to cut through the sheer volumes of information and reduce overwhelming feelings in these choices is our intuition.
In the end, as my own mother says, remember that there are as many ways to parent as there are parents out there. May your highly sensitive parenting be rich, happy, and fulfilling.
Listen to my interview with Kara and Caryn here.
Ask questions of Julie Hunn, an intuitive, home-birth midwife who offers insightful and alternative solutions to parenting dilemmas by phone.
Participate in conversations about highly sensitive parenting:
Read "The Highly Sensitive Child" by Dr. Elaine Aron. This book includes information about working well with highly sensitive children, and tips for highly sensitive parents as well.
Copyright 2006, Jennifer K. Avery
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This article may be published on your website or in your e-zine as long as the copyright notice and this complete note is included: Jenna Avery, the Life Coach for Sensitive Souls, offers an original coaching program designed to guide highly sensitive souls to a deep sense of inner rightness, so they are inspired to step forward and shine. You're invited to visit her website at www.highlysensitivesouls.com to take her free online assessment, "Is Your Sensitivity Working For You?"