The Three Stages Of Parenting A Sensitive Child

December 13, 2018

Exhaustion and sensitivity is a recipe for disaster - Helen Joy Butler

Many, many moons ago I became a mum.

Like most mums I was overjoyed when our beautiful boy was born.

He was known as the big boy on the block, being one of the more ‘sizeable’ babies in the maternity ward at the time – no mean feat given you can blow me over in a strong wind!

Mothering came quite naturally to me. I thank my older sister for that, for bringing her two beautiful daughters – my nieces – into the world while I was in my teens. Changing nappies, burping a baby, cleaning up after them, entertaining them, really wasn’t a problem for me. Of course at that time I wasn’t privy to the sleep deprivation or boobs the size of small countries or deflecting questions like ‘When are you having another one?’. I just enjoyed my nieces, caring for them under the tutelage of my sister, mum and grandma, and handed them back when it was time to leave.

Like most new mums, when our son was born I doted on him. And to be honest I still do, 13 years later. But if I reflect on our journey over the past 13 years there are three very obvious stages to our growth together, as two sensitive souls in a not-so-sensitive world.

Stages which have impacted my ability to parent our son because of where I was at on my own journey as a highly sensitive mum.

The first stage of our journey together was the pregnancy itself, followed closely by the first twelve months of our son’s life.

In that time I was on a high. Pregnancy hormones? The joy of a full term pregnancy after losing our first to miscarriage? Sleep deprivation which lead to a little bit of craziness? I’m not sure what it was to be honest, but during this time I felt in flow. I felt like I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing – creating, birthing, nurturing and enjoying the first 12 months of our son’s life as a full time mother.

In this first stage I wasn’t aware of any massive impact my sensitivities had on me and how I showed up in the world. I can certainly tell you about some of our son’s sensitivities and how they presented – but at the time I felt in flow and was able to manage his sensitivities from a place of love, care and compassion.

The second stage of our journey was from when our son started walking, at around one, through to his first day at mainstream schooling, a few days short of his fifth birthday.

It was during this time the sleep deprivation, constant movement of an energetic toddler, and supporting our son on his childcare and schooling journey started to take its toll on me. It’s quite strange really – you’d expect the sleep deprivation to impact me more heavily in the first year of his life – but the reality was that even though our baby was sleeping through the night I was constantly bone tired. Exhausted. Depleted. Yet still, like all Mums, continuing to do all the parenting duties expected of me.

In this time I also returned to work, realised it wasn’t for me anymore, quit, and started my own business. In hindsight this wasn’t really a wise move. Yet most Mums do this in some way or another – whether they’re a stay-at-home Mum, run their own business, or work for the man, all Mums work.

In this second stage I became acutely aware of how my sensitivities impacted everything in my life. How I showed up at work, for myself and my clients. How I showed up in my marriage, and with our son, and with my friends and family. And lastly, of course – as is often the case – with myself.

As I now know, because I ignored my sensitivity and how it affected everything from my energy levels to what I ate to how much sleep I needed, my sensitivities started to wear me down. I got sick and it took forever to get better. Our son got sick and I’d be burning the candle at both ends, caring for him while caring for my clients and Hubby and anyone else who needed me. And because I did this I became more and more disconnected with my dreams, with my life, with myself. I slipped into a place of disconnection of what it was I wanted for my life, all the while trying to keep going for everyone else.

Of course, we all know how well that works, don’t we?

The third stage of our journey was from when our son started school through to today – quite a broad age range from five to nearly 13. The reality is that there are probably a few sub-stages in there but for brevity’s sake we’ll stick with it!

It was during this time that the school routine descended upon us. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know what this looked like – I’d taught primary school for ten years and our son had attended child care from 12 months of age. But there was something about the school routine that changed how I looked at my own sensitivities and that of our son.

Firstly, I became acutely aware of how being busy affected both my own and our son’s sensitivity. We tended to be OK at the start of term, but by mid-term we were both foundering. Exhausted. Over the peak hour traffic we got stuck in each day. Never being able to find a car park anywhere close to school, even though the policy was that the children had to be dropped off and picked up from class by an adult each day. The expectation of the school to attend this thing, or that thing, or get this homework finished, or try out for this sporting team.

We’d push through, somehow, to the end of term, me cajoling our son each and every day with lots of cuddles and kisses and promises, in an attempt to help him get to the end of term without dropping dead. He never did drop dead of course, and neither did I, but I can tell you even to this day we both limp out of school on the last day of term thanking God we made it through.

Secondly, I became acutely aware of how much time we both needed away from the routine of school and life. School holidays became our sanctuary – a time to sleep, have pyjama days and watch movies, cook, create, cuddle. As long as we didn’t leave the house and spent the day in each other’s company we were happy. And slowly, over this time, our sensitivities would shift from a loud scream to a low hum, to a place where we felt grounded and centred, more in flow – and importantly, more like we knew who we were at our core.

Finally, I became acutely aware that I needed to do something – STAT! – that would help both of us cope with the demands of our day, week and school term, without the pattern I had observed in both of our lives. The constant up, down, sideways slam wasn’t doing either of us any good. We needed a solution that would allow us to be true to our own sensitivities which still fulfilled the demands of our modern society. (Keep your eye out for that post!)

I know that all families and children feel like us at the end of term, and particularly at the end of the year. Exhausted. Over it. Had enough. I know that. I saw it in my own students when I was teaching. I see it in the parents at the grocery store yelling at their children. I see it in the traffic around my city at any time of day.

We are ALL exhausted.

And the good news? You don’t even need to be a part of the parenting club to enjoy membership!

But what I’d like to suggest is that being exhausted is different when you also identify as highly sensitive or highly aware.

I could tell you hundreds (if not thousands) of times when my own sensitivities have been off the charts – when I’m going through my own emotional breakdowns or breakthroughs, or spiritual challenges that are raising me to another level, or life has slammed me harder than a brick wall – and I haven’t been able to parent my child in a way that I truly wanted to.

I’m not a yeller and I’m not a hitter. I never have been. But I do know the times I’ve felt I haven’t parented in the way I wanted to – with kindness and compassion and care and love – all because my sensitivities were off the charts.

Throw in exhaustion and what hope have we got?

A recipe for sensitivities to grow exponentially – and for the up, down, sideways slam to continue – until it literally feels like there’s no way to keep going.

If you are a sensitive Mum who sees herself in my story, I’d like to invite you to work on your exhaustion. Get rid of it in whatever way you need. Sleep. Say no. See your doctor. Get counselling. Go to a healer. Visit the beach. Take yourself away on retreat. Get takeaway. If you have a partner, expect them to do more.

It’s only when you remove the exhaustion that you will be able to reconnect with your sensitive nature – and parent yourself and your child in a way that feels authentic, connected and true.

And don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. This is your life and you deserve to live it according to your sensitivity Super Power. You and your child will thank you for it.

With much love,

Helen xx

PS If you’d like some help with your sensitive child, head over here.

Helen Joy Butler - Sanctuary Creator and Elemental Space Clearing® practitioner

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