What I’m Thinking Now: Parenting as a Highly Sensitive Person

Dr Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, writes that while highly sensitive people (HSP) are creative, attuned, respectful, and conscientious parents, “there are also some major problems with being a highly sensitive parent,” the biggest one being overstimulation. 

“HS parents need help. Hopefully they have a partner, and the two of them are not working full time jobs. Even with a partner, the one with more time with the children needs frequent breaks to be alone and to be with adults. For HSPs, the need for time off from parenting is much greater than it is for other parents. You can’t compare yourself to non-HSPs on this issue, just as you can’t on most issues. This point cannot be emphasized enough.”

Dr Elaine Aron, “The Highly Sensitive Parent

I’ve read this several times since becoming a parent, and she’s right — the point can’t be emphasized enough, because I always forget it. It is really stressful being a highly sensitive parent; I’m always thinking so much and noticing so much and feeling so much that I just get overwhelmed much faster than most people. I have to keep telling myself it’s not a deficiency, I’m not weak, I’m not incapable. I’m just built a little differently than most people and while that creates challenges, it’s also what makes me so wonderful.

But, of course, no matter how many times I tell myself this, I’m still surrounded by other parents, and it’s impossible not to compare — especially when they seem to be managing more capably even with a far more rambunctious child, or a more difficult home or work situation, or several children (or all of the above). A lovely friend asks if I want more kids, and I feel completely stupid telling her — she who has three children under the age of three — that I find parenting my one extremely communicative, empathetic, and comparatively mild-mannered child to be so overwhelming that I can’t imagine having more children and still being happy. I know I’m speaking my own truth, but it’s hard not to feel inadequate, like there must be something really wrong with me for being this way. And I always imagine everyone else thinks so, too — that they look at me with my easy child and my helpful partner and my comfortable life and think, wow, how pathetic is she, that she thinks that’s hard? 

Sometimes I think it would be easier if high sensitivity were a diagnosis, if I could wave that in front of me like a badge: look, no, I’m not making it up, I promise, this isn’t something I can help. And then I think I’m a horrible person for wishing for a more severe condition just so I can prove something to people. I just wish I could be better at accepting my limits and not judging myself for having them. I wish I didn’t feel so deficient all the time. Parenting is challenging enough without beating myself up for this too. 

(PS. I did find an online support group for highly sensitive parents, and I’m sorry to say it hasn’t helped much. It’s overwhelming to even read the posts, and when I do, other people’s situations seem to be so much harder than mine that I feel both unqualified to weigh in, and even more inadequate by comparison. Or they’re talking about children who are much older, or who are HSPs themselves, which are different challenges than the ones I have. Plus the usual difficulty of finding connection in a group of several thousand!)