Yes, it’s perfectly normal if you see me stress baking or tearing up at the slightest thing (like a sweet text from my daughter).
When I was 19 years old, my doctor told me that my chances of carrying children were extremely low. I was devastated. I’d dreamt of being a cookie-baking, tradition-making mommy like the ones on the Hallmark Channel.
Low and behold, my dream came true. I had two, successful, full-term pregnancies. Two miracle pregnancies, two miracle babies. And, now, those babies are 14 and 20 years old.
And I’m not just a mom — I’m a highly sensitive mom. So this means I’m not only extra sensitive to external stimuli, but also really empathize with my children: their happiness is my happiness, their pain is my pain.
My therapist and I cover a plethora of topics, but motherhood is one of the most visited. Am I doing it right? Am I messing my kids up? Can I give them too many cookies? WHAT AM I EVEN DOING?!?!
Another popular topic is “guilt” and “shame,” and how to differentiate between the two. Guilt arises from something someone does wrong, while shame rests in the belief that you — as a person — are innately wrong. This distinction has allowed me to identify where I feel guilt as a mother, and where it is I carry shame regarding my parenting. It’s been a journey.
Often, we don’t disclose these feelings publicly, but I’d like to change that. Perhaps you’ll see yourself reflected in one (or some) of my confessions of a highly sensitive mom. Knowing you’re not alone, I’d extend yourself a bit more grace and be reminded of what a kick-ass mom (or dad) you really are.
1. Mommy does not know best.
Asking a highly sensitive mom a question is complex. Trying to answer even “simple” questions, we often get caught up with overthinking — which easily becomes negative overthinking.
At nine years old, my oldest daughter asked to spend the night with a friend for the first time. I went through every possible negative scenario trying to decide if I should allow her to go. I questioned everything from her becoming homesick to her getting hurt to her being kidnapped.
In hindsight (and after allowing her to go), I could have changed my internal narrative by focusing on more positive questions, the most important one being, “What if this makes her heart happy?”
And it did.
2. My children believe I have superpowers.
When chit-chatting with my girls, I can perceive when something is off. Not to say I’m psychic, but I can read the room, and the people in it, and pick up on things that others miss. We HSPs are highly perceptive of things going on around them.
It’s this astute perception that has led both of my daughters to conclude that I have mind-reading abilities. Almost, but not quite…
…like the time I asked my oldest daughter about her prom night plans with friends and uncovered an unchaperoned party plan. There was something ominous in the way she answered a question I’d asked, and my HSP intuition and spidey senses were alerted. Hence, that dastardly plan was foiled.
3. I bake to breathe and as a form of self-care.
Every year from December 1-25, I bake a different confection daily, from blueberry muffins to chewy chocolate chip cookies. It’s an annual tradition in our home that my family and I cherish and look forward to.
But as much as I love baking for other people, I need to bake for myself. And by baking for myself, I don’t mean I want to eat two dozen chocolate chip cookies (although they are delicious). For me, baking is a form of self-care, and it helps to provide me with a creative outlet.
HSPs need an outlet to release the creative fires inside of us. And I’ve found that putting together a dessert recipe that my family enjoys fulfills both my creative and nurturing psyches.
4. Family vacations give me anxiety and I’ll hole up with a book for a while.
I look forward to making precious memories with my family on vacation, but I often get anxious both before and during a trip.
I feel so guilty for needing to escape during our family vacation time; feeling as though I cannot fulfill the “fun mom” role due to being overwhelmed weighs on me heavily.
What I have found helpful is escaping into the pages of a good book. Often when my family is splashing in the pool or snorkeling in the ocean, I’m in a lounge chair, happily reading. After a few chapters, I’m able to rejoin my family and genuinely enjoy our time together.
HSP parents, it’s important to identify that thing that’ll serve as your magical elixir, too.
5) I have double standards, even while preaching equity.
I tell my daughters that perfection isn’t important — effort is. And looking at them, I sincerely mean that. Admittedly, though, I don’t apply that same standard to myself.
I have been known to bake a cake, turn it out of the pan, and throw it immediately in the trash if I am unhappy with the bake. For me, an imperfect cake is a direct reflection of my imperfections as a mother. My family might not care about a lopsided cake, but the possibility of criticism shakes me to my sensitive core. I cannot give myself the grace I give to others.
Similar to throwing out a cake I’m unhappy with, I will also throw out parenting methods that I feel yield unsatisfactory results. I’ve tried a ton of “parenting recipes” in my efforts to discover the right mix of discipline and leniency as I attempt to raise my children in a way that honors both their individuality and their roles within our family. Sometimes in parenting, just as in baking, you have to be willing to scrap an entire method to uncover a delicious gem.
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6) Rules can be hard to enforce (but it’s necessary).
Like many families, we have rules in our home. Our rules focus on respect and accountability. I want my girls to value their contributions to the world and to respect the values of others.
When my daughters break a rule, like missing curfew or not checking in, it results in my having to take a privilege away from them. I try to maintain a poker face while being “parental,” but, inside, I am crushed.
I recognize that I have to set and enforce boundaries with my children, but highly sensitive me is gutted when my girls are sad or upset that they have lost privileges. Oftentimes after playing the role of “enforcer,” I have to retreat to my bedroom to compose myself before my daughters see my “strict mom” exterior shatter.
7. Parties make me anxious (and I often skip them).
Both of my daughters play team sports. My least favorite part of the season is the end-of-season party. Team parties make me anxious. “Team party” means the team, parents, and coaches will be present. Too many people, too much conversation, and too much movement is extremely overwhelming for an HSP.
I experienced similar anxiety during class parties for five years as “room mom” for my youngest daughter’s class. I enjoyed the planning and the behind-the-scenes coordination, but when it was “party day,” my anxiety took over. The noises in the classroom, the constant chatter, and the smells of the different party foods was sensory overload.
I could have easily not signed up to be a room mom. However, the joy I saw on my baby girl’s face when we would sit at home cutting stars and letters for her class was priceless. That joy — even with the personal discomfort I may have experienced during the party — made it all worth it.
But team and classroom parties aren’t the only party environments that make me anxious. I’ve experienced anxiety attacks attempting to mentally prepare myself for social events with groups of friends, too (pre-pandemic, of course). Usually, all the external stimulation is far too overwhelming for my highly sensitive mind.
8. I cry — a lot — like when my daughters tell me they’re proud of me.
Before I knew what being highly sensitive meant, I didn’t understand why so many things in life moved me to tears.
- When I saw beautiful flowers, I cried.
- When a friend lost a child, I cried.
- When I saw a homeless or less fortunate person on the street, I cried.
- When I smelled food that reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking, I cried.
- When a boyfriend told me I cried too much, I cried.
I still cry a lot. But now it’s due to moments of beauty, sadness, grief, and joy involving my children that moves me to tears most.
- When I’m taken aback by my daughters’ beauty, I cry.
- When my oldest daughter texts me simply to say “Good morning!” I cry.
- When my daughters rave about something special I’ve cooked for them, I cry.
- When my daughters, who are six-and-a-half years apart in age, call each other their “best friend,” I cry.
- When my daughters say they are proud of me, I cry.
The number of tears hasn’t changed, but the motivation behind them has.
9. Opinions do matter, especially when they come from the people you love most.
I’ve spent my daughters’ lives telling them that it didn’t matter what other people thought of them. I’ve told them that as long as they know they’re trying their best to be decent and honest people, other people’s perception of them is not their responsibility.
But, I believe that’s only partially true. All opinions don’t matter, but the people you love most? Their opinions definitely matter. Theirs are the opinions that force you to to make better choices and to live with integrity.
When I’m convinced I’m completely ruining this “momming” gig, one of my daughters will randomly look at me/call me/text me and say, “Mommie, you’re a good mommie” — and I’ll get the positive reinforcement I need to keep going. It’s opinions like those that I live for.
I’m not ashamed of the mother I’ve become; I make mistakes every day. And isn’t that what motherhood is? Apologizing and learning and growing and understanding? It’s firmly trying to hold onto something — all while keeping both feet on the ground.
If, at 19 years old, I knew what I now know about motherhood, I’d have the same dreams. I would choose to be this highly sensitive mom who is more self-aware than ever, who cries more than ever, and who constantly works toward improvement. I would pick motherhood, with all of the fragmented pieces and struggles that make it wholly worthwhile. I would choose this perfectly imperfect life. Every single time, I would take my low chances and accept my miracles.
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