The HSP World Podcast Ep. 14: What is Parenting Like for HSPs?
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Robyn: Hey HSP World Podcast listeners! In today’s episode you’ll be hearing from a Guest who asked about Parenting as A Highly Sensitive Person.
After our discussion we realized just how big and important this topic is. So we consulted with an expert on HSP Parenting to find out more. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode on the biggest challenges and solutions for HSP Parents, with our special Expert Guest. And now onto today’s episode.
Thomas: Hi and welcome to the HSP World Podcast. With each episode we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question that they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts, Thomas, and your other hosts are;
Rayne: and Rayne.
Robyn: Welcome back everybody. We actually have a returning guest with us today. Welcome back, Laurie.
Laurie: Hi there, Robyn. Hi Rayne. Hi Thomas.
Robyn: Thank you for joining us for a second episode. Laurie actually spoke with us on a previous episode about HSP extroverts. So if you’d like to know more about that topic and her HSP story you can check it out.
But we’re actually speaking with Laurie again today because she had another excellent question for us. So Laurie, I’ll let you get right to it.
Laurie: Yeah, my question for today’s conversation is, what is parenting like for HSPs?
Thomas: Great question.
Laurie: I mean, I have my experience, but I’d love to have this conversation too.
Rayne: Well, yeah, because you were, you were saying before we started recording, Laurie that you thought or felt that, um, you were talking about expectations and what you thought it would be like.
Rayne: Can you, can you talk a little bit about that? About your experience?
Laurie: Yeah. I so looked forward to having children. I kind of had this romantic idea of what it was going to be like, um, after I had my first child, who actually is highly sensitive and was a highly sensitive newborn. Um, it changed my whole world and I had a lot of trouble.
We had trouble just even with nursing and adjusting and, and I thought, it’s not supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be sitting in some rocking chair with him, blissfully happy and we’re just supposed to go through the whole like bliss thing. And that’s not how it was.
He was, um, like I was overtending to him and overstimulating him, and I was overstimulated and it was just like, Oh, my gosh what is happening?!
So, um, you know, and it didn’t at all match what I thought this motherhood thing was going to be about. And then of course, as he grew and then I had two more children, I was like, this is a big challenge. Like I don’t have sleep. These people are pushing my buttons, you know, I thought I was supposed to be all happy.
And don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, but especially when my kids were young, that the physical aspect of me being highly sensitive, and then by the way, I gave birth to three highly sensitive children, and then managing the cacophony of all of that in my house. It was like, holy toledo, what did I get myself into?
Rayne: And not knowing at the time that you had the HSP Trait. Or what it was or that your children had anything like that.
Rayne: Right. Wow.
Laurie: Yeah, it was, it was like holy cow, but even at two weeks old, I remember I had fed my first born. I had fed him, changed him, bounced him, rocked him, and he wasn’t going to sleep. And my then husband said to me, Laurie, I think you need to just put him in the crib and let him go to sleep. I think you’re keeping him awake and it was like traumatic.
I was like, but I’m supposed to be snuggling him to sleep and to let him cry, it was like killing me. But then he was fine. And to realize as he grew that I was overstimulating him in my need to have some perfect bliss, whatever picture in my head. And it was like, Oh, now what do I do?
Robyn: Um, I’m remembering an anecdote that Elaine Aron shares where, um, she said she discovered a way to create like a low stimulation environment for her son was to just like, basically put him in the crib and then put a blanket over it, you know, that he could still breathe through, but to, to kind of block out the light, block out the sound, block out the stimulation and that that would help him come back to a better level of stimulation for his sensitive nervous system.
Yeah, I should point out just as a reference in case anyone’s curious. There is a book by Elaine Aron by Elaine Aron called The Highly Sensitive Child and she does talk a little bit about just some of the things that come up when you’re parenting or living with, or working with a highly sensitive child.
Laurie: Oh, and Robyn, she just came out with The Highly Sensitive Parent.
Robyn: Ah, even better! There you go. Okay. Have you read it?
Laurie: I have. It’s amazing!
Rayne: I think that’s really good to, to note the difference there between being a parent and having the highly sensitive trait and, and parenting a child who has the HSP trait or being a highly sensitive parent and parenting a child who does not have the highly sensitive, you know, the HSP Trait that we’re kind of talking about.
I don’t know, it just feels to me like we’re lumping them all together. But to me it feels like they, they are separate, they are different. Thomas, how do you, what do you feel or, sorry, Robyn.
Robyn: Well, it’s just that for some people it will both will co-occur right? Some sensitive, uh, parents will have highly sensitive children. So for some, it will be both, but you’re also right that some, it’s not always the case. So sometimes you’ll only just have one or the other.
Rayne: Absolutely cause it is genetic. It’s a genetic trait. Thomas you’re a parent. What’s your take on this?
Thomas: Well, I remember coming home from the hospital and thinking is like, what in the world were they thinking, allowing us to be parents? Especially because it doesn’t, you know, when you, when you bring your child home, it doesn’t, they don’t come with a manual or anything like that. There’s no book. I mean, there are books obviously, but, but you know, in essence it’s like, here it is. You know?
Robyn: Good luck.
Thomas: Good luck. You didn’t need a license, you know, you didn’t need a need a degree or anything like that to be a parent.
So, Laurie you spoke about expectations and sometimes I wonder how our culture puts these expectations on us about, you know, this is what what motherhood and fatherhood is like, and more romanticized than, than being straight with us and saying, you know, there’s going to be these things that happen and, and you’re just gonna have to muddle through, or in the best case, you have people around you who are experienced parents and can, can advise you, I guess.
It took us quite awhile, we have one child and, and it took us quite a while to, to settle down because when newborn comes, you know, they need around-the-clock attention. My daughter has some sensitivity, my wife has some sensitivity, but we’re lucky in the sense that we also had a friend who was living with us that could sort of share in some of the chores and things like that. So that helped quite a bit.
You know, for me, what I remember is the joyful part coming like at two years old and later, because then you’re past that part where, you know, you don’t have that much control over what the child needs, and you start seeing that personality develop and you start seeing that person develop and that’s when it becomes interesting.
Laurie: Yeah, I think as a highly sensitive person, I mean, I only spoke earlier to maybe my frustration, but we also experience the joy more deeply. Right? And I’m with you that just looking at these humans and experiencing their personalities and watching them learn and grow, it’s just profound and…
Thomas: It’s amazing.
Laurie: And to be blessed with that is like, wow, this is incredible that I get to have this. So…
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to go and say everybody, you must have a child, but, um, if, if you do have the opportunity, it’s just, it’s quite an amazing experience.
Laurie: Yeah. I only recommend it if you want children because it’s an investment for sure. But yeah.
Robyn: Well, this is really interesting as someone who doesn’t have children, but could, you know, it, it’s a very, very difficult, um, reflection for someone in my position to have.
And I actually remember a line in one of Elaine Aron’s books where she says, I think she says, she’s specifically speaking to two highly sensitive partners together, saying you probably shouldn’t have a big family.
And I remember another friend reading that and being offended like, Oh, how could she say that? You know? Um, but I think I kind of, it kind of stuck with me and I always thought, yeah, I don’t imagine that I could enjoy the level of stimulation that would come with a big family, unless somehow I were to have, you know, a great amount of help that isn’t really available in the kind of set up that, you know, most people living in a city nowadays would have, right?
Like you might have some help here and there from family or friends, but, you know, I don’t live in like a super tight knit community where like there’s five people living nearby who could, you know, watch my children at any moment. Right? I don’t have that kind of setup at all.
So I think the way that, just the, the demands of modern parenting, or contemporary parenting is, yeah, it’s something that I find especially daunting. Um, yeah, and I do worry about how, how I would be able to weather something that extreme and what impact it would have physically, psychologically, emotionally. It’s a, it’s a really tough call from this perspective.
Thomas: You know, what’s interesting for me is that my wife and I, we had our daughter and we both pretty much said, you know, we, we would like to have a child, but not more than one. And so we didn’t really give it all that much thought. We just said, you know, this is what I think we can handle.
Just having one, one kid, because there is that overarching, like societal pressure, like, Oh, you gotta have that, you know, 2.1 or whatever the average is, you know? But no, no. We knew from the beginning we wanted to have one and you know, we’re so glad that we made that choice that way.
Rayne: You know, I don’t, I don’t have children, but I’ve spoken with, you know, some parents who have the HSP trait and I’ve often wondered how healthy boundaries, how having healthy boundaries help them parent, you know, in a positive, you know, in a positive way. I’m wondering if anybody has any thoughts or feelings on that?
Laurie: Well, this is Laurie. I think having healthy boundaries in what way? With the children or…?
Rayne: Kind of both, with yourself, like knowing about your sensitivities and what’s overstimulating, what isn’t and then, you know, setting up, you know, sort of boundaries and setting, um, your things up for yourself so that, you know, you can manage in a way that’s very doable for you. And at the same time, I guess, coincidentally, that’s also setting up healthy boundaries for the children.
Because they, they learn by, you know, they learn by what they see and what’s the example for them, right?
Laurie: Definitely. I think it’s vital. Obviously, I wish I had known, so my children are in their early twenties and late teens now. When they were little, what I needed, I wish I had known that more.
I think I kind of naturally did things to take care of myself because you have to, and you also have to be careful. I think it’s such a fine line there because children need what they need, no matter what you need.
Um, so when you first said boundaries, I kind of panicked for a second. Uh, it’s like you can’t really have boundaries with a 2 year old. Uh, I mean you can, and you still have to take care of them, right? No matter what.
And so. It’s it’s an art. Having boundaries with children is an art, not a science. And you can’t like with other adults, you can say, this is my boundary. With children you can’t do that. You have to be a lot more flexible and meet your own, like you have to have that boundary be internal and say, how am I going to meet this need for myself? And what can my child handle for themselves?
And I think in our culture, we do baby our children a little too much. Right? We could expect more of them. So that’s true, but I don’t know. Thomas, what do you think? Since you have a children as well.
Thomas: Yeah, I, um, so I’ve only known about the HSP Trait for about three years and, and my daughter’s already 25 so. What I do remember is being aware of my own emotions in high emotion times, so that, you know, I do remember trying to model calmness in difficult situations.
So that’s one thing that I tried to do in terms of, of modeling. We were blessed in the sense that my daughter really never pushed the boundaries at all. I mean, our struggle with her was, you know, we always were setting boundaries that were larger than she would test. And it wasn’t until she got into high school where she like pushed past them and we said Yay! Finally! But, um, because she was my daughter, I don’t know where she got it and how she got it, but she always had a very, very strong sense of justice and right and wrong.
And, you know, we were trying to teach her to like, push out of, you know, seeing everything as just right and wrong. But yeah, as I remember back, I think, I think an important part of it was to, was to modulate my emotions when, when there was some stress in the household and just sort of say, well, you know, let’s, let’s see how this is going to go. Let’s stay calm in this situation. See what we can do do and, and whatnot.
Cause I do remember my daughter picking up, even on sort of, uh, um, the subtext of things that we were talking about, whether, you know, maybe there wasn’t enough money coming in. Um, you know, I started my business, I became self employed 16 years ago, so that would have been when she was, uh, 8, 9, 10.
And there were times where she was picking up on stress we were having. And, uh, and so we had to be careful about that and just be reassuring and say, look, you know, we’re doing okay. You know, remember she grew, she, uh, one of her earlier memories, so she would have been six and two in 2001, one of her earlier memories was the twin towers, um, falling in New York city.
And that, of course, made a really big impression because it was, you know, that day where everybody was rushing to get their kids from school and not knowing what in the world was happening. Um, that, that was, you know, one of those days where we really had to sort of just, again, like, okay, this is strange, but you know, we have to keep it together here.
We’re a family, we can get through this type-of-thing.
Laurie: Yeah. I noticed as a parent that whatever space I’m in, steers the emotional tone of the family. And so, especially being a single, I’m a single parent, so I have to be careful and because my children, one of them especially, is in tune with my emotions. Right? I have, I am careful not to pull her into a friend-type of a mode and rather I’m still the parent, so that my children feel safe because that’s my job as a parent.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah.
Laurie: Like you’re talking about. To create that safety. And yet, how do I still, and I think this is what you were talking about Rayne. How do I still take care of my own needs while taking care of these people who might or might not be highly sensitive? My children just happen to be, but other highly sensitive parents might have children who aren’t highly sensitive.
And I actually kind of can’t imagine that. What about all those soccer games and sleepovers and, and your child is really okay, and you’re not, that would be weird.
Um, I was more dealing in my case, my children have been dealing with their sensitivity. I’m dealing with mine. And it’s been more like their sensitivity is different than mine. And they’re concerned about something different than I am.
Laurie: On top of mom and child regular stuff. But if the child were not sensitive, Oh, holy cannoli. I don’t know what, how that would go down. That would be weird to me.
Rayne: Well, and I think that can all, well, I don’t know if you guys would agree or not, but I almost feel like that could be said for all sensitives. Um, you know, because our sensitivities are as unique as, as each person who has the Trait.
Thomas: I don’t know. My observation, of course, you know, I can only, I only have one data point here. I can just, you know, observe my daughter. She is very, very attuned to both of us in terms of our emotional states. And she’s also very understanding of them. You know, she just has a very high emotional intelligence to know that, you know if we’re not feeling right about something or whatever, and, you know, she’s an adult now. She’s been an adult for many, many years. And she’ll now model for us, which is great. I think it’s great.
One thing I did want to say though, is this is, um, and I don’t know if this is a sense as sensitivity or not. I think there’s maybe a little to it, but boy, when she started going out on her own and you know, both of us would just sit there. It’s like, when she’s going to text us? Is she going to let us know that she’s coming home now? And all that kind of stuff. And you know, sometimes I think that sometimes highly sensitives have this tendency to overthink things.
And this is one of those classic situations. It’s like, you know, where is she? Why hasn’t she contacted us? Well, you know, it’s always because she’s having a great time with her friends of course, but your mind can sometimes spin out of control doing, doing that overthinking thing.
Laurie: Right to the car in the ditch. Not that she’s having a good time. Right?
Thomas: Right, yeah, yeah.
Laurie: That something’s wrong. Yeah, so my brain can do that too. And it can be that letting go is hard, I think. And I’m going through that now as my children are older, uh, and I don’t want to let them go. I like my, my nest, my, my chicks, and you know, this whole coronavirus situation we have been all quarantining together.
And I am just over the moon about that. I really enjoy that. And yet they all need to have their own space in their own lives to make their own mistakes. And I don’t like that part. And I never have.
I can think about when they were younger, you know, I didn’t want them to climb trees or fall over. I, you know, I don’t know when your daughter was younger, did you have trouble letting her, even as a younger person, make her own mistakes Thomas?
Thomas: That’s, that’s the hardest thing to do. I mean, we tried as much as we could. But again I think we have our own relationship with mistakes, right?
We have our own relationship with, with how we think of mistakes. And oftentimes we think of mistakes as reflecting on who we are, rather than just being an event that happened.
Rayne: Well said Thomas.
And so, so in some ways it, it takes an adjustment on how we look at mistakes to then, you know, allow them. Of course, there are mistakes that are not life threatening. And then there’s their mistakes that are life threatening. And, you know, you have to make a distinction distinction between the two.
If they’re climbing a tree, then that’s a little higher stakes than if they are failing a math test or something. I don’t know.
Rayne: I liked that you said that about it’s, um, maybe not so much about them and what, what we put on them, what the mistake means, as opposed to an opportunity to learn, you know, all of, you know, all those types of things that are very, you know, positive and proactive, as opposed to, you know, a mistake, that’s you know, the, the undercurrent is you know, guilt or shame or something’s wrong with the person, that type of thing.
Robyn: I imagine that that, uh, extends to all aspects of your sensitivity, right? And the more you can be at ease with that, um, even if it is a struggle, but if you continue to struggle through it and towards a better relationship with your own sensitivity, I think that can only be helpful for your kids, whether or not they’re sensitive, but especially if they’re sensitive too, right?
Thomas: And Laurie, it sounds like we’re both on the cusp of launching our kids into the world. Um, my daughter just finished college and now is trying to, you know, find her way in the work world. And there is going to be a point very quickly where she’s going to be moving out and, you know, getting her own apartment and so on and so forth.
So it’s going to be an interesting transition for us here.
Laurie: Yeah, not fun but necessary. Right?
Thomas: It’s what? Could you say that? It’s necessary? Yes, it’s absolutely necessary. That’s what we want for them.
Laurie: Yes. But when you, before you had children, I don’t know about you, I never thought about letting them go. That was not, I always thought about having. Not not having. You know, about having my children with me. So, and this idea of them growing up and leaving home was way off in the future. And all of a sudden it’s here.
Thomas: Yeah, it goes really quickly. It really does.
Well, Laurie, I want to thank you again for a wonderful conversation. I really enjoyed it. I’m curious to know how you feel about it and were there any points that resonated with you?
Laurie: Well, like Rayne said, I really liked what you were pointing out about the mistakes and how we can reframe them and maybe allow our children to learn from them without us kind of overshadowing it as, “This is a mistake!” You know, and having it more as a learning.
I thought that was really well put the way you said that. So I appreciate that, Thomas.
Thomas: Laurie, thank you for joining us today.
Laurie: Oh, thank you for having me again. I so enjoyed it.
Rayne: Yes. I really enjoyed the conversation too, Laurie, and I’m quite sure there’s a lot of parents who are HSPs, who are going to resonate with a lot of the points, um, you know, that we discussed here. So it was great chatting with you. Thank you.
Robyn: Yeah, thanks Laurie. And thank you to our listeners. So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation.
And to any HSPs out there who have a burning, highly sensitive related question, big or small, we invite you to ask it on the HSP world podcast. Just email us at [email protected]
Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.