Practical Hope for the Highly-Sensitive Mom

Practical Help for the Highly-Sensitive Mom

I became clued into the fact that I was most likely a highly-sensitive mother when I was reading the book, Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  As I read through the descriptors of what comprises a highly-sensitive child, I found myself identifying personally with many of them!  Needless to say, in a home with more than one highly-sensitive, spirited person, it’s helpful to know some practical tips that can make your life sane[r].

1. Give yourself some whitespace.

The dictionary defines whitespace as the unprinted area of a piece of printing, as of a poster or newspaper page, or of a portion of a piece of printing, as of an advertisement; blank space.  Marketers know that whitespace is as important in advertising as the type.

We must have whitespace in our lives.  And in this day and age, we have to be very intentional or we will fill our pages up with pure type.

Whitespace is important for everybody but especially for those who are wired more sensitively. Click To Tweet

I find whitespace by trying to plan in a few minutes in between activities to give myself time to catch my breath.  My natural rhythm is to go on from one project to another without pausing, but I find if I do this, I start to get stressed out!  Instead of planning to arrive right on the dot, I can try to schedule myself a few minutes earlier than necessary. This give me and my kids some extra grace to make mistakes as well.

This concept was once planned into the week for people with all shops and businesses being closed on Sundays.  For me, growing up, Sunday was still meant to be our family day.  We were encouraged not to plan anything with friends on that day if possible.  Without knowing it, my parents were giving us space to decompress before a new week began.

Whitespace can also be found in our physical surroundings (just like a calm-down corner for spirited kids).  I try to at least have my bed made in the morning so that one room in our house looks put together (as long as I am facing the bed and not our desk!)  I used to not feel the need to make my bed to help me feel collected, but since motherhood hit and my house has been taken over by mini-dictators, having this space that stays semi-tidy really seems to help.  I also try to pick up the house as I go throughout the day.  Again, this is not my natural habit.  I’d much rather have my projects strewn around until I feel they have been satisfied, but it became overwhelming after the aforementioned dictators showed up.  Now, if my physical surroundings are more settled, I don’t feel as out of sorts.  I’m also trying to teach my kids to do the same- put away one game/toy before they get out another.  It doesn’t always happen, but I have been more intentional with it.

Sometimes finding whitespace is as simple as not checking my phone when the kids are playing by themselves for 5 minutes and just letting my mind wander or talking to God.  Our minds and hearts need these times as well.

Going out in nature is whitespace.  All-encompassing physical activity can be whitespace (the kind where you can’t think about anything else because you have to exert yourself so much). And sleep is also an inbuilt, essential whitespace.

And let me just say a quick word for the introverted parents out there- we will survive!  I never realized how introverted I truly was until kids.  Now time to myself is desire far above rubies and pearls.

Forcing my kids to learn to independent play, nap by themselves, and find quiet activities was key to my sanity.  Sometimes when we are in the car, I tell them that Mama needs a break from talking.  You can talk to each other, to yourselves, or to Jesus, but if you want to talk to me, please wait until we arrive!

Introverted parents need to learn to say me too! by making space for quiet in their lives. #introvert Click To Tweet

I used to feel bad about doing this, but some kids talk ALL THE TIME.  If you are an introvert, you actually need the quiet to process life.  This doesn’t mean that I shut my kids out completely.  And it doesn’t mean that it’s alway me first.  It just means that it’s me too.  It’s not just my children’s needs that are important, it’s mine too.  This actually helps teach my children that both parties in our relationship have different needs and desires, and that it’s not just about them and what they want.  One day their spouses can thank me!Introverted Mamas

2. Maximize your children’s schedule by minimizing activities.

What I mean is try not to over-schedule everyone.  It is SO SO SO tempting to want our kids to be a part of everything new under the sun, but it can drain them (and us!) if we are not aware.  And filling up their schedules with lots of average activities can actually take away from the more meaningful ones.

Living out of the country for the past decade has helped my husband and I to see that there are really a variety of ways to raise a child and they all turn out (mostly) alright.  (Did you know in China, most babies don’t wear diapers- I mean EVER?!)

This perspective has helped us as parents realize that our babies don’t have to be in infant swimming classes or 6-month-old gymnastics or learn to play the drums before age 1.  I don’t have anything against these classes, but if you are highly-sensitive (or your child is), it’s really important that their schedules are not maxed out.

If we do an outing in the morning, I try to stay in in the afternoon.  I find that I begin to get frazzled if I have planned to many activities.

And transitions are hard for extra-sensitive people.  Transitioning from the house to the car to the grocery store to the post office can really wear me out. (Again, I’m talking with young children.) It has taken me awhile to admit this even to myself, but I try to gauge myself and the kids now before I whisk them off to the next activity.  This helps avoid a lot of major meltdowns (usually mine).

Now when I see that the super-duper-fun, hyper-clown, sugar-bonanza Carnival is in town and I want to go (because I am actually drawn to these sorts of community events), I ask myself if the stress involved in getting there, parking, getting tickets, waiting in line, convincing my kids to go on rides, trying to find edible food that won’t send us running to the outhouses, etc, etc is worth the fun involved.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it is not.  It depends on the day, the age of the kids at the time, my mental state, and the location of the said carnival.

My point is that we are not ruining our kids by saying no to certain classes or events.  Most of them will be enjoyed more when they are older anyways.

3. Pay attention to how hot your kettle is.

This is some wisdom that God dropped into my lap one day.  I was asking Him why I sometimes seem to totally erupt on my family and find it so hard to stay self-controlled.

A picture of our red kettle on a burner came to my mind.  I knew instantly the meaning behind this thought.

Kettles are made to whistle.  Once they get hot enough, they will whistle.  It’s how they were created.

I, too, will whistle once I am hot enough.  It’s how I was made.  I am more sensitive than some.  I am wired that way and need to operate in the way that God made me.  This is not an excuse for letting myself fly of the handle, but it is a lesson to learn to take the kettle off the burner before it boils!

Let’s say we have to leave the house at 8am.  My natural response to this would be to try to squeeze in as many tasks as possible before we get out the door.  I have learned that this makes my kettle blow its top!  Instead of trying to pay the bills, get a thank-you note written, check my email, and make myself presentable in the half hour space in which the kids will be watching their TV show, I need to choose which tasks are most important at that moment and stick to those.

This is hard for me.  I fail at this one a lot.  I think that I can be super efficient and get everything done.  And in fact, often I do get everything done but I’ve had to rush around like a crazy woman to do it, so by the time the kids need help getting into their coats, I already feel max-ed out.  (And that’s before the milk spills, or the blankie gets lost, or the son pulls the daughter’s hair, etc, etc).  If I wouldn’t have put so much heat on the kettle by trying to check off every point on my list, my kettle would still be cool to the touch.

If I know an upcoming day is going to be fuller than normal or more emotional for whatever reason, I should try not to plan extra chores for that day.  By doing that, I can keep the burner low enough to avoid any ear-piercing screams (those being my own and not the figurative kettle.)

And when I feel myself about to steam, I need to excuse myself and let it off before I react to my children negatively. We need to teach our kids how that grown-ups need to take time-outs too.  Time-outs and Calm-Down Corners to not need to be shameful.  Everyone needs to pause and re-group at times.  That’s why they have time-outs during sporting events.  Things are about to turn sour, so stop, collect yourself, and get back in the game.

It’s okay to tell your children that Mama needs a time-out!  This helps them to learn that everyone feels frustrated and angry sometimes and shows them how to work through that in a constructive way.

Take it one day at a time.

It takes time to learn new ways of living, especially if they seem to go against the grain of your natural flow.  I still fail often and sometimes wonder why I can’t just pull it together? Why can’t I be like that friend who can sit and have a meaningful conversation with me over coffee while her kids are literally screaming and punching each other just two cushion seats down on the sofa, with the room a mess, the dishes piled up, and the toilet over-flowing? It’s just not the way I’m wired.  This friend is not a highly-sensitive person.  She is very big-picture and easily overlooks details.  I very rarely overlook details or forget what is on my checklist.  I wish I could.  It’s totally ridiculous.  But it helps me read a room, help set an ambiance, create metaphors, and do administrative work fairly well.

So let’s give our highly-sensitive or introverted selves some grace, take a deep breath and ask God to help us recognize what we can do to bring more of His peace into our lives.

If you’d like more resources on family and/or walking with God, you can follow me on Pinterest.

28 Comments

  • Sara September 7, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Great tips! I’ve learned a lot of these things about myself over the years, but I wish I had known some of these things when I first had children. It was probably easier to find whitespace when I only had 1 or 2 kids, but with 6 it takes a bit of planning and effort. I think it has also helped for my husband to know these things about me. He doesn’t need as much quiet time to process life, but now that he understands that I do, he makes an effort to give me that time and space.

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 7, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      Yes, totally agree! It really helps when our spouses know how we are wired too (and us them). Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Becky Hastings September 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I can relate to every point in this…..and your advice is so very practical. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 7, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Thanks, Becky! I’m glad I’m not the only one! 😛

      Reply
  • Lisa/Syncopated Mama September 8, 2016 at 9:02 am

    I loved this post – and made time for some white space for myself last night…now, if only I can do it again withOUT staying up until 2 in the morning… Pinned and shared!

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 8, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      Right?! Sometimes it’s the only time that there is!

      Reply
  • Michele Morin September 8, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Excellent advice — I have found, too, that the secret to defusing is to recognize early enough that I’m heading over the edge. I’m thankful for the whisper of the Spirit to my spirit! (He rarely shouts!)

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks, Michele. I totally agree! I am trying to really tune into myself, when I feel that I am getting close to the edge, to try to excuse myself and get God’s perspective before I fall off the cliff!

      Reply
  • Betsy de Cruz September 8, 2016 at 9:09 am

    These are some great tips. I think all moms need them. One thing that saved my life was having a one hour “rest time” after lunch, even when my kids stopped napping.

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 8, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks, Betsy! Yes! Even if my kids don’t nap, I tell them that I am resting, so they need to play on their own! So far, they have understood!

      Reply
  • Julie September 8, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Great post! I’m wondering if I’m a highly-sensitive mom too. I could see myself in a lot of your examples. I tend to run myself ragged trying to get everything done. I have to remember the white space.
    Your #100HappyDays neighbor,
    Julie

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 8, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Thank-you, Julie! Yes, it’s taken me awhile to discover (or maybe admit) this about myself, but that book for highly sensitive kids is what helped to clue me in even more! Thanks for sharing here too!

      Reply
  • Maria September 8, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Brooke, these are such helpful tips! I’m a highly sensitive (and extremely introverted) person, and I find myself saying “yes” to almost all your points. Your notion of a white space is really eye-opening. I try to schedule myself a bit early during the day as well, just to give myself a little grace in between tasks. Like you said, 5 minutes to breathe makes all the difference. Maximizing the day by minimizing kids activities is something that I learned the hard way. I used to schedule so many things within the day that I found myself just as exhausted as my daughter by noon! It was a wreck, so I figured it was time for a change.

    It’s so refreshing to read this piece from you, Brooke. I’m so glad you were able to share this on #shinebloghop this week. It’s such a pleasure to read your posts week after week!

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      Thank-you, Maria! I’m glad I’m not the only one! (And why do we do this to ourselves?!) I remember when we lived in Cambodia for a season, and I was often rushing my kids off to some “outing” while the rest of the mothers spent their days sitting and chatting with each other while their kids ran around. I realized that my way is not the only way to live (and probably creates more high-blood pressure! HA!) Glad we linked up together today at #shinebloghop too!

      Reply
  • Julie @ Logger's Wife September 8, 2016 at 11:18 am

    This. All of this. It’s been a busy week here. Completely insane…and not over yet. When a friend messaged me to ask if I have PPD based on a couple things I have said recently (I do not. I guess she just doesn’t understand my sarcasm/need to rant for a minute and move on), I struggled. Then said she wished I would come to the weekly mom’s group/Bible study she hosts. I haven’t responded. I have no idea how to explain that that group of women overwhelms me. There are a couple women that talk and talk and talk and I feel like there’s no point in me even being there when I’m basically just being steamrolled and annoyed anyway. Then there’s the kids running around like crazy without their moms policing anything. Then there’s just the “I can’t add one more thing to my schedule without losing my mind” thing. It’s just too much for me. Especially to hear that this week. I about lost it because I don’t have white space this week. I don’t need pressure to do something that is going to make me more stressed, not less.

    This post really helps put into words what I can’t. Thank you so much for sharing on Shine Blog Hop so I could find it. Needed it today.

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Oh my, Julie, I feel you! I love the idea of Moms’ groups, but I have to feel like the rest of my life is calm (which changes daily) for them to really sound appealing, and after a week like yours, I think I may have bought a ticket to some remote island!
      I agree, I think it’s totally fair and right to realize that some moms are extroverted and really need the interaction with other adults to fill their buckets, whereas more introverted or sensitive moms just need an empty closet and their kids with a babysitter! Usually just catching up with one other mom is the interaction I need. Thanks so much for sharing here. I’m glad we linked up together!

      Reply
  • Jamie September 8, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Love it Brooke! I appreciate your transparency in your writing. I can relate to this post and I would say for me sometimes the problem is feeling bad about taking time or needing time. Really though everyone benefits when mom is at her best😉

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 9, 2016 at 7:07 am

      Thanks, Jamie! And I agree. I once read that it’s not me-only but me-too and it actually models to our kids that everyone has value in the family relationship and everyone needs a break sometimes! It helps me to think in that way! <3

      Reply
  • KellyRBaker September 9, 2016 at 10:15 am

    This post is going to bring a lot of insight to so many. Such practical tips here. I’m not completely introverted, but I get it. I’ve found myself telling my 4 kids that I need some space for a few minutes sometimes. Thanks for sharing so openly! I’ll be sharing.

    Reply
  • Ruth September 9, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Great tips! I love your humor and openness. And the Kettle illustration! 🙂
    Up until the time my second child was about 1 year old, I thought I was supposed to schedule my days. But I found myself maxing out emotionally, too, when the unexpected would happen, which it did often, and my schedule would be thrown off.
    One day I just decided I was THROUGH with scheduling. It didn’t help my organizational abilities a whole lot to quit like that, but it did help me keep my sanity. And I still managed to get the important stuff done with a little help.

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 9, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks! And I was very similar with my firstborn! I tried to go by the schedules that the books set for me, but then I discovered that we just had to find our own rhythm and each day would have its nuances.
      And yes, it eventually all gets done! Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      Reply
  • Kristin Hill Taylor September 12, 2016 at 11:12 am

    So much wise advice here! I’m an extrovert (barely) with introverted tendencies raising extroverted kids with an extroverted husband, so I’ve learned about white space the hard way. And, yes, I second not overscheduling your days and life. I’m glad you linked up at #ThreeWordWednesday.

    Reply
  • Sue Donaldson September 12, 2016 at 11:19 am

    excellent for extroverted moms as well! our whistle may take longer to take off, but it blows regularly – and my introverted daughter just announced in her mini – dictator fashion: We’ve decided you’re becoming more sensitive as you’re getting older, Mom. Well, thanks for that! HaHa – she may be right – at least about the getting older part. Will share this great post.

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard September 12, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      Ha ha! No one can put us in our places better than our children!! I do find that I change during various seasons of my life. I suppose it’s always an adventure (maybe more-so for those around me!!) Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  • Kimberly May 17, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Soooo good!
    And slit pants really are something, aren’t they? Still never thought babies peeing on the sidewalk was a good thing. 😉 I always felt bad for the babies in winter: all those layers and then bare buns! Brr!
    I test 19/20 on HSP tests. Life is interesting. It was so nice to learn that there is nothing wrong with me and that I’m not “TOO” sensitive. It’s a physical part of how I was created. That said, I must exercise wisdom in my own life to not allow myself to become overwhelmed and freak on everyone else.

    Reply
    • Brooke Grangard May 26, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      I know! I was always afraid something would freeze, but everyone seems to be fine!
      I agree, so freeing to know that nothing is wrong with us. I should not and cannot expect myself to respond like everyone else, just be accountable for my own actions! Thanks for sharing, Kimberly!

      Reply

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