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.
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!
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!
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.
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