Parenting Is 24/7 Sensory Overload

I am often overwhelmed by the excessive amounts of noise, touching, and ahem, smells that having kids entails.

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Parenting is sensory overload with loud noises, smells and touching.
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I lost it over winter break. Sometime around day five, I yelled: “Everybody stop touching me and asking me for stuff!” I felt guilty for snapping and apologized, but the truth is, after being perpetually bombarded with the sights, sounds, and sensations of raising children, I was feeling “touched out” and just plain needed some space.

While the holidays and winter break made the feelings more intense than usual, it was no strange sensation as a mom of three. Everything is loud! Everything is sticky! The car smells funky from all sports equipment!

By the end of day, I feel depleted and overstimulated by the sheer amount of it. I need a break from the nonstop stimuli. I crave silence and alone time the way a starving person craves food.

A big part of it, I’ve realized, is the noise. Electronics at high volumes, the blaring television, high-pitched screeches, and repetitive sounds (so, basically any kids’ toy or song) all make me stressed and grumpy. Once we had a Buzz Lightyear toy that went off at random times. This drove me batty for months until I couldn’t take it anymore. To protect the guilty (me), I’m not going to go into detail about the horrors this previously mentioned toy may or may not have suffered, but suffice to say it is no longer with us.

When I find myself overstimulated, I am prone to yelling and losing my patience with my kids. I know during these times that I am not my best self and I always regret it afterwards. I can usually feel it building up so recognizing the early warning signs and knowing what triggers my feelings of sensory overwhelm are key for me.

Another challenge is the near constant bickering. As an only child, I am not used to sibling fighting, so this has been baptism by fire. The kids don’t know how lucky they are to even have a sibling, so it enrages me that instead of appreciating that they have a built-in playmate, they argue about everything.

Loud and prolonged squabbles have ensued over such ridiculous nonsense as their brother looking at them for too long, whose (imaginary) friend is taller, whose spot on the couch this is, and what we will name our pet turtle (spoiler alert: we do not have nor will we be getting a turtle). These fights are like nails on a chalkboard to me. Car rides are the worst because there is nowhere to run. I have often wished my SUV came equipped with one of those privacy dividers in limos.

Don’t even get me started on the mess. The sight of our house in disarray induces total anxiety. I look out and see wreckage composed of scattered toys, dirty laundry, and cups — so many damn cups. Seeing clutter everywhere feels smothering. The worst are nerf bullets. There are always hundreds of them, everywhere, and they somehow seem to regenerate at alarming rates.

When I get irritated and feel a meltdown coming on, I’m working on recognizing it and taking action instead of trying to power through. I’ve even started saying to the kids, “Mom is feeling overwhelmed right now and really needs some time to herself. I’m going to go in the other room for 15 minutes to give my brain a break and calm my body.” This strategic recharging doesn’t always work and half the time I am interrupted by arguing over the remote, but even just acknowledging it by saying it out loud helps.

I was recently lamenting to a friend about the noise level, but in the next sentence I was singing the praises of the joyful liveliness of having a bunch of kids plus their friends around my house. We both laughed because it seemed so obvious that the two things I was describing are at odds with one another. But that’s the thing about parenting, sometimes two things are true at the same time. I do love having a bunch of kids around, yet sometimes it’s just too much. Kids should be kids, loud, annoying noises and all. But I’m also a person who has needs and sometimes my need is to not hear those loud, annoying noises and perhaps even get a little respite from rowdy kids or endless requests for snacks.

I’ll never be able to fully eliminate the bombardment of stimuli that comes with having three kids, but I am slowly figuring out how to mitigate the effects so I can hang on to what sliver of sanity I have left. But like everything in parenting, it’s a work in progress. I’m slowly learning it’s okay for me to remove myself from situations where I feel overwhelmed.

Also, noise canceling headphones are clutch.

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford

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