The Struggles Of Being A Highly Sensitive Parent

by Meredith Ethington
altanaka / Shutterstock

Last year, I asked for noise-canceling headphones for Christmas. “It just always feels so loud in here,” I explained to my husband. I don’t think he took me very seriously, but I was completely serious.

I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve and was definitely an extremely emotional child. My parents called me whiny, and as much as I hate to admit it, I was. I was that kid who cried about everything, and I still do. I was a highly sensitive kid, and now I’m managing life as a highly sensitive parent.

I’m learning to embrace all that makes me unique, but being highly sensitive doesn’t always mix well with parenting. It’s emotionally draining and physically exhausting, but thank goodness I also get a good dash of empathy with the gift of being highly sensitive. My kids benefit from having a mom who understands their feelings (most of the time) and acknowledges them with love and kindness.

But there are some definite challenges in navigating life as a highly sensitive parent. And you might find you’re a highly sensitive parent if you struggle with these things too.

I don’t do well with change, and I don’t love surprises. Any parent will tell you that change happens about 28 times per day, and surprises are just part of the gig. One second everyone is happy, and the next minute you’ve locked yourself in the bathroom where you’re self-medicating with food and choking back sobs. The emotional roller-coaster leaves me so drained that I can hardly muster a happy sentence for my husband at night after the kids are in bed.

HSPs (highly sensitive parents) also don’t care too much for a lot of noise and chaos. But noise and chaos are what children are made of. Noise-canceling headphones are a legitimate blessing to the sensitive parent — we can muffle both the cries of whiny kids and the shrill laughter of happy ones. And dimming the lights at the end of a long day feels like a reprieve.

Being an HSP really is both a blessing and a curse. You’re blessed because you feel deeply, and you’re cursed for the same reason. There is nothing like the joy I feel when my youngest says things like, “Mommy, I love you 1000%!” unsolicited, but there is also nothing like the deep sorrow I experience when I screw up. I do not brush things off easily.

My highly sensitive nature makes me try too hard to be perfect if I’m not careful. But deep down, I know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Being an HSP means lowering your standards — a lot.

It also looks like fighting that inner, nagging voice that so often tells me that I’m not doing enough or that I’m not present in the moment with my kids enough. I want so badly to do everything just right, and when it doesn’t work out perfectly, I often feel like I’m failing. I beat myself up.

Being highly sensitive feels like everyone is watching, and you’re never measuring up. It sometimes means internalizing a flippant comment from a friend as a judgment of your abilities, and when your husband points out something you could possibly do better, you’re convinced he doesn’t love you. (Don’t worry — he does.)

It can also mean feeling inferior no matter how much you actually have your crap together. And you just might be an HSP, too, if you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay to hate crafting with your kids, but then see a project another mom did with her kids and feel like you should be doing more. (I told you it’s exhausting.)

It looks like trying to simplify all the time because it’s the only way you’ll survive.

It can feel like a struggle when the tiny arms that you love so much just want to cling to you at the end of the day. Being touched-out is a real thing, and it happens to HSPs almost daily.

But the beauty in being highly sensitive is that I feel so much. I really am grateful for that. I tell my kids I love them incessantly, and I try to show it in ways that are unique to each of them because I’m really paying attention.

I’ve learned to cope with the daily demands I feel as a parent by finding time to unwind and quiet moments to recharge. And the best part is, I’m modeling for my kids that it’s not only okay to do that, but sometimes, it’s also essential to your well-being.

My struggles as an HSP have helped me teach my kids how to breathe deeply because it’s a technique I employ when my emotions take over, and it’s a blessing to be able to really understand when something (seemingly) small upsets them. But I work hard every day to fight the feelings that come along with being highly sensitive and to focus on what’s the most important: my kids, my family, and living in the moment.

The hardest part of being highly sensitive is just making sure that there is always enough of me left to give at the end of the day. I literally let out a sigh of relief as my kids close their eyes at night and drift off to sleep — not because I don’t want to be with them, but because I love them so fiercely every day that I give all I have to give. And I need to recharge so that I can do it again the next day.

And, really, what more could I hope for?