Motherhood & Family

Parenting As A Highly Sensitive Mom: The Challenge Of Overstimulation & Understimulation

I'm Elle!

I'm a coach and blogger who helps highly sensitive moms embrace their unique traits so they can reduce overwhelm, improve energy, and increase self-compassion. You deserve it!

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Staying home with a baby can be a phenomenon of complete overstimulation and understimulation at the same damn time.

Oh, the overstimulation! The constant noise – from baby, from toys, from the ongoing dialogue and engagement you have to provide to a curious, growing brain. Tiny hands constantly pawing at you, feeling totally touched out. Being needed around the clock, always on call. The lack of personal space – no ability to eat without sharing, pee without having help at the toilet-side, sit alone in quiet. The visual overload – toys, books, dishes piling up, laundry, bright colors, baby gear strewn everywhere you look.

For an HSP, overwhelm ensues because it feels like there’s no break from the stimulation, literally 24/7. Some days there’s no quiet, no alone time, no personal space, no break from everything feeling and looking messy all around you. No matter how small a baby may be, it’s still another body that’s constantly demanding attention, closeness, and engagement. A miraculous and beautiful, yet also loud-noise-making, mess-creating, handsy-all-day energy drainer. And often the second the baby is down for a nap, there just may be a dog barking in your face reminding you he needs attention too. By the time your family members get home at the end of their work day, you don’t have a lot of energy and attention left to give.

And then there’s the understimulation. It’s much less talked about, but still extremely challenging for HSPs. HSPs really struggle with drudgery – that is, uninspiring and overwhelming kind of work. (Sidenote, you could say that no one likes this kind of work, which could be true, but some can tolerate it much easier, whereas for an HSP it can be particularly soul-crushing.) Now raising children in itself isn’t that for most people, but for a disempowered HSP it’s often the nonstop tidying, laundry, dishes, messes, making meals, making more messes, etc. that occur on repeat all day long that can really start to weigh on you. HSPs need to have some level of intellectual challenge daily. We need quiet alone time to reflect and process what we’ve been absorbing, because that’s what brings us calm and also what leads to internal growth. And we need an outlet for creativity every day.

But there’s this redundancy and boredom that some days hold. The lack of intellectual challenge, adult conversation, interaction with others. The same routines day in and out. The repetitive nature of babies – same sounds, same books, same toys over and over again. Same protests, same tantrums, same interests for weeks on end. The absence of the necessity to get into nicer clothes or to even leave the house. The monotony that the “easy” days hold – the challenge isn’t there so you’re left with a glaring sense of underachievement.

If you’re used to working outside the home, the isolation and sameness of daily life at home can be extremely hard. Even if you worked in a job that was fairly independent/solo, you got out of the house, you likely had contact with others even if just on the phone or in passing on the way to the bathroom. Work tasks changed, your daily schedule looked different, there were fires to put out, projects completed and checked off the list, accolades for particularly good work and achievements. Adult problems, new faces, awkward interactions with Susan at the water cooler.

But wait! Here comes shame to the party.

I’m lucky I even have time off work; I should stop complaining and just be happy.  

I’m a bad mom for even thinking these things; I should just be thankful my child looks to me for comfort and wants to be around me all day.

What kind of a mom gets bored by or needs space from her kid?

There’s no time/money/need for me to do self-care practices anymore. The kids’ needs take priority.

Some people would love to be able to stay home with their baby and they can’t; I should be enjoying every minute of this.

Beating yourself up and shaming yourself doesn’t help anyone else, and it definitely hurts you.

HSPs feel all emotions more deeply, and shame is no different. In addition to anything else you may be feeling shame over, it’s common to have shame about your sensitivities and shame about needing breaks, space, time alone, and self-care, especially once there’s kids in the picture.

First of all, everyone’s allowed to complain, to vent, to not love every part of what they do, to wish certain days were different. There’s this assumption that because you chose to be a mom, or because you chose to stay home with your baby, that you have to love every second of it. If you don’t love it all, you shouldn’t have chosen to do it. You brought this on yourself. You chose to be a mom.

Nope, wrong. You can be absolutely sure becoming a mother was the right thing for you, love staying home with your baby, and also still struggle and not enjoy some days. That’s true for any job or duty you have – you’re not going to love every single second of it. That doesn’t mean you chose the wrong path. Being honest about the toughness of some days does not mean you don’t love your kids or regret becoming a mom. And everyone – everyone! – needs breaks. Everyone needs an outlet, a change of scenery, a connection with others besides the ones in your home. For HSPs, these things are even more true.

Second, for an HSP, it’s literally not an option whether you honor your needs. We can’t function well, be effective, or be remotely present if we’re constantly burned out, on overload, and on the verge of breakdown. Your sensitivities don’t just turn off or go away once you have kids. (As much as on some days you might wish you could “flip the switch”, it doesn’t work that way).

So the goal is to find that sweet spot with a healthy level of stimulation, and live in that zone as much as possible. It is going to be great like that all day, everyday? Nope, probably not. But little steps in that direction on a daily basis will make a ginormous, freaking difference. Not just for you, but for your kids and everyone else around you.

Three small action steps to take starting today:

1.) Carve out down time alone every single day

It can be 5 minutes to start if that’s all you’re able to commit to, but make it a non-negotiable. If you have to get up 5 minutes earlier or stay up 5 minutes later, do it. Do it for yourself. Give yourself those minutes to do whatever you want. And side note, free time does not equal down time. Us mamas have a way of taking free time and making it un-free really fast. Just because baby’s asleep and you’re “free,” doesn’t mean it’s down or quiet time. If you’re running around doing housework or feeling obligated to catch up on calls/emails, that’s not you time.

2.) Find a creative outlet that brings you joy

Write, color, listen to music, design something, paint your nails, pick a flower bouquet, read, cook, let your imagination and dreams run wild in your head. It’s easy to squash your creativity and let these things go, thinking they don’t matter as much as all your other priorities now. They do. They’re fuel for your HSP soul.

3.) Don’t overbook yourself

A too-packed day, with the added pressure of managing all baby’s needs and scheduling challenges, is enough to set off a tailspin into overwhelm. Aim for one out-of-the-house activity (any time outdoors is healthy!) even if it’s just going to the store or taking a walk around your neighborhood. Set limits on how many visitors can come and know your boundaries around how long they can stay. When there’s a baby in the mix, lots of people often want to be around to help, but sometimes the biggest help for you might just be to have calm and quiet in your home, alone with baby while he sleeps.

You’ve got this. You experience the world through a lens of depth and richness and intensity, and you have the ability to show your kids that too – how cool is that?! The first step is letting yourself go there – embracing those sensitivities you may have been trying to conceal or toughen up. Then leaning into them and taking care of yourself in a way that actually supports your needs (not just supports how/who you think you should be, or how you think you should show up).

You are wired to be a brilliant parent, and I’d bet you are already.

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    elle black

    I’m Elle, a coach and blogger helping HSP moms reduce overwhelm, improve energy, and increase self-compassion.

    @IMELLEBLACK

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