This boy of mine is full of energy and fearless on the sports field or the playground; however, he is also very sensitive. I don't mean sensitive in the sense that his feelings get hurt easily, but rather, he is sensitive to his environment. He cannot handle loud noises, crowds, or extremes of any sort like extreme heat in the summer or frigid temps in the winter. Why am I sharing this, you may ask? I'm sharing this because this is not my only child like this and I've made mistakes with the other that I did not make with him. And, to be frank, I saw a version of my former myself trying to push a child to do something they did not want to do and it rattled me a bit. It rattled me because seeing my former self and it trudged up some thoughts about living with a sensitive child.
To start, I have to say that I am a proponent of encouraging my child, and at times, pushing them. This builds character and I know the little upset in the beginning outweighs the enormous triumph in the end. However, I've also learned, at the cost of my children, that pushing them when they are not ready or capable, only brings heartache for all involved. There were many times I did not pick up on the fear, mistrust, and inability to regulate their emotions in situations. For example, the carousal. Oliver absolutely refuses to go on one. In the past, I would have cajoled, persuaded, and quite possibly, put a screaming child on the ornate horse. Because, really, how does a child not like a carousal?! But, the screaming never stopped, it ruined the 60 second ride for everyone, and it left me feeling horrible as a mother.
The other day, as I watched a well intentioned mother yank her child aboard the carousal, I realized how much of my former behavior was not related to my childs' needs, but rather to that of my own. I wanted both of them to experience a carousal ride at the cost of their own discomfort. I did not want to be the mother holding the fearful child outside of the gate watching my other child enjoy the ride. I did not want my kid to be the scared one. My aha moment with all of this was one day when we were in a crowded playspace and I watched my child start to twitch, sweat, and shake. It did not matter that there was an awesome bouncy house, balance beam, and rope swing; what mattered, was the inability to enjoy themselves because they were so overwhelmed. Yes, I wanted them to get out energy and have a blast, but not at the cost of their own dignity. They were terrified and out of control of their senses, they were not scared.
But, here's the thing: there is a HUGE difference between scared and sensitive. Being scared can be soothed quickly in the situation; being sensitive is an overload of intake on the brain. I've witnessed it many times with many panic attacks and I'm now resolute in letting my children do things when they're ready. Like I said, I will always encourage them, but not to feed my own needs, to feed theirs.
And, this will, I'm sure, ruffle some feathers, but it needs to be said: it is hard raising a boy who struggles with this. Yes, things are changing in society, I recognize and celebrate that, however, there is still an undertone of grave judgment for a boy who is sensitive. There have been many times when I get eye rolls or sighs when my little man cannot let go of my hand in a new situation or cannot bring himself to step into the arcade because of the noise. It breaks my heart into a thousand pieces but I constantly remind myself that his sensitivity does not define him as less of a boy. With patience, guidance, and encouragement, we are raising him to be himself, whatever that means to him, not to others.
**This post did not come from a place of judgement on other parents, but rather watching other parents' struggles, inspired me to share my own. I am rather fierce in my belief that we are all much too judgemental in regards to parenting. We need to focus on lifting each other up by sharing our faults, struggles, and frustrations, rather than create a super parent ideal that is superficial and impossible to obtain. Hence, I've created this new category on the blog, Lesson Learned, where I will share the good and moreso, the bad moments of parenting with hopes of someone finding a connection and feeling less isolated in their struggle.***