When my Oversensitivity Becomes a Relationship Barrier
Motherhood is a very personal journey. It is one of few life circumstances in existence that enables us to connect with and relate to other women in such a raw, intimate, and powerful manner. Yet, through my own parenting journey, I’ve realized that my tendency isn’t always to connect, but rather to disengage.
Recently, I was on the trip of a lifetime with one of my best friends and her toddler. We were having a wonderful time, however, we’d encountered our fair share of challenges along the way. At the end of our trip, we sat on the patio of our condo listening to the sound of the ocean and the sway of the palm leaves, reflecting on our experience. (We are both teachers, and know that no life or learning experience is complete without a proper reflection!)
I expressed to her that one of the challenges I encountered on our trip was knowing when to let things go and when to tell Lincoln ‘no’ because at his age he doesn’t understand why something might not be okay. She listened, like the amazing friend she is, and after a few moments of silence she said, “Just food for thought: At what point does he understand? At some point, he will, and if you continue to believe he doesn’t understand and that prevents you from establishing boundaries, he won’t learn.”
At that moment, our reflection was interrupted by the sound of children waking from their naps, and we went our separate ways to tend to our babes.
I wish I had really thought about her words and what she meant, and how absolutely right she was. But I didn’t. Instead, I felt frustrated. I felt like my friend was telling me I wasn’t parenting well, and that my child wasn’t behaving well. I suddenly felt a barrier between us. A barrier risen not by her words, but by my oversensitivity.
Being overly sensitive has been a fault of mine since Lincoln was born. I’m sure it stems from a combination of being insecure in my new momma role and feeling overprotective of my child. I remember feeling some animosity toward my INCREDIBLE sister-in-law when she made suggestions for sleep training during Lincoln’s colicky phase. She said something along the lines of, “I definitely don’t have the answer because my kids didn’t experience this, but have you considered trying…” That’s not what I heard, though. I heard… “You’re not doing it right.” and “My kids were better than this.”
Just the other day, Lincoln was unpacking the game cabinet and emptying pieces of various board games all over the living room. I was watching him do this and had resigned myself to allowing him to wreak havoc because I wanted him to have the opportunity to explore these new items; something he had never done before. My dear husband walked into the room and said, “Do you think it’s okay for him to be going through these games?” He was truly asking me if I thought it was okay, and nothing more, because Mitchell trusts my judgement and respects the decisions that I make. Despite my knowledge of this, I heard, “He should NOT be doing this.” and “You’re not attending to our child’s needs.”
Reflecting on these moments, (and many more like them) I’ve learned two things:
- I am inclined to perceive things related to mothering with an overabundance of emotion. Knowing this, it’s important for me to really listen and give myself space and think time before I get all up in arms about the non-existent war being waged against me. If that makes me sound like a hormonal teenager, it’s because I feel like a hormonal teenager sometimes. The only difference is that I can recognize it. My hormonal teenage self, sadly, could not.
- I have the power to prevent societal pressures from taking away from my parenting experience. I think a lot of the insecurity I (and many mothers) experience stems from a society that advocates right vs. wrong parenting. Working mom vs. stay at home mom. Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. Attachment parenting vs. Babywise parenting. All of these rights and wrongs and better than the other philosophies can simply leave us feeling vulnerable. But it shouldn’t be that way. When we let go of the idea that one way is better than the other, we can also let go of the insecurity that comes with wondering which side we’re on. Yes, we all parent differently, and Lord knows we need time, and maybe even help figuring out what that looks like for each of us individually. Like with anything in life, we need to learn to respect each other and acknowledge that different isn’t wrong.
After returning from our trip, I had the opportunity to really think about what my had friend said. Since then, I’ve been giving my baby boy the credit he deserves. I’ve been pushing myself to assume that he understands, and giving myself permission to decide when to (and not to) establish boundaries without feeling insufficient or judged. Mostly, I’ve been feeling grateful for my friend. It is hard to give advice to another mom. We all know what it feels like to struggle, and we all have taken well-meaning advice as criticism at one point or another. In those moments where we have the opportunity to be supported, develop a community, and strengthen friendships, we often create barriers instead.
I hope I get to a place where I don’t feel the need to erect those walls. I hope someday soon I will develop more confidence as a parent and that it will help me to overcome my overly sensitive tendencies. Until I become superhuman and develop those skills, I am focusing on this verse, and prayerfully asking the Lord to help open my heart to those around me so that I can be fully present and engaged in the relationships He has blessed me with. I hope it speaks to you as much as it has to me.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19