Being the mother of highly sensitive children has taught me a lot about myself. One of the most important things I have learnt is to accept myself for who I am.
As a child I was labelled shy. It has negative connotations. Shyness is a negative trait. I have long wished I wasn’t shy. For a long time I wished I was more extrovert, a talker, more social.
Every year I put images on my vision board in an attempt to motivate myself to do something to be more extrovert; to force myself to attend and enjoy networking events, to love talking on the telephone, to get out there and mix with others in the world. Year after year it was a goal I never achieved. Every year it was marked off as a failed goal. Something to strive for the next year.
Learning to understand my highly sensitive children, and therefore also myself, made me realise that the reality of achieving such a goal requires a personality change. Such a goal is not so simple. The truth is that my idea of a nightmare is putting me in a room full of strangers and saying, “go mingle”. Put me in a room full of family and friends and I’m still not wholly comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I am surrounded by loved ones, but being in a large group doesn’t put me at ease. I’m drained by groups that I am supposed to interact in. I feel uneasy. It just isn’t me.
Making small talk is something I find hard to do. It takes a huge effort and a huge amount of energy. I need time to think and small talk, conversations with strangers, doesn’t give me that time. When you ask me how I am, more often than not it won’t cross my mind to ask you how you are doing too. The effort of interacting, of thinking on the spot is a mind boggling effort for me that no extrovert could possibly ever comprehend. It’s not because I’m not interested, I really am. It’s just not in my nature to make small talk and by the time I realise I should ask how you are, you’ve moved on, lost interest, grown bored of trying to pull basic information out of me.
The reality is that I’m way out of my comfort zone talking to strangers. Way out of my comfort zone in an unknown environment. Add to that having to communicate in a foreign language (as I do every day) and I am often floored by the fact that I actually converse with anyone outside my family. But I do. On a daily basis. In a language that is not my mother tongue. But it used to be a lot harder. For a child, such discomfort can be crippling and stressful. I know firsthand.
I was the child that hid behind my mother’s skirt tails. I was the child that needed an hour, maybe two, to warm up at my grandparent’s house. I was the child in school that rarely put their hand up when the teacher asked a question, even though I knew the answer. I was the kid that dreaded hearing the teacher say “…and then you’ll give a presentation on it….” I hated those forced debates we had in the classroom, one group pro and one group against one controversial statement or another. I hated it when our religious education teacher, Mr Strang, declared we’d make a play of the bible story we’d just covered. I was the child that felt guilty for acts I never committed if the teacher told the class off. I was the child that felt a classmate’s humiliation. The stress and dread was real in each situation. Being centre stage was not in my nature. It’s still not in my nature. All grown up but I’m still happy to sit in the background.
Becoming a mother is learning to know and accept yourself. Becoming a mother is holding a mirror up to yourself twenty four hours a day. You can’t expect your children to love themselves if they don’t have that example. Motherhood has taught me that my own childhood was not about shyness, it was about being an introverted highly sensitive child. Introvert covers it better than the dreaded S word. I’m not flawed. There is nothing wrong with me. The fact is that I am an introvert. It’s not a negative thing. The fact that I am a highly sensitive person is not a negative thing. And because I recognise that now, and accept how and who I am, I can pass that message on to my sons in a positive way.
I can tell my sons with confidence that it’s okay to be an introvert. It’s okay to be a highly sensitive child. It’s okay not to want to play in large groups on the playground. It’s okay not to want to raise your hand in the classroom and be the centre of attention. It’s okay to need time in your room alone, even if we have company. It’s okay to want things to be familiar around you, to be wary of the new and unknown. It’s okay not to want to tell your story, to shout your tale from the rooftops. It’s okay to think before you speak, to reflect on things before you share them. It’s okay to be quiet. It’s more than okay to be an introvert. It’s more than okay to be a highly sensitive child.
I am an introvert. My children are introverts. It doesn’t need to change. We don’t need to change. As a mother I pledge to reinforce this message every day.
I promise to make sure my children do not spend their childhood feeling like they don’t match up to society’s expectations.
I will make sure that my children don’t feel that they are not good enough because they don’t shout loudest.
I will make sure they don’t feel inferior because they don’t feel comfortable standing before the class to share their story.
I won’t allow them to feel crippled with the fear that there is something wrong with them.
I will teach them ways to make space for their thoughts, to understand their needs.
I will help them accept their introverted selves.
I will make sure they are not labelled with the S word and that they don’t see their quietness as a flaw.
I promise to raise my children with the understanding that the world needs introverts, just like it needs extroverts.