This will be a difficult post for me to write.
Sometimes in life we will hear negative things being said about us or even worse, about our children, and after we let the news sink in, we deal with it in our own way. We will decipher and process and analyze what we’ve heard until we forget what it really was or where it came from. It makes us crazy with fear and worry, wondering if there is any truth to it, or what may have triggered it in the first place. And after we’ve driven ourselves completely mad, we finally manage to convince ourselves that there was nothing to worry about in the first place, and that we know best, and that if there was in fact something fundamentally wrong, we would know. And then everything goes back to normal and we feel fine, until the next time we hear it again.
Yes, sometimes certain things do need to be pointed out to us. Sometimes there may be something about our child that needs to be dealt with early on. Sometimes, something may come up that we cannot control or deal with on our own. But no one can convince me that if in fact there was something to be dealt with, something “unusual” so to speak, that this would be news to the child’s parents. Even if it is unclear to the parents what this “thing” is exactly, I refuse to believe that they are unaware of its existence.
I find myself yet again talking about society’s standards and expectations, this mold that we all need to fit into, or in other words, “the norm”. And this norm seems to be trickier when it comes to our kids; the standards are high, meeting them is not as easy as it should be, and failure to do so ultimately leads to harsh and unfair conclusions. I keep hearing from good, caring mothers that they feel like complete failures because they are told their kids don’t fit this mold. They worry and cry and wonder what they’ve done wrong, and then they eventually take out their frustration on their kids because they suddenly don’t seem very normal anymore, when funny enough they did a day ago.
Being the parents of a Highly Sensitive Child, my husband and I have always been told or made to feel by others that “something is up” with our child. We have been given plenty of advice on how to deal with him and raise him. We have also been blamed for having “made him that way.” Unfortunately there was a time when we were inexperienced first-time parents who knew our child didn’t exactly fit in with others his age, didn’t really know why, and allowed ourselves to drown in all this garbage we heard. We drowned even though we knew our son was healthy, happy, loving and incredibly bright.
Then came the day when all the pieces of the puzzle finally came together, and it was finally made clear to us that our son was Highly Sensitive. It explained everything. And it wasn’t bad. It just was what it was. You would think everyone would see it that way wouldn’t you? After all, this is not something that needs to be treated. Yes it does make a person stand out slightly from the remaining 80-85% of the population which is not Highly Sensitive, but it’s not bad to be that way. We learned that no, it can’t just be what it is. It always has to be something. It seems that schools just feel the need to find the things that make your children “different”, give them fancy labels to scare the living lights out of you, and then make you feel completely inadequate as a parent. I am saying this based on not just my own experience, but the troubling stories I hear from other mothers on a daily basis.
Ever since our son started going to daycare at the age 18 months, we have had to face caregivers, and later teachers to explain what High Sensitivity was and how a Highly Sensitive Child needs to be dealt with. I won’t go into the details of what has been said, because they really don’t matter. And the reason why they don’t matter is because they have never been consistent, they have never made much sense, and because they always lead us to worry about things we never worried about before. Mind you, I am always fearful of falling into the trap of being too defensive when it comes to my child, or turning a blind eye to negativities that need to be acknowledged. It is after all a natural instinct to do so. But I am aware of it, and always try to keep an open mind when someone has an opinion about my child, regardless of how unpleasant it may be. After all teachers do see my son in an entirely different context than I do. The classroom provides different challenges for our children to deal with than then home does. At school, a child needs to socialize with others her age, respond to authority, follow rules, and do things she may not want to do, all while being surrounded by people who may not be as loving and supportive and flexible as the child’s parents and relatives.
But, however different these environments may be, if your child did have the serious problem his school will have you believe, wouldn’t he have shown some sign of it at home? Or on the playground? Or the supermarket? Should this news come as a shock to a loving, caring, attentive parent? I seriously doubt it. Which is why this kind of news should not drive moms and dads to the nearest psychotherapist to have their kids screened. When a child is happy, healthy, loving, clever, has no learning disabilities and is not harming anyone, why on earth do we still feel the need to label them? Why does something have to be wrong with them? Why are the world’s expectations so rigid and limited? Why is our society so unforgiving of those who stand out?
When I say “stand out” I mean “demonstrate characteristics or behavior we are not really accustomed to and don’t exactly feel comfortable with”. I have seen, all too often, little boys who are left to be aggressive and destructive and all over the place simply because they are little boys, and society expects them to be this way. Those children don’t stand out because we know what they are. We’ve seen it before. We see it all the time. And so, even though we don’t necessarily like the way they behave, we don’t label “it” and call it a problem. “They’ll grow out of it”, we’re told. And maybe that is the case. Maybe we all grow out of our peculiarities. But in the meanwhile, how do we decide what is problematic and what is not? Why does a happy child who has no learning disorders and is not hurting anyone have a problem, and the one who is aggressive and actually is hurting others doesn’t?
This week I heard of a mom who’s son was accused of “not having been assertive enough in dealing with a bully”. He has a problem. Bullying is treated like a phenomenon which just happens to exist, and if the rest of us can’t deal with it, we have a problem. Another mom went to see some “experts” who felt the need to force a label onto her son in order to be able to help him. Is that how society is helping our children? By desperately searching for ways to force our kids into familiar categories so that they can be diagnosed and managed even when all that they are is slightly different? They ask ridiculously vague questions that can be misinterpreted in a hundred ways and rate your child on a scale of 5 points with zero being the norm. Who stands a chance there? Does your kid seem awkward when runs and can’t catch a ball? Well then he might have Asperger’s. Does he occasionally avoid eye contact, even when he’s being lectured? Oh well then he must be at least mildly Autistic. Does he have trouble paying attention when it comes to certain activities? Then there’s no doubt he has ADD. Can’t this child just be slightly uncoordinated, feel uncomfortable when he’s being scolded, and be bored sometimes? Apparently not.
Maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe I just don’t get it. But it just seem like common sense to me that if our children are thriving and are learning and are happy, we should perhaps just let them be. Let them grow up. Let them make their mistakes. Let them be awkward. Let them discover what they like and what they don’t. Let them learn how to deal with others. Let them learn to become more coordinated. Just let them live their lives without making them feel like they’re not good enough.
And now I will admit, parenting a Highly Sensitive Child is not an easy thing. But isn’t parenting in general a challenging thing? If kids came easy and didn’t need us to help and guide them through life, then what would our jobs be as parents? And as teachers? Every child poses some kind of difficulty, or rather a whole range of difficulties for us to work with. Even as adults, we all have our own little quirks. And as long as we are good, functional human beings, who cares?
Again I will say that yes, sometimes there could be something that needs to be recognized and taken care of. If there was however, a mother and father would know. Dr. Stephen Cowan put it best in his article 11 Things I wish Every Parent Knew when he said:
“Mindful parenting begins by listening with an open heart to your child’s life without fear or panic. Studies have shown that a mother’s intuition is more powerful than any lab test in picking up problems. Unfortunately today we are flooded with so much scary information that it interferes with our ability to listen to our own intuition. (Just think of the arrogance of a doctor who acts like he knows your child better than you do!) “
We know our children best. And as difficult as it is, we should not panic when we hear groundless theories and attempted diagnoses from people who are in no position to conclude that something is wrong with our children just because they’re difficult, or just the kind of difficult they haven’t seen before. Maybe their intentions are pure; maybe all they really do want is to help our children. But making false assumptions and driving parents out of their minds doesn’t help anyone. Instead of being so focused on finding something wrong, we should perhaps try and enjoy the wonderful things all of our children have to offer, regardless of what they’re like.
And I don’t know how I will handle myself the next time I hear something senseless about my child. I know I won’t come out unaffected, but I also know that it won’t break me. I am listening to my child’s life with an open heart. I know him better than anyone does. And I know that he is nothing short of extraordinary.
To the mothers and fathers who are going through a rough and confusing time: Listen to your heart before you listen to anyone else. Enjoy your children and everything that they are. Stay strong.
You are not alone.