It took me a while to realise it, but I have come to trust that there is great strength in gently and quietly proceeding through life, not always rushing on in, taking my time, observing everything, and being a reflective sort of person.
My daughter also taught me this from day one.
She arrived in the world loudly proclaiming her sensitivity to external stimuli. She cried a lot. She did not sleep.
The world and his wife told me I should get tough. Cry it out. Early weaning. Separate rooms. Naughty steps. Time outs.
I did not listen.
And although I have doubted myself EVERY step of the way (because society is just not set up to validate a gentle responsive approach to anything) I have by and large felt comfortable with my choices. They may not suit everyone, but they suit us.
Let me tell you a story from a couple of years back …
Clem and I went to a birthday party. One of those bouncy castle in a leisure centre affairs, full of echoing noise, boisterous happy kids, and socially awkward parents sitting round the edge.
We have been to those sort of parties before and I have bent over backwards to try and get C to engage with it all.
I’d be the only adult on the bouncy castle with her and peeing myself in the process (and not with laughter). I’d help set up a mini fort in the soft play equipment. I’d do all the craft activities on offer. I’d play hide and seek.
And, before you think I’m some sort of terrible helicopter parent, this was all the while trying to encourage her to play independently, or to hang out with the other kids, saying ‘I’m just over here if you need me’.
It was simply exhausting!
This time we both just sat at the edge, observing. It was fine, I didn’t stress, I didn’t try to make her more sociable than she wanted to be.
I remember so clearly going one of our first group play dates and feeling both resentful of my little cling on and also like I had completely failed as a mother for not producing a child who wants to barrel on in brightly to any social situation.
Even at the tender age of a year or so it was obvious she was different, she hung back, she watched, she was slow to warm up to things.
Then people make comments like ‘well it’s because she's an only child’, all the while I’m watching two of her closest friends who are also only children. One whose party it was wanted the whole class there and was right in the thick of all the action. And the other who happily goes to every after school activity going, volunteers to be on the school council and is a real social butterfly.
So no, it is not necessarily an only child thing. But the telling thing is that even though I readily accept that I am a highly sensitive introvert and shouldn't be surprised that my daughter is too, I still feel a lot of self judgement that I have somehow not equipped her with more confidence.
And yet it was a very confident Clem who very clearly said ‘no I do not want to go to the school disco’ and I am learning to accept that this is her choice.
So it was a more confident me who sat with her watching everyone else at the party for a good hour and half, realising she was actually enjoying it, pointing out the funny things, and not feeling bad for her or myself.
From the toddler years right through to now aged 8, every time my daughter ...
❤️ sat on my lap at a play dates and watched instead of joining in with all the games
❤️ refused to blow out candles on her birthday cake because of a) the fire risk and b) the fact that everyone would look at her
❤️ needed my (or my partner’s) help falling and staying asleep
❤️ did not want to catch the netball because it hurts
❤️ preferred not to wear the scratchy gloves
❤️ could not watch Disney films because they are just too emotionally intense and downright scary
❤️ refused to turn the camera on or say anything in Google Classroom class meetings
... she was asserting the independence and confidence that other people think she needs.
Every time you choose a more gentle responsive approach to parenting, to relationships, to yourself, to life itself, you are showing GREAT STRENGTH in the face of a society that is constantly telling you to toughen up and to hurry up.
Don’t toughen up or hurry up.
The world needs sensitive people more than ever.