It’s more than a kid hangover

It’s more than a kid hangover

I couldn’t stop nodding in agreement with Ellen Painter Dollar’s recent post about the “kid hangover” she’s suffered for much of the last 13 years. As an introvert, she finds people draining. But as a write-at-home mother, she’s around people–her kids–all day long. She explains:

As an extreme introvert with three chatty children, I can assure you that as much as I adore my children, interacting with them is just as draining as interacting with anyone else. More so, actually. I have had a “kid hangover” for most of the past 13 years.

I get this. I’m not an “extreme introvert” like Dollar–my husband and I joke that I could almost be an extrovert, but for my overwhelming urge to curl up with a book after talking nonstop for two hours. But extreme or no, I’m an introvert. I adore my kids. But they burn the gas in my emotional fuel tank at an astonishing rate.

I’ve thought about personality and parenting a lot this year, and I think there’s more to this story than my introversion. My apparent “kid hangover” is actually a little more complex. When I read Quiet last year (great book), I encountered the term “highly sensitive person” (or HSP) for the first time, and immediately recognized myself as one.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term, the HSP “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.” (Henceforth, I shall describe my house as a “highly stimulating environment” instead of what I usually call it: Crazytown.)

(Ironically, The Highly Sensitive Person is one of the books I’ve abandoned in 2013, because–in typical HSP fashion–I couldn’t handle the frequent references to sexual abuse.)

Introverts are drained by interacting with people, but HSPs can be drained by people plus a slew of other factors at play in their environments, like sights, sounds, and smells.

First, the bad news: I’ve got a lot of things draining my fuel tank.

But the good news is that I actually have control over some of those factors.

I’ve known for a long time that clutter makes me cranky, but it never occurred to me that messy spaces are actually draining for me because there’s too much visual input. If my kids and I can keep the house straight, I can get more mileage out of my fuel tank.

And I’ve long known that when all 4 kids are talking to me at the same time, it burns my fuel at about 80 times the usual rate. But it’s not just because I’m an introvert, it’s because that’s way too much sensory input. If I can keep the noise levels down, I can actually enjoy the days when I’m home with my kids–instead of just surviving them.

I want to cultivate great relationships with my kids in my everyday life. I’m discovering that I can only engage well when I manage my energy well, and that means paying attention to my environment.

So these days I’m observing my day-to-day routines, to see where I can gracefully dial down the things that punch my HSP buttons. I’m eyeing simple fixes: snack charts and shut doors, headphones and 5-minute pickups. Things that don’t take much time out of our days, but make our days a lot more enjoyable.

If I stumble upon anything brilliant, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How does your personality affect your home life? And have you heard of the HSP before? (If you are one, tell me!)

P.S. Read this next: let’s talk about highly sensitive people.

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  1. Heatherly says:

    Is it possible for an extrovert to be an HSP? I know you read about it in Quiet, but I wondered if it applied to “us” as well? I’ll have to look into it more.

  2. Julie says:

    This is me!!! Clutter, noise, and 6 busy kids constantly scurrying underfoot…I am spent! I think I’m going to get a mother’s helper.

  3. Ruth Hays says:

    Dear Anne, I love your posts every day and this one really described me. I just wanted to comment on how hard it is for me at times to be a pastor’s wife and an introvert. When there is events and lots of people and noise…I sometimes just escape and go home to our quiet home. I have been a minister’s wife for 30+ years. And raised two children. I definitely have always needed space. Love, Ruth

  4. Ann says:

    I just recently encountered the idea of highly sensitive people for the first time, and I realize I am one. Finally, at age 49, I have an explanation for a lot of what I’ve been struggling with my entire life. I’ve always just thought I was an idiot who couldn’t handle life as well as other people did, so it’s been comforting to know there are others like me. My son very likely is one, too. I’m excited to be able to help him with what I’m learning, at an age where it will make a difference to the whole rest of his life. I’m also thrilled that now I can count your blog as another resource. Thanks. 🙂

  5. Jeanene says:

    YES!!! Wow…ok HSP. Well,mit certainly explains my issues. Thing is, I am not sure I can undo some of what we have done(such as me giving into my hubby wanting another dog…when we already had three. And having two four year olds who are in “I WILL break the world record for number of questions in a 30 second period!” Mode. Ugh ugh ugh. Gonna go read your other post…hoping to find ways to cope better. By the end of the holidays this year I was simply undone!

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