My husband and I are definitely not extroverts. We can hold our own in group settings or at off-site work meetings, but our preference is to not be around people. So we were surprised to find that both our kids were rather gregarious when they were very little. Our son remains a “people” person, but our daughter is more introverted now. There is one thing, however, that proves they definitely belong to us: they are sensitive kids, and I'm convinced sensitive kids are going to save us all. Yes, things bother them… like, really bother them. My son is constantly asking what is the worst thing I’ve ever seen or done or heard about. And lately, my 10-year-old daughter has been asking me if I’ve ever been really excited about something that eventually disappeared. These kids are feeling their feelings acutely, and I feel them in turn, but I don't think any of the aforementioned is at all a bad thing.
So I’m not worried about them being sensitive. In fact, I’m relieved. It means they can relate to others because they understand how others can feel. It means the golden rule is something I can teach them to live by. It means that because my kids want to be treated well, they treat others as such. It means they will appreciate the good times, but the bad times will feel terrible.
But sensitive kids like mine cry. They blow up quickly at things. They react with their gut and their hearts before they engage their minds. They are still navigating through the world primarily by their feelings, and not their logic, and that often means they are scared and confused and having a fit is how they cope. All that really sucks, and I know it does because I’m sensitive, too. I totally get what they are feeling. So I don’t tell them to stop crying. I tell them to feel their feelings. Sadness and anger are not bad… but they can’t knock over things or take a swing at me because of them.
Sensitive kids like mine tend to get their feelings hurt, but they also tend to reach out a lot to others in attempts to cheer them up. I love this about my children. It’s one of the many reasons why our sensitive kids will save us all, including the following:
Because They Care About Others
More than anything, my daughter wants a cat. Or a dog. Or a baby sibling. She just seems to want to care for another being, and that just melts my heart.
But it also breaks hers, because we are not getting any pets and I am not having any more kids. Luckily, she is satisfying the caregiving itch with a new doll her grandparents gifted her for a recent birthday.
Because They Value Their Relationships
Despite what Facebook tells me, I don’t think I have a deep bench of close friends. I have a few, sure, and they are crucial to my existence, but I don't have a big group of friends and confidants I can turn to. That's how I like it, though. I preach to my kids often about “quality over quantity.” It’s great that they have a lot of friends, but how many friends can you have before you stop being a true friend to yourself? At ages 10 and 7, I feel my kids are finally starting to understand that it's OK to choose your friends wisely. When my daughter had her first “mean girls” experience in third grade, where those whom she thought were close to her suddenly flipped allegiances and no longer wanted to be her friend, I explained that this is the moment when it becomes clear who she is meant to hang out with. And sure enough, the one or two girls who seemed to have great chemistry with my daughter, from the very beginning of their friendship in kindergarten, remained.
Recognizing the meaning of true friendship at a young age, I think, will serve my kids well. They’ll be able to navigate high school or an office environment, or even their future co-op board, with a keener instinct about who their allies really are.
Because They Don’t Make Us Guess How They’re Feeling
My kids wear their emotions on their sleeve. It has never been difficult for me to figure out what they’re feeling, so I’m able to tune in quickly if something is bothering them. This is a good thing, because it often allows me to address their bad feelings before they become overwhelming. If the kids were letting their emotions fester — instead of being very vocal about them — they could start acting out in ways I wouldn’t understand. While I don’t love the fact that both of our kids can get to 11 pretty quickly on the tantrum scale, at least we can deal with it immediately, and help them manage their big feelings before it’s too late to recover from them.
Because They Use Their Manners
Though my children can be beasts at home, their manners are pretty good outside of our house. I am pretty proud when I hear another parent gush about my daughter saying “please” and “thank you” on a play date, even though that same kid will roll her eyes at me when I remind her to clear her place after dinner.
The best any mom can hope for is that kids who are sensitive to how others perceive them will put effort into making good impressions… on everyone except their own parents, apparently.
Because They Want Us To Be Happy…
I have had some dark moments when I've let my kids see me upset about something they’ve done. I can get angry when my kids use the word “stupid,” but I’m sensitive too, and those words can really sting. I know it’s not cool that a 7-year-old made me cry, but it has happened.
When it did, my son rushed up to me and wordlessly planted a million kisses on my cheek. It scared and confused him to see me upset, and I’m not proud that I wasn’t acting like an adult in that moment. But it did give me hope that he reacted with such empathy. It showed me that he understands that our default setting as humans should be “happy,” and he wanted to help me arrive there.
Because They Feel Their Own Unhappiness So Profoundly
I thought parenting school-age kids would be easier than parenting toddlers. It is definitely not. Though they are much better at expressing themselves, and I’m usually excused from helping them go to the bathroom, they are still kids who are developing into fully formed humans. So sometimes their emotions seem bigger than they are. They have not yet cultivated the skills to deal with the disappointments that life regularly hands out, even if it is the same flavor disappointment, night after night. (“Yes, you have to brush your teeth, again. You know you have to do this before bed.”)
My kids get so angry, and they get so frustrated, and they get so sad. But they also laugh a lot. The upside to having a sensitive child is that for as searing as their negative emotions are, it’s equally as heartwarming to hear their unabashed laughter erupt and spread through the house.
Because They Love Stories
My children have always loved reading, whether they were the ones holding a book or a story was being told to them. They seem to be able to sit forever when I’m reading them a bedtime story (although I do have to wonder if that’s just a stalling technique). They really seem to lose themselves in the narratives, especially if there is a young protagonist. They connect to the feelings of the characters in these stories, almost as if they are experiencing the emotions themselves.
This gives me hope because I can envision a time, when they’re older, and a friend is confiding in them about something difficult. I am optimistic that my kids will take the storyteller’s words to heart, really hearing them and believing them. There is nothing more than I would want, in my time of need, than to feel truly heard and believed by someone and I think my kids to be that person one day. The world could use more compassion, and as parents, it’s our job to cultivate it in our children.
Because They Act Cautiously
Protective of her own heart, my daughter approaches all new social settings with caution. I know a lot of parents like to see their children diving in to the new daycare, or gleefully skipping off to tumbling class without looking back. But I’m not mad that my older kid exercises caution when trying something new. It signals to me that she is not a huge risk-taker, and that makes me as a mom very relieved.
Of course, I would be worried if her shyness prevented her from making any friends and she chose isolation over companionship consistently. But she just takes things slow, like her introverted mom.
Because They Are The Barometer Of Humanity
I can’t watch the news. I need regular breaks from social media. Our country is ravaged by hate and it’s so easy to slip into despair, fearing the world into which we brought our children.
But Whitney Houston was right… I do believe the children are our future. When they seek out ways to feel loved, and to love others, instinctively wanting to comfort their friends, animals, or strangers because it’s what they feel compelled to do as human beings, I know we’re leaving the world in good hands. As long as we keep cultivating humanity, we can conquer hate. As long as we celebrate sensitivity, the trait in us that allows for compassion, we can raise our kids to love one another. I look at my sensitive kids as a gift. I know they care. That gives me hope for the future.
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