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Liwen’s Story: Running on Empty

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Mom with tired sonSometimes I am just so tired.

Actually make that most of the time. And I feel so frustrated that most moms don’t have an inkling of what it’s like to have a high need baby. I just never EVER imagined having a kid like Ethan.

I love him dearly, I do. But I am just overwhelmed by him sometimes. And other times I am so touched to have him in my life.

There are times where I ask myself, “What did I do to deserve this?!” and other times like when he’s asleep, I’ll ask myself, “What did I ever do to deserve this?!” The same question asked in two very different tones of voices.

He really is the SWEETEST little guy. Some of the things he does just amaze me, especially for such a young person to be able to comprehend. He is so sensitive and understands so much. I can’t believe he’s not even two yet and he knows so much about people and relationships.

Then there are other times where I am just at my wit’s end and asking when in the world will I ever be done breastfeeding him?  (It’s so embarrassing when he asks for it in public and people are shocked that he’s still nursing). Will he ever be able to sit or sleep on his own? But how can I fault him for just being who he is, and needing to have certain needs met? I just hope I can have enough patience and endurance to meet his needs.”

The above is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote about five years ago. My firstborn is six and a half now and reading those words fills me with so many memories and mixed emotions. I must be honest and admit that I had a very hard time dealing with Ethan’s demands and level of intensity.

I felt overwhelmed to the point that I wasn’t enjoying motherhood. It certainly wasn’t anything like what I had imagined or had seen in those parenting magazines, of moms lovingly holding and gazing at their babies. What I experienced was stressful and out of my control and just plain exhausting.

People say having a baby changes your life. But having a high need baby is like having your whole life suddenly derailed, flipped upside down and inside out and crashing head first into a concrete wall. There’s nothing that prepares you for the physical, emotional and mental boot camp that comes with parenting a high need child.

So many things happened that I wasn’t prepared for. I couldn’t go back to work like I had planned because Ethan did not want anyone besides me holding him. My arms and back were constantly aching from carrying a baby literally all day and all night (at night my husband and I took turns sitting up on our bed and holding Ethan against our chest because that was the only way he and we could get any sleep).

Emotionally, I was so anxious from hearing his constant crying and screaming that I believed I could still hear it when I was alone in the shower (for the few minutes that I could get away to take one). I also had to fight against the doubts and insecurities I had whenever people criticized our parenting skills or tried to give advice.

That said, I am so grateful for how Ethan has helped change me. Loving a high need child has given me a whole new understanding of the words acceptance, patience and sacrifice.

I’m sure these are lessons that all parents will learn over time, but having a high need child intensifies and speeds up the process. In the early years, each day was like a crash course in how to keep Ethan’s love tank from running on empty (because that’s what having a high need child feels like – you can never do enough to satisfy him). I could never hold him enough, nurse him enough or pay enough attention to him. What would be more than enough for a non-high need child barely meets the minimum requirements of a high need child.

And try doing it all when your own tank is running empty!

I have learned (with gritted teeth at times) to accept Ethan as the sensitive, particular, cautious and intense person that he is because he was born that way – my daughter is living proof of that because she is the complete opposite of him.

And what helps to bring light into my dark tunnel is seeing the results of our efforts. Meeting Ethan’s needs, demanding as they are, makes him more secure and content. When he is secure, he just overflows with sweetness, generosity and joy. He is eager to please us and willingly helps when asked. He can read people so well and knows when I am tired or upset and will try to cheer me up. He treats his little sister with gentleness and care. He has such joy in learning about things, whether it be about bees or superheroes. He senses the beauty in sunsets and rainy days.

I truly believe Ethan has made me a better parent and a better person. He has taught me to put people first before things and to-do lists. I have developed a greater sensitivity towards others and their needs. I am learning to enjoy the journey instead of only focusing on the destination.

Raising a high need child is all about the journey. Every milestone for Ethan, whether it be weaning, liking school or sleeping on his own (which is still a work in progress for us!) is a major accomplishment that takes so much persistence, effort and time.

Parenting a high need child is like climbing a steep and rugged mountain on your hands and knees. The journey up is crazy and so exhausting and many times you just want to give up! But the closer you get to the top, the more beautiful and awesome the view is, and that gives you just what you need to keep on going.

By Liwen Y. Ho.

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