Tools for the Highly Sensitive Mother: An Introduction

FullSizeRender 4
Before reading this, you’ll need to understand what it means to be a “highly sensitive person.” Let me start by saying I haven’t read any books about it because I’m too busy being overwhelmed. Go on and google it, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll take a test to see how sensitive you are, and you’ll score a big fat A++! Yay for us! Shhhhhhhh. You’re freaking me out.

I started a post two days ago called “Tools for the Highly Sensitive Mother,” and then I fell out of my chair laughing because I don’t work in tools, except by accident. I work instead by gusts and intuition. I’m an emotional MacGyver, feeling my way through motherhood and wifery like a sonar bat. If you title your blog post “Ten Ways to Blahbitty Blah,” I promise I’ll be blind to it. Those lists run through me like water through a colander with holes too big to catch a thought.

I can give you amazing advise all day long, but the truth is that I never followed it myself – not on purpose anyway. This isn’t to say I don’t have tools, but this is to say that these tools never seem to be in my belt when I need them … until now.

Allow me to set the scene: 

Imagine a mother. Put an apron on her and then you can call her wise, because without the apron, she ruins every stitch of cloth within a grabbable distance. Imagine she works by feel, by suds through the gloves, and by smell of the lilac. She’s one who sings lists and cries when she thinks of other mothers. What are they going through, she worries. I magine how she bought beautiful little chicks and held their fuzz to her cheeks. Imagine in one room the smell of chickens and the socks of four little boys, plus the socks of one very manly man. Imagine her in a whip, chunking the brooder box of chickens and nearly all the laundry into the garage for the overwhelming smell.

Think of the noise. There’s no way to explain the rattle of a potty-training three year old, begging for chocolate milk. He’s said “chocolate milk” 500 times in a row, and he has poop in his underwear, but the mother can’t find the 7 year old. She’s yelling his name, but he’s is 40 feet up in a tree and can’t hear her. The 8 year old and the 10 year old are brooding worse than chicks. Who’s the fastest? They need to settle this right now, and they’re hollering: he thinks he’s better!  Imagine all that in a 1400 square foot house without a dishwasher.

Hear the dog barking and see the muddy floor. Who brought this mud in here?! Aww dang it; it was the mother, always feelings, hollering, sweeping, and holding it together.

This is my beautiful life, and I am not complaining. Sometimes I have 8 arms, and sometimes my arms are tied behind my back. Sometimes my senses tell me I’m alive, and other times my senses receive information like live wires, ungrounded. The sound of too many things at once can make me feel like I’m dying.

Often to protect myself, I go dark. The world spins its chaos, and I hit reverse. I walk backward out of rooms and voices back mask. I don’t understand. I sit in the floor of my bathroom and cover my ears. Sometimes I eat bags of chips in my closet. I wish I were just trying to be funny.

Some of my friends handle the chaos by knitting up a storm. Everything’s gone to crap, but they have their needles. Just look down, sister. I know it’s summer, but knit that 40 yard scarf. I feel you.

If any of this makes sense to you, keep reading, because as I find a tool here and there, I plan to write about it, so you won’t feel so alone – or at least so you can be thankful you aren’t as bonkers as I am.


Tools #1 and #2

Yesterday I went to the plant store for more flowers, because I am taking flowers these days instead of antidepressants. I only had five minutes to throw the lovliest things I saw into a buggy (a buggy is what people mean when they say grocery cart), and all the while I was coercing my three year to follow me and not rip the pretty little heads off everything he saw.

We were down the hill from the small building with the checkout desk, but we should have been loading back into our van already. I told Titus to hop on the cart as I ran toward the top of the hill. He jumped off as we ran in the building to complete our purchase. I was saying, “Hurry! Hurry! Titus, we only have two minutes before we pick up your brothers!”

But as we entered the building, there was a shift, something amazing. It must be how Dorothy felt when she first stepped into Oz or how Lucy felt when she popped out the back of the wardrobe. I walked into the small building lined with beautiful ceramics, planting gloves, and yard ornaments, and the entire room dangled with chimes. On every side of me, chimes nudged in every gentle direction, and time disappeared as the rings wooed me. I just stood there and let my breath suspend. I wasn’t pulled anywhere. My schedule shut up a minute. The world was beautiful. It was the sound of being old and calm in a bee-drunk yard. It was the sound of my children living on and fine without me. It was the sound of moving with the wind.

I turned slow circles there. I lifted my arms above my head and touched them all. I heard the different notes from different lengths and shapes.IMG_6143

This is a tool, I told myself – We’ll let it be my Mother’s Day gift. So I bought one and didn’t even notice the Irish Blessing engraved at the bottom.

Do I feel overwhelmed right now, you ask?

Again, let me pick myself up off hysteria’s floor and tell you all about it just as soon as I can figure out a few more tools. I’d like to come here with more to offer than this, but it’s all I have for today.

Buy a wind chime. Buy one and stick a straight-back beneath it. Tomorrow, right when it’s finished raining, get your kitchen towel and dry the chair off. Sit down in it and close your eyes.

A chime and a chair. A mother always needs to sit and listen to the sky.


About me


What I Knew In My Dying Day: a Wild in the Hollow Guest Post by Tara Owens
August 19, 2015
Condemnation on the Molehill
June 08, 2015
The Uncouth: The Hormonal
May 12, 2014
What Mothers Me
April 01, 2014
Learning How to Eat (and a giveaway of Mom in the Mirror)
May 20, 2013
A Haines Home Companion: Alter
February 22, 2013
A Haines Home Companion: Motherhood and Anti-Depression
February 08, 2013
A Haines Home Companion: On the Trail
January 25, 2013
On Dancing: A Titus Update
December 04, 2012


Missy K
Reply April 27, 2015

Amen, sister. If mamma sat in that straight back under those chimes and let a triangle of the best chocolate melt on her tongue, it might enhance all effects.

Reply April 27, 2015

I so get this. I've also been falling in love with plants and flowers and wind chimes, makes me feel old and glorious. A good story to read a few pages from (more if you can) is definitely a tool, wouldn't you say...sometimes it's in the form of a writer's random post too. : )

Reply April 27, 2015

Sometimes I eat a chocolate bar in the closet. I should try chips.

Love the wind chime idea. I have one on the back porch, now I just need to stick a chair underneath. Thank you.

Reply April 27, 2015

Love your post! I must be highly sensitive, too, because I am dying and crying -- I see my 1970's childhood kitchen, right down to the cabinets, hardware and wall oven!! :)

Reply April 27, 2015

I have three boys... 4, 2 and 6months. On Saturday, 4-year-old was sifting through a box of Legos for EONS (in my brain) all while 2-year-old whine "maaaaah, mmaaaahh" and the 6-month-old (so clingy he could teach saran wrap a thing or two) wasn't napping. I sat there with my hands over my ears and my eyes closed and it wasn't enough so I ended up leaving the room, which still wasn't enough, and so I cried.
I didn't know noise could cause such claustrophobia. And the mess. And the smell. Oh.

Yes, share those tools as you find them. Please . I have a wind chime and I love it!

Elizabeth Marshall
Reply April 27, 2015

I could come for coffee, all the way to Arkansas and tell you eyeball to eyeball why and how I so get this. Perhaps an email. I so get this ♡ excited for your tools

Reply April 27, 2015

yes! i'm by far the most HSPy of mother's that there is...i wonder how you do it... and i see you in it too, and i feel loved. and love for you and the littles... what a great tool... i look forward to more! :)

the Blah Blah Blahger
Reply April 27, 2015

More of these!!!

Southern Gal
Reply April 27, 2015

I just love this. I'm sending my daughter here to read (three 4 and under). ;)

Reply April 27, 2015

Okay, so I know you know my mother's book. Seven of us, right? SEVEN OF US. When I was first dating my now husband he introduced me to some friends of his who were fans of my mom, and they told a story of how they bought a book from her out of the back of the van…and what they remember is one of her boys pulling down his pants and peeing on the ground. Recounting this story over corn on the cob and me and my…BOYFRIEND. I almost died. Sending you so much love and appreciation. The rich and the beautiful and the horrifying all live right next door to each other, don't they? <3 <3

Reply April 27, 2015

Oh yes! HSP right here, and I hear you loud and clear. I love that you are writing about this.

Jody Lee Collins
Reply April 27, 2015

Three of our five grandkids were here this weekend (with their mom, thank God) and I transported 2 of them to a family gathering at my brothers house. Along the way, after church, after the bake sale, after getting the deviled eggs to take to the gathering, the 8 year old asked (in the space of 15 minutes) "are we there yet, Nana."
I was listening to Rend Collective at the time, loudly. His question was enough to turn the tide. I turned off the CD, rolled down the windows and said, "I think we're just gonna listen to the Outside Sounds."
Peter replied, "Yeah, there's some great outside sounds, Nana. Birds and planes and the wind in the trees."
Yes, let's hear it for the outside sounds,the Godsounds, that keep us all sane. (and that windchime? we have one, too. music from Heaven, indeed.)

Christine Duncan
Reply April 27, 2015

I used to take my chips to the park in a non-descript looking bag and pretend I was feeding the squirrels... ah, the good ol' days. Now that everyone works and studies, the chips stay home with me ;)

Reply April 27, 2015

you always write beautifully, but this has extra REAL YOU and probably my favorite post you have ever written.

Kelly Sauer
Reply April 27, 2015

I have wind chimes. And lately I have been remembering how I need to sit under the sun in the real world that is not the spinning vortex in my head and all around me.

And now I shall wish a little harder for a little longer there so that I can cry about the chance to breathe.

I love your writing, Amber Haines. Gah. I love your writing.

Reply April 28, 2015

This is perfect.

Buggies forever. We have one book that refers to them as "shopping wagons" (WTH?) and I have to clarify to my son every time that they are indeed BUGGIES.

Reply April 28, 2015

Thank you for reminding me that i'm not crazy only HSP and that my tools are here somewhere...

Reply April 28, 2015

The chime, a lullaby for the mama.

Jamie S Harper
Reply April 28, 2015

I love this. Finally someone who relates to my parenting sensitivities. Thank you for sharing your tools so far!

Reply April 28, 2015

I have three boy monkeys under age 5, and am pregnant with a surprise!#4! I too, hide in dark places when it all gets too much. I so get this post, it gave my heart a hug. Thankyou. Please, more tools. Looking into windchimes..

Reply April 28, 2015

I loved reading this today... lost my cool in front of house guests after hearing "mom" for the 50th time. Always good to know we're not alone. :)

Reply April 29, 2015

awww.... i loved this post! wind chimes huh!

i have always wondered if mums feel any sort of panic when life is pulling them in a million directions. looking forward to the next tool...

what does the Irish blessing say?

Jennifer Camp
Reply April 29, 2015

Amber, your exquisite gift of seeing and communicating beauty is a tremendous blessing to me. Thank you. With my oldest 13 now, and the youngest nine ( and only three kids) the chaos is much less now. But I never tire of needing reminders of how to stop and look for and behold the face of God. Thank you.

Reply April 29, 2015

The essence of your heart effervesces through your words. I hear this anthem you write like a beautiful melody; I have played one like it in time past and present. It sometimes feels like choreographed chaos.
My kids are older now but I still find quiet in the closet, seeking respite behind a closed door quickly. Because there are always schedules and needs, lists and piles that pound out sounds so loud that it takes the instant quiet of the wind blowing chimes gently to lift my eyes. In that moment the breeze of His caress tempts my heart to draw nearer to peace and I appreciate each moment.
Bless you as you go!

Ashley Hales
Reply April 29, 2015

Yes, yes, yes, always yes with your words -- and yes, with the overwhelm. We're very unfortunate here to have 2 highly sensitive parents and 4 little ones, too. I love the wind chime and the bee-drunk yard and taking flowers. Makes me wish we weren't in transition and won't have a home to call our own for a bit of time yet.

Rachel Heath
Reply April 30, 2015

Yes, please. More of this.

ali grace | cookies and grace
Reply April 30, 2015

This is so beautiful, and so refreshing. I'm not a mom (yet) but I still identify with so much. I think we all need to sit, be still, and listen to the wind more often. Rushing from here to there is only making me crazier!

Reply April 30, 2015

1. "A mother always needs to sit and listen to the sky."

OH MY LANTA. I need to make time for this. What if I don't have a patio? Maybe I could hang wind chimes in my car and roll down the windows to listen to the sky...

2. Your words are delicious.

3. Please write about allthetools. In lists. Or prose. Or interpretive dance. I need to sit at your feet and soak it all in.

4. I wish we were neighbours. *sigh*


Jeniffer Smiyh
Reply May 1, 2015

Yes! Definitely feel you on the highly sensitive mothering. And I have 3 girls, ages 4 to 8 months. My oldest and youngest are talkers. I lose my cool at least 50 (okay...30) times a day. I find that if I can leave the chaos and step outside for a few minutes, my days are much better. Especially if it's raining and the wind chime is playing.

Kelly Gratz
Reply May 1, 2015

Yes!! The taking plants instead of anti-depressants describes me perfectly! I have a huge lovely front porch and it is often where the decompressing takes place. And there is a wind chime. God gives such grace to those of us He wired to be sensitive. He knows and He provides those refreshing moments if we will just notice them. Thank you for sharing!

Reply May 1, 2015

I am also a HSP. Empty Nester now. Your writing is beautiful and I was there with you all the way with my "four in five years". Only my 19 year old son is left and he is also HSP. I just realized it about 4 months ago and that realization of I'm okay, I'm not crazy and flowers and wind chimes....Yes!!!! Great anti-depressants.

Reply May 4, 2015

Thank you for your honesty! Always thankful to be reminded that I am not the only one who hasn't got it all "together"!!!!!

Reply May 10, 2015

You write beautifully. And I wish there were more specific tools, because I feel like that would make it easier somehow, until the tools didn't work any more and then that would just be another thing to feel all the feelings about. So we persevere with the tools of the moment and change them as we need to. I remember my mother always having wind chimes when we were younger. I wonder if she listened to them like this as well?

Reply May 23, 2015

In the past year I've learned I am a HSP. (I always knew I was "something" but never knew what.) I CANNOT ABIDE wind chimes. All my life they have made me so nervous. My family has never been able to understand it.

Reply May 24, 2015

Yes! Everyone needs to listen to the sky. I have a set of wind chimes hanging inside my kitchen window (outside the sound became too cacophonous for me). When the breeze blows through our house, I can hear them tinkle melodically. Their gentle song reminds me to feel the breeze and to exhale.

Laura Bull
Reply May 26, 2015

I loved reading about Highly Sensitive People... it felt like reading a biography of myself. How many days has Gary come home from work to talk, turn on the overhead vent of the stove, while music is blaring in the kitchen, water running in the sink, boys being boys (and loud ones at that) and his wife slowly sinks to the floor, rocking in the fetal position... Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but that sure is what I want to do... I usually copy with my earbuds and some peace and calm blaring into my brain to compensate for all the noise :) So good to know I'm not alone!

Jill B Tucker
Reply June 14, 2015

Thank you! Because I thought I must be less than to feel so crazy. Cannot compute! is all I can think up when they're yelling and running and living big. Oh how I love them and oh how I need to get me a chime.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *