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ToddlerI'm an Overstimulated Toddler Mom—Here's How I Cope

I’m an Overstimulated Toddler Mom—Here’s How I Cope

Motherly Collective

I’m in the middle of wrestling my screaming two-year-old daughter into her ballerina footie pajamas when my Apple watch pings with a notification. “Loud Environment,” the screen reads. I make a face. Yeah, ya think?

I’m trying to get her ready for bed so I can do what I do every night after she goes to sleep: lay in the dark with my noise-canceling headphones on. 

But she isn’t having it. She thrashes and alligator-rolls, arching her back and screeching. I feel my brain start to crumble at the edges like someone is bunching a newspaper into a ball, and I have the same thought I have every day:

I can’t do this. I’m too overstimulated.  

I’m an introvert. I’m also what psychologists call a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP), which is a trait I share with about 15-20 percent of the population. Being an HSP means I’m easily overstimulated and require extra time to myself to recharge my batteries. As a work-from-home mom, however, I rarely ever get that opportunity. 

Most nights I’m so worn out after putting my daughter to bed, I have to shut off all the lights, pull the blackout curtains shut, and lay in bed in silence. But sometimes even the silence feels too loud, and I have to put on headphones and listen to white noise for 30 minutes before I’m able to think straight again.

“It’s like standing in a mosh pit for 10 hours straight,” I told my fiancé the other night, trying to put to words what it felt like to be overstimulated, “It’s like I’m right in front of a speaker and they’re blasting heavy metal and everyone is pressed up against you and you can’t move.”

He nodded sympathetically but I knew he couldn’t relate—not fully, anyway. My fiancé is an extreme extrovert, so the competing sounds of a yelling toddler and the “Yes, Yes, Vegetables” song from Cocomelon don’t hit him the same way. He seems to take all the chaos in stride whereas I often feel the noise like a physical force.

When I first found out I was pregnant, other parents warned me about not getting sleep. And they warned me that I’d have no time to myself. But what they didn’t warn me about was how exhausting it’d be to just exist in the same room with a kid. 

When I’m experiencing sensory overload as an overstimulated toddler mom it feels like a whole-body choking. The back of my throat tenses and every part of me tingles. My lips tingle, my eyeballs tingle. It feels like teensy spiders are crawling along the tips of my leg hair. And my brain, which feels like someone is running sandpaper over it, just stops functioning. When I try to talk, my words come out in mumbled, incoherent tangles. 

Sometimes I wonder if my introversion is to blame. Small talk exhausts me and that’s all I seem to do all day. My daughter’s favorite game to play is something she calls “Baby Hello,” where we each pretend we’re two kids meeting for the first time. We say hello to each other about 5-10 times in a row, then we say “nice to meet you,” and “nice to see meet you, too.” Then we talk about the same things I imagine senior citizens might chat about in a nursing home. 

We discuss the weather, what we want to eat for dinner, and then my daughter usually steers the conversation to talking about her various imaginary “ouchies” and what part of her body hurts and whose fault it is (she usually blames the dog). And then five minutes later, we start the same conversation all over again. 

Basically, it’s an introvert’s worst nightmare. But if she had her way, it’d be all we’d do every day. 

When I first found out I was pregnant, other parents warned me about not getting sleep. And they warned me that I’d have no time to myself. But what they didn’t warn me about was how exhausting it’d be to just exist in the same room with a kid. 

I recently confessed some of my struggles to a mom I met at a park. While we watched our kids play with their stuffed animals nearby, I explained how I often felt “over touched” after spending all day with my daughter. The other mom agreed. 

“I don’t want anyone to touch me,” she confessed, eyes wide. Then in a whisper: “I feel bad for my husband.” 

After I posted about being an “overstimulated introvert mom” in one of my Facebook parenting groups, I was surprised by how many responses I received that seemed to echo my experience. 

“When he naps or goes to bed for the night, I just lay on the floor in silence not being touched, not being whined at and it’s so peaceful to just kinda be alone,” one mom wrote.

And another: “I used to hire a sitter just to go lay in my bed and not move for a bit. I used to feel ashamed I did this, but why? I know I need quiet time and I got it and could recharge.”

The other night, we were watching a nature documentary about baby animals. The film showed a mama bear laying on her side in a forest as her cubs rough-housed on her and nursed her in the frenzied, clawing way baby animals do. The mom just laid there, splayed in the dirt, glassy-eyed, and a resigned look on her face.

I’ve never related to a woodland creature so much in my life. 

I know this stage won’t last forever. I know there will come a time when my daughter is a sleek-haired teenager who never asks me to play with her; who will build a wall of silence around her that I’ll spend my days trying to break through. And when that happens I’ll look back at this toddler parenting time with rose-colored fondness. 

But until that happens, I guess I’ll just have to keep breathing through it. 

But in the dark, of course—and with noise-canceling headphones on.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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