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Photographed by Victoria of Motherhood Storybook

Mom Talk: How A Parent/Teacher Conference Changed My Parenting Perspective

Written by Sue Jean Woodmansee

Photography by Photographed by VICTORIA OF MOTHERHOOD STORYBOOK

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Sue Jean Woodmansee talks about how attending a parent/teacher conference changed her views on parenting her son. -JKM

We were at the tail end of a rough week. My two-and-a-half year old son and I were both struggling through our second cold in three weeks, and he had suddenly unlearned all the potty training that we had conquered four months prior. I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, and itching to get out of the house. When my husband offered to work from home on Friday, so I could attend my first-ever parent-teacher conference, I was extremely grateful.

“O” attends nursery school two mornings a week. What could these teachers tell me about my son, from their brief six hours a week with him, that I didn’t already know? Nevertheless, I was actually looking forward to a fifteen-minute escape from wiping his perpetually runny nose and changing his pee-soaked pants.

The first thing his teachers said to me when I walked in was, “We know these conferences are silly”. Was it written all over my face?

Nothing they said surprised me until O’s favorite teacher, Miss J, told me, “O is highly sensitive”. I didn’t know how to respond. For the rest of the meeting I sat there quietly, wondering, “Are they right? Is my son sensitive?” Had they asked me to describe him, I would have said that he is funny, energetic, and playful; he is outgoing and has more friends than I do. I would never have used the word “sensitive” to describe O—his feelings aren’t easily hurt, and he is easy-going when it comes to typically difficult toddler situations, such as sharing and taking turns.

I thought about Miss J’s words more as I was driving home, and as I processed, I suddenly remembered the beautiful way in which she had described his sensitivity: “Most two-year-olds live life with blinders on; they are unable to see anything but themselves. As they get older, the blinders start to open. O already lives life with his blinders wide open.”

And that’s when I realized just how correct she was. His feelings might not be easily hurt by others, but when a friend is sad or injured, O immediately starts to worry. He is not only sensitive to others’ emotions, but also to the world around him. He is extremely detail-oriented, and has an incredible memory, which means he notices minuscule changes in his environment that even I fail to observe. I have come to understand that when O sees, colors are more brilliant; when O smells, scents are more pungent; when O feels, the emotions are more intense.

As soon as I got home, I jumped onto Google and researched sensitive toddlers. As I delved deeper into the world of highly sensitive children, I found myself relating to the stories that I was reading, and began to realize that my previous understanding of sensitivity had been too narrow. At the same time, I started to worry about all of the parenting advice that accompanied each article, so I decided to stop Googling. Instead, I started to make a concerted effort to reciprocate his sensitivity.

I now try to be more observant to his reactions and emotions, and more cognizant of the moments when he feels overwhelmed or over-stimulated. I make sure to find quiet moments to generously give him “Mama love”, and cut down on the number of activities that we participate in (and the number of errands that we run), so he has more time to discover worms in our backyard, instead of banging on drums at music class. O seems happier than ever, which in turn means that our home is more harmonious.

I lost my mother to cancer almost two years ago, and my sensitive and perceptive son always seems to know when I am thinking about her, even if there are no tears in my eyes. He immediately runs over, asks me, “You thinking about Halmi, Mama?”, and gives me a huge hug. I bury my face in his neck, breathe in his sweet and slightly sweaty little boy smell, and a feeling of calm washes over me.

I have learned to be grateful for his sensitivity, and am equally grateful to Miss J for helping me to live with my blinders wide open.

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