During the early years of living with our high need child, I must have heard Martha use the term “stretched” a hundred times. Stretching is exactly what high need children do to — and for — their parents. Yet, this powerful word has helpful and harmful meanings. Parenting a high need child forces you to extend yourself, to reevaluate priorities (even change careers), to mature your mindset about babies, and to become flexible and creative beyond your wildest dreams. Depending on your attitude toward raising a high need child, the support you get, and the inner resources you have, repeated stretching can either wear you out, like a rubberband, or make you stronger, like a muscle. Yes, you do have to become flexible, almost elastic in moment-by-moment high- need decisions, yet at what point do you have to guard against stretching until you snap? Mothering is the most stressful job you will ever have. It’s continual. The direction of the energy flow is constantly outward. Yet without challenges, no one grows in their profession, especially parents. The key is to get strong like a muscle, not weak like an overextended rubberband. Your life will never be the same. I remember tired parents in my office once saying, “I’ll be happy when this high need stage is over and our lives can get back to normal.” I reminded them that as parents, from now on this is their normal life. Becoming parents is like putting on a new pair of pants. Through repeated wear you stretch the elastic waistband, and it gradually feels more comfortable, and the pants, like life, are never again the same.
A Stretched Mother Confides: “Sometimes I paint a rather grim picture of this high need child. The reality is anything but grim. Sure, I am very sleep deprived and get exasperated when I get no breaks from the “action.” However, Katherine is the most fascinating person I have every met. She is extremely intelligent, and, while being demanding, seems to draw people to her. Her grandparents are completely captivated by her. Life is never boring with this little one. She is “on” almost all the time. She has taught me patience. I have learned many things because she challenges me to find new ways to deal with her demands. I have learned to enjoy the enormous amount of time I must spend with her. Interestingly, I don’t like to be away from her more than a couple of hours. My friends can’t understand why I don’t want more breaks from her. Part of the reason I don’t stay away from her for so long is I will have to “pay” for that time apart by her being more clingy and nursing more. But mostly I prefer to have her with me because I enjoy her company so much.”