For the mom raising a sensitive boy, you have been given a gift, but it will not be an easy one to unwrap. You must open this gift very slowly or its gentle paper will tear. When the paper is off and you see what’s inside, your mind won’t be able to process how something so pure of heart can possibly exist on earth. You will want to protect and shield this gift to make sure no darkness can find it. This gift you have been given comes with very thin skin, and the heart that beats underneath this thin covering will see and feel everything. This gift, while worrisome at times to walk alongside, will teach you things about life, love, and grace beyond your advanced years and experience. Listen, watch, and take in all of the wonders and mercies that this gift will show you.
I have one of these boys, and what a humbling experience it has been to see the world through his eyes. I give myself zero credit for his beauty—he just arrived here like this. His gentleness and kindness is not something that can be taught, but I think it is something we can all learn from. These sensitive boys that drop into our lives unexpectedly, will soften families, balance chaos, and bring moms to their knees.
From the very beginning, this boy moved through life at a different pace than most—slow. He was never in a rush or competing to be first. He stayed present. While the rest of the world, including myself, was racing from task to task, he wasn’t. He has also always had a compassionate connectedness to all of life. Spiders trespassing through our hallways would be gently carried outside alive. Hummingbirds that inadvertently struck our windows would be nursed back to life in a shoebox. Garden lizards, betta fish, and fallen flowers would live rent free in terrariums in our home, and they all would receive beautiful and intentional funerals when their time was up. He was a peacemaker, a compassionate ally, and a friend you could always depend on.
And while all of this sounds lovely, and it is, these boys are not uncomplicated to raise. They are vulnerable and oftentimes naive to the way others are living in the world. They can be fragile, susceptible to hurt, and will internalize their worries rather than burdening anyone with them. They see the good in everyone, which can put them at risk for exploitation. The current of kindness and compassion that runs deep in their veins drives them to be helpful, but sometimes past what is good for them. Discipline can often land wrong, and their self esteem lays at risk for inadvertent and unintentional damage from parents, teachers, and coaches. We want to thicken their skin so they are protected, but we never want to diminish their tenderness.
So how do we embrace the beauty of the sensitive boy in a world that often seems to be structured around toughness and power, competitiveness and force? How do we raise these sensitive boys well? I believe the answer lies in understanding them, and then setting them up for success starting at an early age. There is such a delicate balance to uphold when bringing up these tender souls. We never want to extinguish their offering, and yet we want to be sure that they can walk through their lives with confidence and assurance—to not get trampled on. We want to help them to channel their sensitivity into positive circumstances, and to help them to understand that their tendency to be thoughtful and compassionate is a strength and a superpower, and not any kind of weakness. We need these humans desperately.
My sensitive boy did well when he had one really good friend he could count on regularly. This seemed to serve as some sort of an anchor to him. It was almost as if he would borrow confidence from this ally, and this allowed him to enter into situations that might otherwise have felt like too much. We would support these friendships in any way we could—welcome them into our home, take them on vacations, etc. Consistency and planning were also important. He did well knowing what to expect and did not do as well with abrupt changes in the plans. Catching a sensitive boy off guard feels like a lot—because they feel a lot. Discipline was also approached very differently as we searched to find the right balance of teaching and grace. We could (and needed to) be pretty firm with our other more confident, strong-willed boy, but this sensitive one could get hurt very easily if we were even disappointed in something he had done. He could be crushed by a raised voice, and then I would spend more time reassuring him that he is okay, than on the original correction.
When even just these few actions were implemented: having a dependable friend, planning and keeping things as consistent as possible, and practicing gentle and conscious discipline, our boy’s light was able to shine bright. Yes, he would still often bring all the bikes and balls back into the garage after his buddies left. Yes, he would always let others go first. Yes, he was consistently the peacemaker wherever he went. But he was continually growing in confidence. He would learn to stretch himself to be able to enter into unfamiliar situations more often. He would experiment with leadership and learn that it was ok to say “no”.
This boy, who is now a man, will forever be sensitive. I am so grateful for who he is and for his presence in my life and in the life of our family. I had to learn a lot along the way to help preserve this gentle gift. I will always worry for his exposed heart, but as he has grown, and has learned ways to safeguard it enough to walk firmly in this world, I have a comfortable amount of peace.
For the mom raising a sensitive boy, consider yourself divinely blessed to be trusted with this warm light that will help keep the balance of the universe leaning toward good.