Sometimes, at the end of a particularly difficult or frustrating day of parenting—because let’s face it, we all experience those—I find myself closing my eyes and drifting off to the warm, peaceful daydream of enjoying an uninterrupted candlelit bath with a glass of cab franc, or my husband and I warmly embracing. The reality is, I’m lucky if I can pee without a child clamoring at the door wanting my affection and attention. I know I’m not alone in feeling touched out or over-touched as a mom.
If you know and follow me, you also know that I always keep it real, which is why I want to dig into this topic of feeling touched out as a mom, even if it feels a little taboo to talk about. As always, I’m committed to creating a safe space for moms to talk about the things they fear they could be judged or shamed for. But, here’s the thing: motherhood is a journey, and with everything in life, it contains multitudes of feelings and experiences—not all of them positive!
So, without further ado, let’s talk about feeling over-touched as a mom.
Feature image by Taylor Jones.
What Does It Mean to Be Over Touched?
Children, of course, don’t have the same boundaries that adults have when it comes to personal space, and that’s understandable as they learn how to form healthy attachments. Before children learn the language to express their needs, they rely on you to provide them the care and affection that allows them to feel secure, and that’s usually in the form of physical touch.
Between breastfeeding, holding them, carrying them around on your hip, and their little hands grabbing at every part of you, moms often don’t have time for themselves. In fact, one survey suggests that moms have an average of 32 minutes of “me time” a day. And as a mom myself, that may be generous.
The self-care movement has exploded in the last few years, and for good reason. Self-care is said to promote overall wellbeing and reduce anxiety, depression, and even physical illness. So what happens when your intensely physical job as a parent doesn’t allow you the time to take care of yourself? You become burnt out by touch. You find yourself physically recoiling at your partner giving you a kiss even though you love them and want to be close to them. Being over touched effects yourself and the relationships around you, and that is a lot for anyone to take on!
At my most over touched, I was finding it so hard to reconcile having my own needs even if they came second to my kids’ needs. I also felt so much shame in admitting this because there are so many shoulds when it comes to motherhood. I should be grateful that my baby is breastfeeding. I should be happy that they want to snuggle with me all the time because soon they won’t want to. And if you’re experiencing these feelings too, you should know that this is completely normal and it by no means suggests that you’re a bad parent. It’s completely valid to need to find space for yourself so that you’re able to preserve yourself and your sanity so that you can refill your tank and put your best foot forward.
To get more insight into the concept of being over touched, I tapped Danielle Locklear, a licensed marriage and family therapist who was able to provide some understanding, and tips. I walked away from our conversation with tons of valuable information, which will be included throughout this article, but one that stuck out to me right away was how “feeling over-touched acknowledges that you are human and is the body’s response to being at sensory overload.” If you ever feel bad that your emotions are making you not want to be touched, remember that this is a physical response and not to feel ashamed or guilty about it.
How to Communicate Your Needs
The best thing you can do when you start to feel over-touched is to communicate your needs. I know, easier said than done, but I have a few tips to get the conversation started. When it comes to bringing up issues to your co-parent, I find that the best time to talk about my needs is when I feel calm since I think it’s difficult to communicate coherently when I am in the throes of anxiety and overwhelm—I know I’m not alone!
First I get clear about what my needs are. Sometimes what I need is as easy as an hour to read behind a closed door, and other times I need a weekend trip away with myself or with my girlfriends. My husband Tyler always understands what to do when my cup needs filling and never makes me feel guilty for it. At the end of the day, your partner is here to shoulder the responsibility of parenthood together, and that includes making sure one another is taken care of, too. Whenever I come back from a little break, it always ends up benefiting me, my kids, and my relationship with my husband.
Kids, on the other hand, are a little less understanding about needing some space. But communicating to them when you need a break from being touched also helps to teach them boundaries for themselves. A simple statement like, “I love spending so much time with you and giving you snuggles, but I need a bit of time to sit on my own,” can usually do the trick.
And Locklear agrees: “Communicating our physical boundaries and clear messages of consent to kids end up being a beautiful lesson for future relationships,” she says. Setting boundaries with your kids will not only safeguard yourself but also have a dual effect on their development when beginning to understand appropriate boundaries for touch and physical behavior. I found this point extremely inspiring—communicating to your kids early and modeling that sometimes “now is not the time” is actually beneficial for you and for them.
“Communicate what is non-negotiable and then let them know where they have a choice,” outlines Locklear. “For example, the living room is going to be a quiet place but you can do a puzzle or color. Alternatively, you can go into your room and be noisy.” This type of modeling lets kids know that these things are not up for debate, but here are your options. It will also help them later in life to acknowledge that they too can set boundaries, whether it’s at work or in their love life. Better to teach them early, I say!
How to Cope
If after communicating to your partner and children about how you feel, you’re still struggling, there’s no shame in that either. Near the tail end of our conversation, Danielle said something that truly stuck with me.
“Don’t hold your expectations [of what you’re capable of] to an old standard. Your family is not the same as it was before and neither are you.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
With every blessing that motherhood has to offer, there’s a less-than-lovely part of the job—yes, job—that keeps you grounded. Before I became a mom, I read all of the parenting books, and not one of them prepared me for the fatigue of always having a little one grabbing at and clinging to my body.
So much of parenthood is about stumbling through and finding what works for you. With a little communication and by allowing yourself permission to take me-time and breaks from touching, you’ll be better equipped to give out those famous mom snuggles without sacrificing yourself.