I Love You But Please Don't Touch Me
Your new baby starts crying after you just put them down or your toddler is asking you to pick them up for the millionth time today. You start to feel like your skin is physically crawling. You feel trapped and claustrophobic. Your anxiety starts rising as you see anyone approaching you. You start getting easily irritated. Then guilt starts to creep in because these are your loved ones that need you.
What you are feeling is quite common and is referred to as being touched out and is a common complaint from parents of young children.
It is easy to understand, newborns love to be held and often don’t want to be put down. Toddlers on the other hand have very little sense of personal space. It also makes sense because “mommy” is a safe place for many children and where they want to spend most of their time around. This can lead to a mother feeling like her body is no longer her own and she starts to have a strong desire to protect her feelings of self.
These feelings can be felt by anyone. It does not matter if you stay at home, return to work, formula feed, breastfeed, attachment parent or practice scheduled parenting.
Many times people will not talk about these feelings due to guilt or worry that they are going to hear responses that counter how they want to parent. Things like “Well at least you get to stay home with your kids,” “get your baby on a schedule and you will feel great,” or “cherish this time they are only small for a while,” do not validate the feelings of the person and often stop them from sharing how they are truly feeling and what they need.
What can you do to combat the feelings of being touched out?
The first step is to talk about it. Explain what you are feeling, the best you can to your partner. You need to be open about how you are feeling in order for them to be able to help you. They also may feel yourself distancing yourself from them and not understand why. Talk with other moms, you may be relieved to see how common being touched out is and all the conflicting feelings that go along with it. Being transparent about what is going on will allow others to reach in and meet you where you are and help you.
The logical recommendation is to take time for yourself. Before you say you cannot get away from the kids, remember this does not need mean escaping for hours. For some women being able to lock the bathroom door and take a 15-minute shower by themselves is enough. Maybe enjoying a nice cup of coffee or tea for a few minutes gives you the time you need to regroup. Heading into another room and spend a few minutes practicing yoga poses will help you feel grounded. Maybe it does mean taking a night off and spending it with your partner or best friend. Start small, ask for help from those you trust and take time to reclaim yourself.
This last suggestion might seem counterintuitive; engage in touch. If you are touched out it would seem like the last thing you would want to do it have any more touch. For some people though, engaging on touch on their terms is exactly what they need. It is the ability to be in control of their own body that helps them feel more balanced. Melting into a hug from your partner, engaging in gentle touch with your child, and asking your child to touch you a certain way can all be empowering. It can remind you that touch can be a good thing and not something that always needs dreaded.
There are different ways to approach the feeling of being touched out. Take time and figure out what works for you. Do not be discouraged if the first thing you try does not work.