As I'm writing this, my three-year-old is sitting in my lap while my five-year-old sits next to me on the couch as close as possible. I look around the room to see that the oversized chair in the corner is empty, as is the rest of the couch. We're physically all on one couch cushion. Right now, we’re all watching the new Secret Life of Pets movie- well, they are- while I try to get some work done. It's another day in the life of a multi-tasking mom.
Research has shown that children whose parents frequently embrace and touch them have a stronger bond and it goes way beyond the relationship. Physical touch can actually alter the child at a cellular level, that the amount of touch can actually change their DNA.
Studies have shown that a child with low physical contact from their mothers have cells that aren’t as mature as the cells in a child who is frequently in contact with their mother. When children are babies, physical touch starts with skin-to-skin contact and soothing them with your embrace. Babies who have plenty of physical contact with their mothers tend to gain weight at a healthy rate, and it helps regulate the baby's temperature. Most importantly, physical touch help children reach key development milestones.
I practiced attachment parenting: feeding on demand, picking them up when they cried, and bed sharing. That's because I wanted to create a strong bond and relationship between myself and my children. But then I wonder if I went too far and- because of how I've raised them so far- that they'll always touch me too much. Some days I'm over being touched by 8:30 in the morning. From the moment I wake up, they're all about mom. Their father could be standing in the kitchen asking what they want for breakfast, but they don’t acknowledge him. Instead, they ask me.
On the rare occasion that I sleep later than my husband, my kids start peppering me with a list of demands and climbing all over me once I make it downstairs. He'll laugh and say, “They haven’t asked for anything all morning.” They don’t do this to him. When he approaches me after the kids are in bed to ask for a hug, I can’t do it. I'm over-touched for the day.
If I sit down after a long day at work, I'm rarely alone. As soon as my butt hits the cushion, my kids scramble to get on my lap. Sometimes, there's even a fight over what space they can claim as their own (as if it weren’t mine). Even when we go out to a restaurant, they still manage to put at least half their body on me. I walk out of the restaurant with half their meal smeared on my shoulder from dirty, sticky hands.
You’re probably asking yourself, “Why doesn’t she just tell them to get off?” I’ve tried, pleaded and even physically removed them. But they always come back. Or they look at me with sadness in their eyes and say, “I just want to be with you, Mama.” Then I feel like a horrible mother for wanting my space.
I thought my kids were exceptionally needy until I talked to my fellow mom friends. They're experiencing the same amount of touching. too! We've given up our bodies to house them during pregnancy, then with nursing and skin-to-skin as soon as the baby's born, and then constant consoling with touch for baby for the first year of their life before they become mobile. Thinking that being mobile means a brief reprieve of the incessant body contact is incorrect; they'll still need you, and they'll still find you.
At times, I feel smothered. Once in a while, cuddling post nap or after school is great. I love when they curl their little bodies around me to snuggle. But after a long work day or a rough fight with my husband, the last thing I want is to be used as a human jungle gym. It would be one thing if they sat still, but it’s like trying to hold spaghetti with buttered hands. Their little toes dig into my thighs and leave bruises behind. They wiggle, move and climb all over you- they never, ever stop. My daughter has taken to leaping from the ottoman to my arms. (But only if I'm ready. Nine times out of ten, I'm not ready, and am scrambling to catch her before her head hits the ground).
I know that this won’t last forever- and that one day I'll miss their embrace, sweet touch, and maybe even those little bruises from their toes. I'll miss their request for a full body hug, where they wrap their tiny body around me and look at me and say, “I just love you, Mommy,” while pulling me close for another. I suppose they're only little for a short period of time, and they sit on me because they want to be close to me- their mother, their protector- at all times.
The other day I asked my son, “Why do you sit as close to me as humanly possible? There’s a whole couch for you to lounge on.” He looked at me, and said, “Mom, you’re the refrigerator and we’re the magnets.” I have no idea where he came up with that, but he really couldn’t have described it better.