Episode 7 –Touched Out, the Demise of the Stay-At-Home Parent, and A Mom's Wardrobe
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All Touched Out
I’ve never been a hugger. Even as a kid, I wasn’t very cuddly. My mom said as I didn’t demand much holding even as an infant. My personal bubble has always been a little larger than most.
I’m not averse to touching. I could be amenable to a bit spooning in bed with a partner, maybe some hand-holding on a romantic stroll. But for the most part, you have your space, I have mine, and everyone is happy. This arrangement was safe and comfortable for me. And then I had kids. It’s incredible how many “transformation testimonials” begin with ‘And then I had kids.’
My eldest was born thirteen years ago. She exhibited the standard need for cuddles. My firstborn would run to me when she fell or got scared. She fell asleep on my shoulder countless times. But since I worked out of the home for most of her first ten years, some of the cuddle duty was spread out among her caregivers and teachers.
My boundaries had loosened, but I still wasn’t a hugger. And then I had more kids.
I now have two-year-old twins. I’m also a work-at-home mom this time around. That means it’s all the cuddles all the time.
For children, hugs, cuddles, and touches are a crucial part of healthy development according to the science folk. Hugging releases oxytocin, which science has linked to several growth hormones in children. It also reduces stress, which explains why our littles come running for a hug when they are scared or upset.
But what about for adults? As we get older, our want for hugs and social touching may taper off, but that doesn’t mean the need has. Michael Murphy, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research associate at the Carnegie Mellon Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity, and Disease co-authored a study that says hugs remain an important stress reliever in adults.
“Feeling safer and cared for, in turn, can make us less sensitive to physical pain and less reactive when faced with potentially threatening experiences, especially socially threatening experiences.”
Murphy’s study pointed to the lower stress response and negative feelings people experience after receiving hugs, even when embroiled in interpersonal conflict. Their personal lives could be a complete disaster, but a hug still made them feel a little bit better.
Okay, so I’ve got the science that says hugging is excellent. Still not a hugger. At least I wasn’t. The next batch of crotch goblins I spawned made it their life mission to challenge this notion. Especially the boy child.
Even before he had words or the knowledge that few things in this world are improved by licking them, my son understood the comfort of human touch. I’ve often referred to him as a level-four clinger.
My son is definitely a hugger. For no discernible reason, he reaches his chubby little arms up at me, asking in the common toddler tongue to be picked up. He will lay his blonde head against my shoulder and vigorously slap my back with his chubby little hand, his overdone toddler version of my patting his back. Without knowing it, they are training me to seek out hugs and caresses. They do this by continually touching me. With two of them, there is seldom a moment in my day I don’t have a little palm contacting me somehow.
For a two-year-old, there are very few wrongs that cannot be righted with a cuddle. The girl child has a toy, any toy, and the only correct response is a full nuclear meltdown. Three of five times, that involves waddling over to me to sob on my shoulder until he feels better.
The boy child shoved his sister down. While she is unhurt, she was surprised, and her ego wounded. A hug from mom makes it better.
And for every hug I offer my children, I get one in return — with the bonus of snot all over my shirt. For all that oxytocin my hugs pump into their developing brains, I get a little boost of my own. Their crying naturally stresses me out. It’s supposed to. But the easiest resolution to toddler tears is a cuddle. This, in turn, reduces everyone’s stress. And we loop right back up to the science of hugs we talked about earlier.
But can the touching get too much? Can you be touched too much? Ask any parent who has been trapped in their homes for the past six months thanks to quarantine and you’ll be granted an emphatic, half-insane yes. This pandemic spawned isolation has generated new problems for the single and the childless – touch starvation. For parents, it’s quite the opposite. Someone is always touching us. And for those of us who didn’t much like it pre-Corona, it gets overwhelming.
If you’ve been feeling like a terrible mom because you’re beginning to loathe tiny, sticky, disturbingly moist hands constantly wandering across your person, just google My Kid Won’t Stop Touching Me. Trust me, you are not alone. And this need for personal space does not make you a bad mom.
But what are we, the touched-out moms of 2020 supposed to do about it? Well, we can start teaching the concept of consent, boundaries, and the power of personal autonomy. Now, if you’re listening and you have an infant, crawler, or very young toddler, well, sorry. Much of the following might not be in your parenting toolbox just yet. But keep listening anyway. It’ll come in handy eventually.
We all know that boundary setting is important. And we all know that kids gleefully trample upon boundaries with an unfettered joy, laughing evilly as they do so. But that doesn’t make those boundaries less important. Start incorporating phrases like “Mom needs her space right now, please keep your hands on your body for a moment.” “You need to ask before you touch my face.” “No touching Mommy’s titties. No means no.” At first, it’s likely they’ll stare blankly at you and outright ignore you. But the more you use these phrases, or whatever feels comfortable and right for your family and situation the more you assign yourself personal autonomy. The more you normalize the idea of consent, and the more you empower them to be able to say the same later in life when their own personal bubble is encroached upon.
Of course, I’m also going to teach my kids to throw a good left hook when someone attempts to touch them without consent. But that methodology is frowned upon in parenting. So no left hooks just yet, just constant repetition of boundaries.
We’re going to take a break here and check-in with the Momma Cusses News Network for an update on the latest happenings in the world of parenting.
Justine Clemente, 25, is under investigation today as authorities are concerned about her lack of baby photos on social media. Clemente recently gave birth to an adorable little girl, Noelle, but you wouldn’t know it to look at Instagram or Facebook.
“There are no tiny baby feet pics. No filtered shots of a sleeping baby girl,” said Child Media Advocate, Priscilla Banks. “Baby Noelle can’t post for herself, so she is reliant on Ms. Clemente to Instagram all her cuteness on her behalf. At fourteen weeks, she is at prime infant cuteness, and her mother has a responsibility to share that ad nauseam.”
While Clemente has dutifully posted a handful of delightful poses in Halloween costumes and above-average outfits, there is a grave concern that the mother may have already missed the minor milestone photos. Photos such as the first almost smile, the first false alarm not-giggle, and the full range of nearly imperceptibly different micro-expressions to show “personality” are missing from social media.
Clemente’s sister, Christine Hopper, contacted both the Social Media Police as well as reporters. “I love my sister, but I’m really concerned for Noelle. What is the kid going to do when she turns eleven, takes over her Insta, and has nothing? It’s a terrifying thought, coming into your own online without spaghetti face shots or bath pics with bubbles as private bits censors. I couldn’t let that be my niece’s fate.”
According to most social media platforms’ terms of service, parents of infants aged six months or younger are required to post no less than 43 photos per week of their tiny human. The language doesn’t specify how many times a day to post, but most parents tend to space them out evenly.
Clemente claims she does have many Baby Noelle pics on her phone but has not posted them. “She’s only going to be this little once. I didn’t want to watch her first smile from the screen of my phone,” the young mom explained. “I wanted to enjoy the cuddles and snuggles, not worry with filters and lighting.”
Advocate Banks says, “Quality time with your kids is no excuse to shirk the excessive picture sharing duties of early parenthood. Spend time with them if you need to, but have that phone ready at all times.”
Banks explains that we need cute babies on social media because it brings balance to an otherwise dismal feed. With the world news in chaos, boomers’ obsession with reposting fake news, and poorly targeted served ads, baby pictures are the balm for a sore scrolling thumb.
“If you possess a tiny, adorable creature, you have an obligation to overshare it. It’s for the good of the child as well as the community.”
The Demise of the Stay At Home Parent
I’m going to venture forth with a potentially unpopular opinion. There’s no such thing as a stay at home parent. I’m going to give a dramatic pause here while that sets in. Allow me to elaborate.
In January 2018, my husband and I discovered, to our delight, we were expecting our first child together.
In February 2018, my husband and I discovered, to our terror, my ovaries were fucking overachievers, and we’d made two babies.
It took some time to adjust.
Two babies at the same time manage to defy mathematics. Only double the human, somehow the medical costs triple, food costs quadruple and I don’t actually know the word for how much more expensive daycare is. I do know the word ridiculous though.
After much budget wiggling, we decided that we had entirely too many kids for both of us to work out of the house. My husband had the better paying job and benefits, so he kept the commute while I started keeping the house.
Not in my wildest, worst, or best dreams had I envisioned myself as a “stay-at-home” mom. From the outside looking in, it did not seem like something I had in me. Granted, my only real picture of SAHMs was painted by Pinterest and Mommy-blogs. Honestly, baby butt prints in paint and seasonal sensory bins did not appeal to me in the least.
I am now willing to admit my view skewed a bit.
My twins were born in August of 2018 and I officially left the workforce after seventeen years. It was bittersweet. The first few weeks were harrowing. On top of ensuring the continued survival of two pooping potatoes, I felt directionless.
Clean the house — check.
Boob the babies — check.
Run some laundry — check.
Boob the babies — check.