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.
Fall asleep watching Hulu — check.
Wake up panicked — check.
Boob the babies — fucking check.
As they got older, I stopped breastfeeding. Again with the math, my two boobs were not enough for two babies. (Don’t @ me that your boobs fed triplets and had some leftover. I don’t care.) That freed up more time and brain function. As their schedule got more predictable, the need for direction increased.
All the internet says establishing a routine is step number one to not losing your goddamn mind with multiples. Before the babies arrived I erroneously assumed that was for the welfare of the children.
That’s for the parents. After a somewhat sudden departure from the professional setting, I had grown accustomed to the schedule and repetition of work. Predictability, for all its mundanity, is what humans are built for. Even the most spontaneous of us need a pattern in our lives to some degree.
Not knowing what else to do to preserve my sanity, I made myself a schedule, built around my children’s various needs and obligations. I don’t go so far as to demand of myself a minute by minute breakdown. That’s impossible as babies can be willfully variable. But that schedule, that expectation of accomplishment kept me from floating off into this abyss absent of motivation or a sense of self.
Once I shifted my mindset from survival to maintaining a job, things just felt different. Being a stay-at-home mom was not some shitty, endless, kid-centric vacation. It was work, no different than any listing on Indeed. It was at this point I realized that “Stay” at home parent is a misnomer. We don’t just stay in the home with the tiny demon army we created. We work in it. We’re all work at home parents, whether we run a business or not.
Yes, there is a freedom to take a nap or watch Netflix without your spouse, but there are regular obligations and to-do lists, just like any out-of-the-home job. I do enjoy certain predictability to my day. I involve my children in the chores. You know what toddlers love? Being chased. Turns out they do not care if they are being chased by Momma, the dog, or the vacuum cleaner.
My day-in, day-out job is all the shit parents have to do no matter their employment situation. Calling insurance agents, scheduling doctors' appointments, toting my eldest to her life-enriching extracurriculars, taking the tiny terrorists outside, even fucking seasonal sensory bins, all on my plate. There are shitty bosses, opportunities to goof off, looming deadlines, and tasks I both loathe and love.
Housekeeping is more than just keeping our home Pinterest ready (Spoiler: It’s not). It is actively locating and removing things my children will happily attempt to slaughter themselves or each other with. My living room looks like a daycare. Essentially, because it is. Cooking, aside from being something I enjoy, is an attempt to ensure my children do not develop the unhealthy relationship with food I struggle with most days.
Work-out-of-home parents, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I have it worse. And as my kids got older, I decided to go above and beyond the edge of sanity and started my own content marketing business, plus a social media career and a fucking podcast. Because I’m masochistic as fuck, I guess. And the perks of working at home as a parent aren’t totally absent. I still heartily acknowledge naps and Netflix. I’m not here to debate who’s job is shittier. And with the pandemic of 2020, many of you shifted to this hybrid hell of maintaining a job in the same space your kids insist on inhabiting. The struggles of working either in or out of the home are many and varied; there are perks and rewards to both systems. We’re all parents and shit, literal and figurative, is part of the deal.
Nevertheless, Stay-at-home mom is a term we need to remove from the vernacular.
I’m a work-at-home mom.
A Mom’s Wardrobe
Little known fact about motherhood, There’s a dress code.
At least for me, there is more than one.
On top of a content marketing and creation career staged out of a reclaimed sliver of my master bedroom closet, I’m an age-gap parent and full-time caregiver for all three of my spawn. I’m a wife, and occasionally mascaraed as an adult with wisdom and social skills. My identity as a parent bleeds out in three different directions and there is a unique wardrobe for each.
My work as a mom requires different uniforms.
My daytime hours are spent caring for my toddlers. There’s a uniform for that. You probably already have that image in your head. Pretty standard fare for the work-at-home mom. Think basic white girl with a lot less sleep and more bodily fluids, most of them not her own, as an accessory. Leggings slide on under over-sized tunic shirts, most of them still technically maternity wear that never left the closet. Novelty socks go on and my hair is pulled out of my face in any way it will hold; messy buns and haywire headband situations. This is my Momma uniform.
These clothes are the pinnacle of comfort. It doesn’t matter how they look or fit. This is function over form. I’ve got work to do and my uniform is a tool. The corner of every shirt is stained and smeared with a rainbow of drooled food and sticky somethings. Milky mouths have wiped themselves across the shoulders and knees of my momma uniform. Every hem has been stretched to its max by hands grabbing for support or attention.
My once perky breasts are smashed into a sports bra because the girls no longer have a role to play here. We stopped breastfeeding ages ago and they just need to stay where I put them. In this uniform, the belly pooch from carrying twins doesn’t matter. My kids don’t care when my shirt rides up and my tiger stripes show. Tiny fingers trace across my purple-red marks of pregnancy and weight battles as we play on the floor. Tearstained, snotty faces have dampened the unidentifiable animal print, oozing out the frustrations of learning how to be people. My cellulite ripples underneath lycra sheaths and my kids don’t care. I try not to.
By the late afternoon, my role shifts, and my preteen returns home from middle school. Out comes my Mom uniform.
These are comfortable but suitable for public consumption, at least according to my fashion-conscious eldest daughter. The leggings stay, stray clumps of food I hadn’t noticed scraped away with a fingernail. Rags loosely disguised as shirts are switched for something a little better fitting and a lot less stained. The new uniform probably features tiny flowers or some sort of stitching detail to draw the eye away from the less desirable bits of my figure. My hair is brushed and put right back up, but neater this time. My mask is donned.
From here I’m approved to go outdoors and further than my property line. We do errands and grocery shopping in this wardrobe. I make arrangments and playdates and team meetings and supply runs for science projects in these clothes. A new uniform for new bits of my mom’s job description. This outfit meets with teachers, coaches, and other parents; people who understand the uniform. They are probably dressed in some similar way. Presentable but lacking much effort or motivation. It is so prevalent we developed a name for it, athleisure.
Occasionally, I’ll catch a side-eye from one of the Pinterest mommies in her Jimmy Choos. My Chuck Taylors may not be high fashion but I have to chase toddlers. Good luck with that in spike heels. I do not need your mom-guilt. I have enough of my own, thanks.
Finally, there is my Mother wardrobe. This is the level of outfits that I go to meet with other non-parent centric adults. Leggings are swapped for cleaner, thicker leggings, sometimes with patterns and prints. Because I’m still self-employed and you cannot take my leggings away from me.
Again, I implore you, Fight me.
Occasionally a nice, fitted pair of jeans enters the mix. Of course, they have the steel bands of fat squishing control top magic woven into them. My thighs look like my 1-year-old daughter’s otherwise, with rolls and folds that stop being cute once you hit puberty.
Mom tops are swapped for mother blouses and feature bold colors, matched with a necklace. Button-down shirts and scooped necklines, shirts that show off my armful of tattoos deploy, highlighting the best parts of a body that has produced three children. I don padded, pushing, poking bras that make my boobs look like they used to. If I’m feeling particularly interesting that day, I’ll put on a vintage-inspired dress with a pair of shorts on underneath, because chafing is a bitch. Still with the chucks though. My old knees, ankles, and toes ain't about that heeled shoe life. I feel like an adult in these clothes.
I wear these to work, leaving my kids behind in the care of the rest of my family. No longer immediately responsible for their needs and social calendars, I become a mother of three; writer, comedienne, and doer of things. I encounter hundreds of people, from a safe social distance of at least six feet, who see my mother clothes, not as a uniform, rather just clothes. Nothing particularly noteworthy from the outside looking in. This uniform, despite being the fanciest, speaks the quietest. It makes no mention that my mind is only half in this outfit, the other half wondering how bedtime is going back at home. It fails to indicate my personal battle of the bulge or the half a pound victory I won last week. I’m almost down to my pre-pregnancy level of obesity.
No hint is dropped about how much I love my other grungy, ill-fitted, tacky, image-be-damned uniforms.
We have just enough time for some Momma Cusses Poetry. Yeah, I do that shit too. But don’t work – it’s just the day of a mom in Haiku form. Please, poetry purists, do not come for me. I know I fucked some sacred art up. Please accept my apology and enjoy anyway.
The sun is not up. Still, the babies are awake- and now so is Mom.
Coffee is brewing. Sleepy splashes of whole milk Into sippie cups.
Eggs with squished-in fruit It doesn’t taste very good. Breakfast for the dogs.
Crocodile tears stream You’ve been wounded to the core. Brother has a toy.
It’s time for a nap Instead you dinosaur screech. Go the fuck to sleep.
Naptime is over The best feeling in the world, Seeing two cribbed smiles
Lunch is wearable; Sauce paint, mixed media cheese. This art project sucks.
A mid-day car ride. Some new sight in the window’s Fascinating world.
Week old cheerios I found under the carseat. Just a little chewy.
Wild nap time returns The barnyard creatures appear In baby form now.
Teeth are for smiling We do not bite our sister — Ow, son of a me!
You have your whole life To get yourself into shit. Keep your diaper on.
Yes, Momma said fuck. There’s no such thing as bad words Just bad intentions.
My coffee is cold And I just found last night’s tea Cast aside for hugs.
Your tooth spotted smiles, Sleepy heads on my shoulders, My life’s width and breadth.
And that’s it for today! We want to thank our sponsors for their continued support and the Fox Sisters for the use of their song Stuck on You as the intro and outro of this podcast.
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