Out of Touch, In Need of Space

two hands outstreched but not touching, meant to illustrate the idea of a mother who is "touched out"

I am completely out of touch. Not in the “I’m so old I don’t know how to use TikTok” way (though that is also true), but in the “if anyone touches me right now I am going to lose my ever-loving mind” kind of way.

When I polled a few other mamas about this feeling, it seemed to be mutual — they all knew what I was talking about and had felt how I was feeling. Even the mom I sit next to at my daughter’s swim class was chatting with me the other day about feeling “touched out.” So I know I’m not alone.

This feeling definitely resonates with new mamas — they are constantly holding, feeding, soothing, and mothering their newborns. But what about us “seasoned” mamas? We mamas with 6-year-olds and 3-year-olds (aka me)? Maybe we aren’t exactly seasoned, but we’re not talking about newborns who need an abundance of physical touch in order to survive and thrive. 

My 6-year-old once told me that I am her safe person. That I’m the one who makes her feel OK when she’s not OK. That being physically next to me helps her calm down. Even when I’m angry and reprimanding her. When she told me this I felt so many things. First: Wow, what an emotionally intuitive little person I have. Then: Aw, I’m her safe person. She finds comfort in me. That’s so sweet. Followed by: Oh, dear God, I can’t handle this — when I am amped up, upset, or ready to crumble, I don’t want to be touched. How could being next to me, touching me, calm her down?

My 3-year-old — our rule-breaking, boundary-pushing mini-monster insists on a hug as soon as she is reprimanded for whatever misdemeanor she has committed. The last thing I want to do is hug the little gremlin who just ripped up her sister’s prized artwork, giggling while her sister is screaming that her day and life are ruined. But I have to, right? I mean, that’s my job as her mom, as far as I know? Reprimand, then hug?

But that’s not all. It’s not just about being a safe person when someone is nervous, anxious, scared, or in trouble. It’s all the time.

It’s first thing in the morning, when I wake up. One is immediately at my side, with half of her body pressed against mine, and the other is squirming up between my legs to find her place on my lap. And we all sit. On one couch cushion. While my husband and the dog stretch out and occupy multiple cushions. It’s during the day, while eating lunch. It’s in the car, now that my 3-year-old’s legs are long enough to reach the back of my seat. It’s at bedtime, when both girls want me to read to them, but there is only one of me.  

And then I become claustrophobic and resentful.

I excuse myself to use the bathroom and am immediately followed and interrogated. I go to the kitchen to get a drink and turn around only to bump into one of my mini-mes mid-stride. I run out the front door to grab something from my car and turn back to hear the door open with loud cries of abandonment.

And I feel like I’m suffocating.

At night, despite our best efforts at sleep training, one or both of my children end up in bed with us, bemoaning nightmares, rooms that are too hot, or empty water bottles. Inevitably, they plant themselves in our bed, next to me, sometimes on top of me, while I try to sleep through the disruption. I wake up exhausted, irritable, and with a sore neck and back. But even the idea of a massage is too much touch for me right now.

But not only am I completely touched out, I am feeling guilty about it. My girls love me, want to be with me, and find comfort in my presence. And all I can think about is an escape plan. There are some days when it’s too much. When the stress of the outside world meets the chaos of my family world and I do my best to just hold on until bedtime. I take measured breaths so I don’t explode. I flinch when my husband touches me. I feel guilty for feeling this way about all the things I hoped and prayed for, for so many years. Overwhelmed by touch and guilt, and wondering if this is simply part of motherhood that can’t be escaped.

I do my best to advocate for myself when I don’t want to be touched. I ask my girls for space, for time, and for grace. I try to be present during the snuggling and cuddling, reminding myself that it will not last forever, but not excusing or overlooking my own needs for space. It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress, currently working toward balancing the need for touch and the need for autonomy while existing in the mayhem of motherhood.  

Sarah grew up in Rhode Island and now lives in West Bridgewater, making brief stops in Quincy, Fall River, and East Bridgewater, along the way. She made the leap from Rhode Island to Massachusetts way back in 1999 when she decided to pursue a teaching degree at Boston University. She chose her career in 1987 and is currently teaching high school English to 10th and 12th graders, fulfilling a 6-year-old’s dream at the age of 22, a proclamation that often brings forth snickers from her students. She became a mother for the first time in 2016 to her daughter Cecilia, then doubled down in late 2018 with the birth of her second daughter, Adelaide. She currently lives with her husband, Jason, their dog, Nanook, their cat, Lanky, and six chickens. They share a home with her parents, who live above them and also provide the most amazing childcare for Ceci and Addie. Sarah couldn’t live without her family, her insulin pump (shout out to other T1D mamas), and Starbucks iced chai lattes. She could live without angry people, essay grading, and diaper changing.