Children are undoubtedly a source of joy. They bring happiness, inspiration, and a profound sense of purpose to our lives. Through them, we learn about unconditional love, selflessness, and unwavering loyalty that is unmatched by any other relationship.
Parenthood is certainly one of the most life-changing experiences in a person's life. Along with the profound love for our children, it also brings with it unanticipated struggles and challenges that we have never encountered before.
In this column, I aim to shed light on one of the most prevalent yet often unspoken experiences among mothers of young children - the sensation of being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by touch.
The term "being touched out" describes a situation in which a woman feels entirely inundated by the amount of physical contact in her life.
This overwhelming sensation can manifest itself in various emotions such as anxiety, disgust, reluctance, hostility, or restlessness when faced with attempts from those around her to establish physical contact. This includes interactions with her children, partner, family members, or friends.
Mothers often recount situations where their spouses or children want to hug them or sit close, yet they feel unable to allow it, as if one more instance of contact would push them over the edge.
This feeling typically evokes immense guilt in women. They find themselves puzzled by the reluctance that overwhelms them since, culturally and socially, women are expected to be the primary source of physical contact for their children and partners, readily available almost all the time.
What is often left unsaid is that a woman's bodily autonomy becomes compromised once she becomes pregnant. It starts with pregnancy tests, where medical procedures are carried out on her body to monitor the fetus. This continues with breastfeeding and the essential need of babies and toddlers for nurturing and reassuring touch. The demand for physical closeness persists throughout the years of raising children, who require proximity as much as they need air to breathe.
We cherish our young children and delight in being close to them. However, we might still feel swamped and drained by the quantity and frequency of touch in our lives, whether we are giving or receiving it.
The sense of aversion, and sometimes even disgust, that mothers of young children may experience due to touch reflects their natural need for personal space and the restoration of bodily autonomy.
It's crucial to recognize that it's normal, reasonable, and common to shy away from contact during periods when we are caring for babies and toddlers around the clock, particularly if this care involves breastfeeding or sleeping together.
So, how can we address this situation?
First and foremost, don't panic. It's essential to understand that feeling physically and emotionally overwhelmed by touch is a widespread experience among mothers of young children.The desire for distance from physical closeness is a normal, natural, and reasonable response that reflects a mother's need for boundaries, private time, and personal space.
Secondly, it's advisable to discuss this phenomenon of physical and emotional saturation from contact with your partner.
It's not uncommon for women to experience a significant decline in sexual desire while raising young children, as a result of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted from excessive contact.
It's crucial for partners to understand that this adverse reaction to touch is not personal, but rather due to the burnout that creeps from the necessity of being physically and emotionally available to meet others' needs for extended periods.
It's important not to force yourself into physical intimacy when it feels uncomfortable, as additional contact when you're already overwhelmed will only heighten your sense of aversion.
The five love languages
Anthropologist and author, Dr. Gary Chapman, identified five love languages: words of affirmation (compliments), quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. When expressing love through touch becomes challenging, you can still foster closeness, connection, and bonding with your partner using the other four love languages.
For instance, you can communicate how much they mean to you, give them small tokens of appreciation, spend quality time together, and indulge them with thoughtful gestures that bring happiness.
Lastly, it's essential to ensure that you set aside personal time each day when you don't need to care for or be available to anyone else - a time for recharging and rejuvenating. Your mental well-being is important, and you deserve a space of your own.
Furthermore, it's beneficial to practice setting boundaries with your children regarding physical contact. Motherhood is a demanding responsibility that calls for our unwavering dedication, boundless giving, attentiveness, inclusivity, and care, spanning many years. It's crucial for mothers to prioritize their well-being, maintain boundaries, and allocate personal time exclusively for themselves.
Shulamit Sperber is a certified sex therapist and a team member at the sex therapy clinic at Reut Hospital and the Ishi Clinic.