My husband, Dave, and I had just settled into bed when he reached for my hand.
The gesture was a tired, quarantined dad’s version of a high-five, his way of saying “We did it. Another day down.” But I swatted his fingers away from me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. "I can’t.”
“You can’t what?” Dave asked. “You can’t hold my hand?”
“Right,” I replied.
He shook his head and picked up the remote control.
“I love you,” I told him. And I meant it. I just needed my whole body back.
What I felt that night — “touched out” — is common among mothers who breastfeed their babies. But with at least 124,000 public and private schools in the U.S. closed in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic and families under orders to shelter in their homes, parents who stopped nursing long ago are recoiling from physical contact.
I am never alone. As I write this, my 3-year-old is painting my toenails with a magic marker that smells like strawberries. This morning, I was awoken by my 5-year-stroking my face. She fell asleep with her head on my shoulder last night.
The girls are needier than usual, following me from room to room, tugging on my clothes. I know it’s not their fault. Their world is upside down.
And as a result, I'm touched-out.
Young children often communicate their feelings by becoming more clingy, Dr. Emily Edlynn, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist, explained.
“A lot in their day-to-day has changed, which is unsettling,” Dr. Edlynn told TODAY Parents. “Even though we are home and more available then ever, it doesn’t feel like enough. They need more reassurance and comfort and the way they seek that is through physical affection. It can be exhausting for us."
Here are Edlynn's tips for how to cope with the suffocating experience of feeling touched-out.
Try to create a daily routine
“Structure and routine with consistent meals and bedtimes, gives kids a sense of safety,” Edlynn explained. It’s a win-win: Once they’re asleep, you get to turn off for the night.
Maximize family time by being present
Edlynn suggests carving out 30 minutes a day where you are 100% focused on your kids.
“During that half hour, they get everything from you,” Edlynn explained. “They end up feeling more connected and are more likely to not need as much from you later.”
Have an honest conversation with your partner
Now is not the time to be a martyr, according to Edlynn. If you need alone time, ask for it.
“It’s so essential to preserve our sense of self apart from being a mother,” Edlynn noted. “Getting away physically from our kids is an investment in more patience and calm later. Give yourself permission to do that — to take the walk or listen to a podcast — with the framework that it’s because you want to be a good mother.”
View your feelings as a teachable moment
“It’s OK to say, ‘Hey, you’re in my bubble right now and I want some space,’” Edlynn told TODAY Parents. “Then, they can use that language when they’re feeling their space is infringed upon. You can try something like, ‘Hey, I’m feeling a little tired right now and I need this bubble for me, but after a few minutes, I’d love a hug.'”
Be kind to yourself
Edlynn stresses the importance of releasing feelings of guilt. As mothers we're carrying a very heavy mental load.
“It’s not serving you,” she said. “Be as gentle with yourself as you want to be with your children. Treat yourself with as much love as you want for your children.”