4 Ways to Cope With Feeling 'Touched Out'

Being "touched out" is something many parents of young kids know intimately. Here's how to cope when you just need a break from physical contact.

Feeling Touched Out Illustration
Photo: Cameron Light

Try to explain to someone that you're feeling physically uncomfortable with your children being so close to you 24/7 and you might just face some judgment: How could you not want those little hands in yours? Or that little body pressed close to you at all times, even when you're trying to sleep?

The truth is, maybe I will miss looking down at my feet and seeing bruises from the kids literally walking on my feet because being next to me isn't enough. But honestly, right now, I just want one full day when no one touches me—not my kids, not my partner. No one.

What It Means to Feel 'Touched Out'

Clearly, I'm feeling "touched out." Being touched out is when a parent is constantly physically touched or needed by their children, significant other, and even the family dog for physical comfort throughout the day and becomes irritable as a result of missing out on their bodily autonomy. Some may compare it to parenting burnout, but feeling touched out can go beyond parenting to affect the relationship between partners.

Some parents may even feel that they don't want to hug, kiss, or be intimate in any way with their partner after a full day of being clung to by their kids. They physically cringe at the idea of being touched even one more time during the day. The reasons that this occurs might vary slightly, but it could relate to the results of a 2018 survey that found parents only have 32 minutes to themselves a day.

After reviewing this topic with Mary Kay Fleming, Ph.D., a former professor specializing in human development, early childhood, and parenting at Mount St. Joseph University in Ohio, more possibilities emerged. Dr. Fleming pointed out that in past generations women specifically were socialized into the full-time motherhood role; they were not expected to be full-time parents and also be full-time professionals. Nor were their partners. But today, parents (especially moms) often "do it all."

She also pinpointed that the technological advancements meant to make our life easier have actually made us feel like we are on call 24/7. In short, some of the pressure being felt by parents that are touched out could be a culmination of all the demands, not just the direct physical demands of a child. A physical roadblock is the easiest to see and address, therefore it becomes the thing we feel and struggle against.

How to Cope With Feeling 'Touched Out'

So, what can be done about this? Luckily, Dr. Fleming offered some advice.

1. Take a break

"Taking a break can be the absolute best treatment in certain situations," says Dr. Fleming. "Parents need time to themselves and time away to refresh, refocus, and replenish that deep reservoir needed to nurture."

Of course, this can be difficult to practice in reality, especially if your child is very young. (Babies don't exactly understand the need for their parent to take a break when they're hungry, am I right?) Instead, if you can, ask for help or schedule a true break time in your calendar so you can stick to it. If someone else is there to care for the baby, that is the best way to get a moment to yourself.

2. Communicate

If you're feeling touched out, don't be afraid to let your other household members know. There is no shame in it, and the sooner your kids and partner learn about your needs, the better. Have a conversation with your partner about how you're feeling and make a plan to help you.

"The adults need to communicate with one another about their needs and expectations, for one another and for their children, and get on the same page. That's the real key to happiness," explains Dr. Fleming. "Two parents in the same home are part of a collective endeavor—the most important one of their lives—they are building something special together. If they don't support each other, the kids will pay the price." This involves the boundaries set for the children and the time spent together. All things can be talked out.

3. Direct the touching

Instead of touching solely focused on caregiving for others, add in touching that is beneficial to your well-being. For instance, consider getting a massage or a pedicure. Carolyn Wagner, a Chicago-area therapist at the Wilmette Counseling Center specializing in maternal mental health, says, "Doing something that is focused solely on taking care of yourself, and including touch as a main component, is a great way to remind yourself and your body that being close and connected to others can be fulfilling and positive."

4. Ditch unrealistic expectations

"Another enemy is unrealistic expectations," says Dr. Fleming. "If we expect ourselves to give 100% all the time—with anything less perceived as failure—we're doomed before we begin. No one can meet those expectations."

Be kind to yourself while you walk through the different milestones and needs of your child. You will have bad days, and you will have good days. Remember that and keep your internal dialogue similar to what you would say to a struggling friend. If you're feeling touched out today, that's OK! Acknowledge it, accept it, make a plan to get a break if you can, and remember that tomorrow will be a whole new day.

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