Physical touch is extremely important, but it's never been easy for me. I've always been fiercely independent in nature, even as an infant. My mother tells me that I cried and squirmed whenever someone tried to hold me. As a result, I wasn't held. I think my parents found it easier not to try. Even as I grew up physical touch was never a priority in our home. We kissed our parents goodnight and goodbye and hugged occasionally, but we always kept to our own space most of the time. I wonder why I was that way. Even now I'm somewhat of an ice princess, and physical touch doesn't come naturally to me. I wonder if my parents had made a stronger effort to hold me, if they could have nurtured me to be different than I am now? I'm not angry with them for doing what they did. They did what they felt was best, and I am who I am.
As a mother I'm learning the importance of touch for babies and children. My oldest is a bit of an ice prince himself, and I think it has a lot to do with his birth experience and having picked up some of my own mannerisms. As a baby he desperately wanted to be held, and wouldn't sleep unless he was being cuddled. So he's not exactly like me, at least not according to what I've been told, because he didn't start out that way. As an older child he loves it when I hug him and sit with him, but he doesn't ask for it or approach me. He waits until I approach him, which isn't often because I'm always busy. It seems like I'm always holding one of the younger two, and the older kids don't get much “mommy time” as we call it in our house. I have to make a conscious effort to snuggle my children, but I'm learning that it's incredibly rewarding.
With five children, I've never had a baby that didn't want to be cuddled. Sometimes I loved it, and other times it was really hard. Do we sometimes misinterpret our babies' signals? Could it be that I really wanted to be held as a baby, but for some reason my parents didn't know how to give me the touch I so desperately needed? I was born only 17 months after my older brother, and I wonder how overwhelmed they felt? Indeed, as an adult I'm finding that I crave physical touch, but I don't know how to go about it. I'm too proud/embarrassed/uncomfortable to ask, and almost afraid to approach even those close to me. Was I unconsciously trained as an infant that it wasn't OK to want it?
Many studies have been done and found the benefits of skin to skin touch for newborns and babies. Breastfeeding itself is an expression of nurturing physical touch, producing oxytocin, the “love hormone” and creating a stronger bond between mother and child. The need for touch doesn't end as a child grows.
It's easy with kids. They respond so well to hugs and cuddles. I'm learning to love it. I can't believe I've been missing out on this most of my life, but it's still a struggle at times. I've always had a sort of invisible bubble around me, and it's uncomfortable when someone invades that bubble. Children constantly invade my bubble, and it's taken time and understanding to literally embrace them and feel OK about allowing them to cross it at will. The more children I've had and the more I've matured, the more comfortable I've become with this, and I'm still learning to appreciate it.
I'm married to a cuddler. My husband thrives on touch, and this has created quite the dynamic in our relationship. Although this makes things difficult at times, when he wants touch and I want nothing to do with it, in some ways I'm grateful for it. He teaches me the things I didn't learn as a child. He's helping me realize the importance of touch, and as a result it's blessing our children. I don't think I would have learned how to appreciate the clinging of my loving babies without his reminders and encouragement. I'm amazed and grateful I was naturally inclined to breastfeed and co-sleep my babies, because those things have helped me as well.
I think some people naturally want to be held and others don't, but I think it's important for us all.
Parents, cuddle your babies. Hold them as much as they need you to. It's OK to stop whatever you're doing and switch your attention to your child when he or she needs you. It's OK to put other things on hold while you snuggle a little one and share that tender moment, or many moments as it may be. They won't be little forever, not more than a few years, and eventually they will likely outgrow the spontaneous invasion of your bubble and you'll miss it.
I truly hope my babies will grow to be healthy touch-loving people, unafraid to embrace and express their love in such tender ways.