Lying on the couch, I have a one-year-old sitting on my lap and pinching my face while a four-year-old is almost sitting on my head as he tries to twist my hair in his hands. I look up to my husband and only half-jokingly cry out, “Help!”
Sometimes, I feel like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, when the Wild Things are yelling “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!” Except the Wild Things are my children whom I love very much. While they aren’t actually wild monsters, their love back to me can feel rather smothering at times.
For the Love of a Hug
Part of the reason is because how deeply my children enjoy being physically attached to me. We’re not co-sleepers, so they attempt to make up for it during the day. While boys are typically hugged less than girls, that’s never been the case in our family. Chris is huge on hugging and has passed that on to both the kids.
In Sprout’s mind, a good hug will solve almost any problem. While he’s mostly right, his intense little heart gets upset a lot. Which means on tough days, an almost constant stream of embraces are necessary. There’s a saying from family therapist Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” For Sprout, that’s more like 12 hugs a day for survival and 50 for growth. I’m working to teach him that he can’t demand physical affection, but the cries of “Hugs! Huuuuggggs!!” are still pretty frequent. I truly, truly love his hugs. At the same time, sometimes I need to detach myself from his vice grip.
Meanwhile, Little Bird wants to be in on the action. After all, if his brother is being hugged, why isn’t he? And he gives the cutest hugs, his entire little body wrapped around you and squeezing you tight. But it becomes a major issue when both kids want hugs simultaneously – but not together!
Mornings have become particularly challenging lately. Little Bird and I are the only ones up for the first half-hour or so. He’s getting six teeth in simultaneously, so he frequently wakes up cranky and still tired. As a result, he just wanted to be held all of the time. Holding a squirmy, grabby one-year-old makes getting ready challenging at best.
Oh, The Guilt!
But the physical attention isn’t really the problem. I do love a good hug, after all. It’s the level of mom guilt that their neediness triggers.
The really hard times come when I can’t provide that physical connection. Sometimes, their love for me is overwhelming to the point that I wish they almost did love me less.
It’s when I’m showering and Little Bird is outside the door, crying and beating his little fists against it. It’s when I send Chris in to them in the middle of the night because I’m too exhausted to get up yet again. Instead of Little Bird embracing him, he sits at his door pointing and screaming because he Does Not Want Daddy. (A consequence of nursing at night that no one tells you is that your babies decide you are the night nurse and no amount of daddy intervention will change that opinion.)
It’s Sprout saying, “But I just want to play with youuuuuu” when I ask him why he’s up out of bed for the fourth time. It’s the fact that both kids don’t understand why I have to go to work and can’t just stay home like Daddy. (We’ve explained the concept of money to Sprout, but it still hasn’t sunk in.) It’s when Little Bird cries when he sees me putting on my bike helmet to leave. It’s when Sprout hangs out the back kitchen door yelling, “I love yoouuuuu” as I walk down the sidewalk. (Although that was awful cute.)
In the End, It’s all a Phase
The one thread I’m hanging onto in those tough moments is that it’s all a phase. Remembering that things will not be like this forever is so tough at 3 AM or when Little Bird has been crying for what feels like hours. But it will pass. Teething and banging on the door neediness are phases Sprout went through and grew out of. As for Sprout’s Big Emotions (and accompanying big reactions), we’re working on helping him self-regulate his emotions and have seen a lot of progress.
What I find helpful about the “it’s just a phase” attitude is that it doesn’t denigrate the difficulty of this time. It doesn’t make me feel guilty that I’m not savoring every moment with my clingy or screaming toddler. As much as I try to be mindful, that’s just not happening. Instead, it offers some level of perspective, and in turn, solace, to my anxious heart.
So I know eventually we’ll get through this season of parental smothering. Soon enough, they’ll be running out the door barely remembering to say goodbye. As Joni Mitchell says in The Circle Game, “And the seasons they go round and round / And the painted ponies go up and down / We’re captive on the carousel of time / We can’t return we can only look behind / From where we came / And go round and round and round / In the circle game.”
So like so much in parenting, I try to find some form of balance, enjoying the hugs as they come but stepping away when it’s just too much. As for the guilt? It won’t ever go away – not completely. But at least I know that I’m giving them everything I’m able to. Each hug and squeeze reminds me of how much they appreciate that and love me back.
Being a parent frequently fluctuates between joy and exhaustion, frustration and love. For more thoughts on our challenges, check out Being Present in the Dark and Parenting Fails: When I Don’t Like My Kid Very Much. Be sure to follow our Facebook page!