The Dark Side of Toddler Hugs

Somewhere between the incredible hormonal shifts, the sleepless nights, the new bodies we have post-pregnancy, the intensity of life with kiddos…somewhere along the way, we begin to numb out around our need for physical, sensual, intimate love and care from our husbands.

It can feel complicated and scary.

It can feel hard to express our need for physical intimacy if it doesn’t match exactly what our husband’s needs around physical intimacy are.

We can feel “touched” out from caring for children all day long and mistake that for not needing adult affection and touch.

Confusing, complicated and scary.

And, yet it’s one of the most crucial places of vulnerability and growth we need to tackle head on if we are going to truly live out our most vibrant lives.

I was on the phone with my friend Keri Kettle from Holding Your Grace recently and we were chatting about this exact topic.  I loved her perspective and immediately told her, “Kerri, you have to bring this to my community.” And so she did.

I’m thrilled to share Kerri’s guest post with you today…and would love to hear your feelings on it as well.

The Dark Side of Toddler Hugs

by Keri Kettle of Holding Your Grace

I’ve heard that chocolate stimulates the same part of the brain as physical affection.  I’m sure that is true, but I also know that you can’t replace being held in the loving arms of your husband with a Hershey Bar.  Even artisanal, organic dark chocolate imported from a remote village in the jungles of Venezuela cannot substitute for having someone who deeply loves you, come up from behind you while you are doing the dishes and nuzzle your neck.

But it sure is easier to pick up the chocolate bar than it is to ask to be held.

I had over a hundred stitches when my first child was born.  And then I didn’t heal properly and had to have a minor surgical procedure.  The idea of any activity “down there” was terrifying.  I had no idea if it would be painful or if it would feel different for my husband.  Then there was the part where my body looked different – stretch marks, poochy tummy, hips, thighs, breasts – it all looked and felt different.  What if I wasn’t physically attractive in this new mommy body?

It was so much easier to dive into being a really good mommy.

To make the Pinterest-perfect cupcakes for the birthday party (or not-so-Pinterest-perfect cupcakes, if we’re being honest), to make homemade organic granola to take for snack at Mommy and Me time, or to spend hours crafting a scrapbook to document my daughter’s first year.

When you make delicious treats, you get a lot of affirmation at the party or the preschool.  When you have family get-togethers, you can get a lot of oohs and aahhhs over your beautiful scrapbook.

But no one asks you how your post-baby sex life is going.

After a while, the idea of even asking for affection felt like entering a minefield.  If I asked for affection, but wasn’t ready for other activity, maybe I didn’t deserve the affection, or I was afraid it would lead to a place I wasn’t ready to go.  It all just felt so complicated and scary.  The more time goes by, the harder it is to open the door to physical intimacy.

But the cupcakes and the toddler hugs really can’t replace being held by the man you love.  All the scrapbooks and FaceBook “Likes” in the world can’t fill the hole you feel when you aren’t intimately connected to your partner.

You need to be held.  You need adult affection.

I hear moms say all the time that they are “touched out” when they are nursing or taking care of little ones.  But they still crave being cared for, not just caring for everybody else.  It’s complicated, yes, but it’s not impossible.  Make time for leaning in to your partner, ask for a little time to yourself so you aren’t “touched out” and make space for adult pleasure.  Because there is no substitute.


Keri-thumbnailWhat I love about Keri’s style is she has a beautiful way of opening up space to reflect without being preachy.

Instead of rushing to solutions, maybe the first step is to explore this in our own lives from a grace-filled, curious, honest place. I’d love to hear your feelings in the comments on this and what is true for you.

And please do, hop over to visit Keri at her online home, Holding Your Grace, she is an amazing resource for women and mothers.


12 responses to “The Dark Side of Toddler Hugs”

  1. Thank you so much for such an honest, thoughtful piece on such an important topic. All of this resonates deeply. Grateful.

    1. You’re so welcome Sharron…it’s been a topic I’ve wanted to begin to explore here for a while. Many layers, but I’m glad to get the exploration started 🙂

  2. I would be too embarrassed– and my husband too mortified– to say all I have to say on this topic publicly, but I must give a shout-out on how important this is to discuss!! Somehow I’m surrounded at homeschool co-op and dance classes by moms who either aren’t having trouble with this (really??), or they don’t care about these problems right now, or their heads are buried so deep in the sands of motherhood that they haven’t noticed the drift. I actively work on this issue, often to no apparent avail, and it’s really reassuring to hear someone else call it what it is: confusing, complicated and scary!

    1. I hear you…I think perhaps it’s one of the reasons I haven’t plunged right in on the blog. This is sacred, personal territory. There is a need for women to gather and find normalcy and spaces to explore these issues easily AND there is a need for us to go deeper in more private spaces of connection.

      I see these types of issues explored in depth in the communities that gather in my courses – and it is hugely healing to have conversations and discussions that you feel you can’t have anywhere else. Like you said, MOST of us walk around wondering if we are the ONLY ones that are dealing with this behind closed doors.

      Thank you for the comment and affirmation…so grateful it gave you reassurance!

  3. I’m past this stage since my baby is 10, but I remember it well. I think it’s natural for moms to put their children first, but it’s so important to take time for yourself and to make your marriage a priority. It’s actually a disservice to your children to put them first. They need to see evidence that your relationship with your husband is important.

    1. Yes, yes Kimberly- Having been someone who “intellectually” believed in the need to prioritize your marriage while raising your kids, I never would have believed before become a mom myself how downright difficult that can be at times!

  4. Jenny Goodman Avatar
    Jenny Goodman

    This is a great topic. It can be so hard to unwrap your deeper beliefs about asking for affection, feeling wanted and needed and the vulnerability of needing and wanting someone. I’m 8 months pregnant with my 5th child, 42 years old and attachment parenting a 2.5 year old…, on my end there are issues of self-esteem body image, not being able to lie on my back right now (which is my easiest position to get what I want physically) and the huge issue of finding time alone with my spouse in our shared bed. On his side of things, his doctor has changed some of the regular medications he is taking (for bipolar) and he’s experiencing different timing than he’s used to…which leads to his questioning himself…..etc…..sigh….it is so complicated and scary. I have a tendency to cry when I try to reveal my own vulnerability…luckily for me this doesn’t shut down conversation with my husband…he’s such a rock. We are starting to do the work of talking things out…both in the bedroom and outside of it…outside the bedroom we touch and connect and clarify what we both want….and in this time of transition we’ve realized that Especially outside the bedroom we need to feel physically connected (the nuzzle in the kitchen) AND it is essential to talk in the moment of love making too (much harder to do) about what we want and need from each other…..I am glad you are tackling this issue and I hope it leads to more honest vulnerability….even when it feels like that takes too much energy. Love, Jenny

    1. Jenny thank you so much for sharing…sounds like you have a bedrock of communication firmly in place- that’s so critical.

  5. Great topic! I am currently delving into the work of Stan Tatkin -Sounds True recordings I think. Pretty earth-shaking stuff imo. His exploration of adult attachment and what is possible really moved me.

    1. Thanks for the rec- I’ll look into his work. Haven’t heard of him…

  6. Corina Sleep Avatar
    Corina Sleep


    What a great dialogue, thank you everyone, Lisa I just skipped over from your How am I doing article this morning and am so glad I did.

    Hubby is in bed and wants me to come back, me sitting at the computer with so much to do.

    Kids sleeping in and its a wintry Sunday morning here in Australia and I already have about 12 jobs to do – putting off pancakes this week. I recently bought your book Replenish and read it once but obviously need to go back.

    Wanted to say thank you even though I get back to this crazy point something in me has seen another way and this wonderful community keeps lifting my spirits – all you wonderful women out there!

    Thank you.

    PS I coudnt let that crazy advert above be the last post on this great site!!!

    1. Corina- Such beautiful insight- thank you for sharing. And I love how supported you feel here- means so much to me to hear that!

      p.s. thanks for the head’s up- took care of the crazy advert- they sneak in all the time!

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