I'm Holding On To My Kids' Cuddles As Long As I Can
For almost ten years, I’ve had kid cuddles.
My oldest is 9 years old, and from the time he was born, I was an attachment parent. I was that mom carrying her baby in a sling; I wore him out of the hospital in a Moby wrap. Friends complained that they never saw anything of him but a little hat and tiny feet sticking out. When he wasn’t wrapped, he was nursing. We co-slept. Many moms couldn’t deal with this type of constant proximity, with endless cuddles. But I truly believe that these constant cuddles saved me from serious postpartum depression. I was at serious risk of it, having already suffered from severe depression during my pregnancy.
When my second son was born, I didn’t kick my first out of our enormous bed. Our oldest slept with my husband. The newborn slept with me. I nursed him and wrapped him. I tandem-nursed until I got pregnant again when my oldest was three, and wore both children at the same time: one wrapped on my front, one wrapped on my back. I never put my kids down.
The cuddles remained constant. When my kids were scared, frightened, or hurt, they retreated to my lap for cuddles. I was always their safe place; my cuddles their constant touchstone, their cuddles mine. We were tied by touch, all of us.
My third son got the same treatment, the same closeness. The wrapping and nursing, the co-sleeping and the cuddles, constant, toting my middle son on my front and my youngest son on my back. I even got serious snuggles while nursing: I could drop my baby lower in a wrap and nurse him without even taking him out. I was That Attachment Parent, the one who never complained about the constant kid contact. The one always baffled by the moms who complained of being “touched out.”
I was never touched out. I always wanted more.
My 9-year-old will still worm his way under my arm. He still holds my hand. He holds his 7-year-old brother’s hand. My 7-year-old won’t beg for cuddles, but he’ll sit in my lap if I ask. My 5 year-old doesn’t need a ton of cuddle time either, except when he wakes in the morning. Then he curls up on the couch while I write. I cover him in a blanket and he falls back to sleep. He’s a warm little bundle, softly snoring, snuffles still almost babyish. If I hold him in my lap, inhale, and concentrate hard, I can still smell the baby beneath the little boy. I can still make out the stork bites on the back of his neck when he gets hot.
But they are quickly fading.
Very soon, I will have no one to give me these kid cuddles.
They have to be reminded to hug me goodnight, and to give me a kiss. When they run out the door with their father, they wave; they don’t run over and hug me. When they come home, they walk up and talk; they don’t tackle me in a bear hug. I can still pick up the youngest and carry him, but those days are swiftly disappearing. I have wrapped him up in the past few months, when he was tired while hiking. He complained, after about fifteen minutes, that his legs hurt. No matter how I adjusted him. Regretfully, I set him down. I will probably never wrap him again. I had wrap cuddles for so long. It hurts, letting go of that. I mourned for a long time.
But now I face down something worse: no kid cuddles at all. No little one to offer spontaneous hugs. No one will want to be carried, or lifted out of the car, or need to be picked up when they cry. Nobody will want to sit in my lap, or curl into me when I lift them, go limp and mold to me in that special way of small children.
They are growing. And I am grateful for that growing; why else do we raise children? As Kahlil Gibran says, “Your children are not your children/ They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for Itself./ They come through you but not from you/ And though they are with you they belong not to you.”
We know this, we parents, that we cannot keep them little forever. We raise them to grow and thrive and leave us: the hurting part of love.
The empty arms are only the first step.
I could say I’ll get a puppy. I could offer a glib answer, an easy one. But there is none. There is no possible reply to a mother’s empty arms, only grief. A sweet grief, a necessary grief, but a grief nonetheless.
I will hold them as long as I can. Then I will let them go.
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