This essay was originally featured on Joyful Life magazine’s blog.
I fall backward onto the floor, overdramatizing my movements as I shout, “You got me!” Suddenly, there is a small hand in my hair, a finger in my nose, and a long string of slobber about to drop onto my face. “The monster got me again!” I say, and I am rewarded with baby giggles.
I am the mother of a 4-year-old and an 11-month-old (the ‘monster’ in this scenario), which means I am neck-deep in one of the most physically demanding seasons of motherhood. All day long, I meet physical needs with my own body: I nurse the baby, wipe butts, kiss boo-boos, slice strawberries, snuggle away nightmares, and brush hair away from foreheads for one final kiss goodnight. I rock and pat and shush and hoist and dance and carry. My back aches and so do my hands—a chronic source of pain. Sleep comes for me the instant I lay my head on the pillow, so quickly that I often don’t remember closing my eyes. For a highly sensitive introvert, this physicality is almost more than I can bear.
But with every tackle, every kiss, and every time my son’s foot digs into my ribs in his attempt to literally scale my body, I remember: this is how children experience love.
The Physical Is Emotional
For babies, in particular, emotional needs are tied directly to the physical. When we feed, comfort, or roughhouse, we build our babies’ brains. We influence their neural pathways, create a sense of security and love, and lay the foundation for empathy and emotional regulation.
In the first few years of life, children’s nervous systems develop rapidly and they rely on our bodies to help them regulate their emotions (this is why a firm, loving hug sometimes stops a toddler tantrum in its tracks). From our wombs to our blood, our breasts to our breath, God designed mothers’ bodies to sustain their children’s lives—not just building what is physically needed for them to exist, but equipping our children to thrive.
As children get older, emotional and physical needs seem to diverge. And now, as an adult, I almost don’t equate the two at all. I need mental rest, emotional comfort, and spiritual support. I want physical healing and wholeness too, of course, but I’m not convinced any physical measures would heal my emotional burdens. What I need is for someone to metaphorically lift the proverbial weight of the world from my figurative shoulders.
But every time my daughter climbs into my lap, crying over her scraped knee, or my son grabs my hair and pulls my face toward his for a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss, I am reminded of the physical love of God manifested in the person of Jesus.