Sunday, 30 October 2011

Revisiting our hands...

Recently, I have been struck with this thought of how quickly we learn, and how quickly we forget. Parenting is a wonderful journey, and every day we learn from our children. Every day, every moment even, we discover something about them, and something about ourselves, if we're open to it. But recently I have been thinking about all those thing we felt were very important in the beginning. All those things we felt strongly about. And how, with time, some of them have slipped away... so this week I have been trying hard to remember those first few weeks and what they taught us. One of the first things that came to mind was my hands.

Getting to know each other is of course mutual. As we get to know the child, he begins to know us, and this happens through our hands. Hands constitute the first relationship for the baby with world beyond breastfeeding. Hands pick him up, lay him down, wash, dress and feed him... What difference it makes when gentle, patient and peaceful hands, which also convey safety and clarity, take care of him. How different the world seems if these hands are impatient, rough, hasty, restless and nervous. In the beginning hands are everything for the infant. They are the person, the world... (Dr. Emmi Pikler, 'Peaceful Babies - Contented Mothers')

Our first few weeks were all about connection, relationship, getting to know Antek, and letting him get used to the world to which he was so new. We were very aware of our hands, of the way we touched, dressed, changed and hugged him. Our hands were his world, just like he was our world. We made sure to slow down, stop for a moment before touching him, let our hands be as respectful and loving as we were towards him. Slowly, with time, he became more aware of other things, our hands became one of the many connections with the world. He became more aware of other sensations, other senses. We still paid attention to being careful and respectful. But slowly, with time, I seem to have lost track of my hands. They became just hands - those tools for picking up, hugging, dressing, changing.

As I was thinking about those first few weeks of our parenting journey, I came across Katrina Kenisson's piece about touch. And I realised that I lost track of my hands, of the powerful message they are sending. That I lost track of the power of touch. I can really understand her, when she says: 'we are a hands-off culture, and to reach out in this way, human to human, hands to body, almost always means crossing some kind of barrier. We may feel free to talk about anything, but to lay our hands on another person is not something most of us do regularly or casually.' Though I come from a slightly different culture perhaps. I often hug my friends, kiss them. I like to touch the person I am talking to. I believe our bodies need the connection too, not just our minds.

So much recent research talks about the importance of touch for such physical things as development, growth and weight, but also for such emotional things as happiness and attachment. All people need to be held, hugged, kissed. But while we talk about touch and its importance when it comes to caring for infants, we sometimes forget that it is also about the quality of that touch. That our hands might be sending a powerful message. That it is different to be holding a baby while watching TV or reading a book, and to be holding a baby with fully attentive hands. Magda Gerber says we should 'unbusy our minds' when we are around children. I think we should also 'unbusy' our hands - from everything they are doing, everything they will be doing, those things they should be doing or that they have done. And just like trying to be fully there with our minds, giving children our undivided attention, maybe it's also worth fully giving them our hands when we touch them...

As I woke up this morning, I heard Antek waking up in his bed. Before I went to pick him up I stopped for a moment. I though about my hands, and remembered how Maureen Perry talked about touching babies, during our training. I thought of how I love Antek's little hands when he suddenly runs to hug me out of nowhere; how I love Pawel's strong touch when we walk holding hands; my Dad's hand on my hair when he talked to me; my Mum's hand on my forehead when I was sick; my Brother's strong hug. I shook my hands a bit to get rid of the sleepiness and leftover dreams.

When I finally got out of bed and went to pick up Antek, my mind and my hands were ready. Just like when I touched him for the first time. After all, every morning is a new beginning...

[Photo with thanks to Mary Sadowska]


  1. Wow. This is sweet and powerful. A great and useful tool to stop and reflect. Thank you.

  2. @ alivingfamily. Thank you so much for your comment! It has been on my mind lately, so I'm really glad someone has enjoyed it...