Several months after my second child was born, I developed an inexplicable and totally debilitating neuralgia in my hand. Suddenly all the tools I had relied on with my firstborn and felt passionately about, were becoming redundant. Carrying my baby in my arms or a sling was causing electric shock like pain. I was frightened to drop her!
To breastfeed I had to make her sit upright with as little weight on me as possible and I weaned her at 3 years old, despite being a breastfeeding counsellor myself and a staunch campaigner for full term breastfeeding. Co-sleeping worked in the early days but as she got older and the condition worsened I had to concentrate so hard to fall asleep and her movements would wake me. She joined her dad and big brother in the room next door. I couldn’t and still can’t actually even cuddle my children very well. I can lie on my side with my arm around someone for a few seconds before shooting pain forces me to move. Even when cuddling on the sofa, my kids know not to lean on me from the left side.
So how can we connect when we can’t do basic things like hold? Breastfeed, carry, co-sleep, or cuddle? Thankfully I came across Hand in Hand Parenting, which offers 5 pragmatic tools to build parent child connection. And none of these tools relied on physical capability! They are also tools that all parents can use to create strong connection regardless of their parenting style and choices.
- I listen to my children when they need to offload upset. We call this Staylistening, where, rather than distracting, fixing or reassuring, we help children to stay with their feelings of upset until they have expressed it all through the body. For an outline of what kinds of things to say check out this article
- I make Special Time, where for a focused period of time I do nothing but delight in them and play whatever they want to play. I announce “I’m all yours! What do you want to play?” We set a timer and I follow their lead. I try to get this in for a least 5 mins with each child per day, but even once a week can make a difference.
- I set limits in a way that feels safe, containing and brings us into connection. When we take responsibility for physically putting a stop to off track behaviour we don’t need to be coercive; threatening, pleading, bribing, shaming or punishing in any way.
- I use play to diffuse tension and let them take the more powerful role. It’s amazing how quickly a child becomes co-operative when you give them the upper hand and get them giggling. Getting their shoes to squabble about who got put on first last time or being absolutely stumped when they beat your super fast run again can be a remedy for the powerlessness children are faced with on a daily basis.
- I take regular time to resource myself through dumping out all my own frustrations, worries and upsets that get in the way of me being able to be present and responsive. (Link to Roma’s other article on life story coherence)
I do grieve that I’m not able to hold my babies as close as I’d love and they need, but I actually don’t feel our connection has suffered at all. In fact, now that I understand children’s emotions and the need to recover from upsets through emotional release, I can be far more connected than ever before. Many of our children’s difficult behaviours are actually an indirect request for connection and it’s wonderful to be armed with pragmatic ways to offer it.