Well, what a year we have just been through. Thankfully, the vaccine is giving us hope that life will get better. I was interested, but not surprised, when so many of those receiving the vaccine were asked what difference it would make, they replied, “I will be able to hold my grandchild” or “hug my daughter” or “hug my son”.
Being connected is so important whatever your age; it starts before birth.
In a letter from a charity working in the Middle East, a doctor told of a very premature baby brought to the hospital by his mother. Gradually the boy began to improve and the doctor recommended kangaroo care, or ‘skin to skin’ contact between the mother and baby for as long as possible each day. The mother, who was not familiar with that concept, was willing to try it. The results were incredible – his breathing improved significantly and his heart rate stabilized. He continued to make steady progress and the mother became an inspiration to other mothers in the hospital. Despite the difficult start, the physical and emotional connection between the baby and his mother was crucial in his recovery and progress.
As children grow and become more independent, it is important that they stay connected to consistently caring adults. Thirty years ago, a Glasgow University lecturer, speaking at a Pre-school Playgroups Association conference, described the break in this connection using a simple analogy: The delegates were asked to think of the connection between a parent and child as a piece of elastic. For most babies, the elastic between the child and parent barely stretches in the early months, but gradually, as the child grows and becomes less physically dependent, the elastic is allowed to stretch. Whilst it is important to allow the child to gradually become more independent, the adult must make sure that the elastic is of such good quality that the connection neither breaks nor loses its elasticity. Think of the small child in the park who runs away from the adult, but keeps looking behind to see where they are. It is a game we have all played. The secure child knows that it will be caught, maybe picked up, swung up in the air and given a hug. If time permits, the child might be allowed to start the game again. These activities require both patience and love from the adult, but the reward is a child who knows the connections are good.
Which brings me back to where I started: On BBC News, we see a child cry, “I just want to hold my Mum’s hand” – a reasonable request, except that the child is 65 years old and the mother is 90 years old and the pandemic prevents them meeting. Zoom is wonderful and has been a blessing to families and friends, but it is not the same as putting your arms around a child or giving your mother a hug. This has been a difficult time for all of us, whatever our age. It has, however, reinforced what scientific research proves time and time again – that being connected to other human beings is vital for our health and wellbeing. Getting it right from the start of life lasts throughout your life, even when you are 90 years old.