By Dr. Vicki Panaccione
Have you ever had a hand massage? Ever thought about a hand massage? Me neither.
Until my friend offered to give me one, and I was amazed! I had no idea that my hand had that many muscles and places to be stiff and sore. She worked out the kinks, kneaded each and every knuckle and rubbed all the tension from my palms.
It really made me think about how much we take our hands for granted. And then I began to think about other things we take for granted.
Of course, my thoughts eventually gravitated to parenting, because so much of what we do as parents we do without much thought and just take things for granted. We don't necessarily stop and think about the stress, kinks and soreness we may experience along the way.
We are constantly using our hands all day, every day. They can be neglected, becoming chapped and rough. Or we can take good care of them with lotions, creams and manicures.
For me, this became a metaphor for the choices we make in the way we parent. We can ignore the signs of roughness in our relationships with our children or nurture and take good care of this very special connection.
We can parent with an iron fist or a velvet glove. Our interactions with our children can be the equivalent of a gentle encouraging squeeze or a tight aggressive one.
Our hands can be either open, inviting and accepting, or clenched into an angry, threatening fist.
We can hold on and keep our children safe or let go and let them flounder. And hands can be used for spanking or caressing, clapping together in applause and pride or slamming down in total anger and disapproval.
We can use our hands to push our children away, or draw them close to us.
And what about our fingers? What do they represent in the metaphor of parenting? There is a childhood song naming each finger as "Thumbkin," "Pointer," "Tall Man," "Ring Man" and "Small Man." And as I see it, like our hands, each finger can represent a variety of ways we can choose to parent.
Take "Thumbkin," for instance. Thumbs up conveys, "Way to go," "Great job!" or "I'm proud of you!" It is an indication of support, success and pride. And with a mere change in direction, thumbs-down indicates rejection, disapproval and failure.
Your thumb can engage in playful thumb wars with your children. Or it can be squashing, controlling and stifling as it puts them "under your thumb."
And then there's "Pointer." Pointing can be a guiding gesture. As parents, it is our job to point our children in the right direction and show them the path of morality, responsibility and loving kindness.
On the other hand (forgive the pun!), "Pointer" can be wagged to communicate belittling, scolding and negative judgment. It can tell our children to wait just a minute, or angrily point to send them away.
Now we all know that "Tall Man," the middle finger, can be an expression of cursing, anger and retaliation. The alternative view of this finger is its very position and height.
Tall Man is in the middle of the pack, but it stands head and shoulders above the others. Here's where, instead of a negative gesture, "Tall Man" can be the symbol to teach our children to stand tall, proud, confident and distinguish themselves from everyone else.
The purpose of "Ring Man" is also fairly obvious. This is the finger on which vows are made. When a ring is slipped on this finger, it represents trust, unity and loyalty. It also signifies boundaries, fidelity and commitment. When it fits, the ring represents a relationship allowed to grow and evolve.
However, if the band is too tight, "Ring Finger" can feel stifled, controlled and imprisoned. We can choose to stifle our children's development, or give them room to grow.
"Small Man," or the pinkie, is the most interesting of all. This finger really doesn't seem to have much purpose.
What do we need our pinkies for, anyway? A pinkie, if standing alone, could feel small, intimidated and have no sense of purpose or competence. However, even without a set purpose, we wouldn't want to be without it.
Our hand wouldn't be complete. So this relatively "useless" finger is valued just because it's there, it belongs and is a part of us. And we care about it without it having to prove its worth.
Such is the unconditional love of a parent. We love and cherish our children just because they are. They don't have to do anything to be loved, valued and cherished. They are a part of us, and we would feel incomplete without them.
Our fingers can also communicate important messages through gestures. Although we said the pinkie has no actual purpose, how about a pinkie swear? If you have ever made a pinkie swear with a child, you know that it's a solemn oath of trust and honor. Keep your word, and your children will feel safe and secure. Break the promise, and they will be distrusting, insecure and feel they can't count on you.
We all know that if we spread apart our second and third fingers, we show the sign of peace. And held together, they symbolize, "Scout's honor." They can, however, also be used for pinching or yanking a child by the ear.
Did you know that the thumb and pinkie held up together stands for "Hang loose?" And that the thumb, second finger and pinky together means, "I love you?"
Circling your thumb and second finger means "A-OK." And a thumb stuck out on the side of the road may be looking for a ride home, or a way out.
But most importantly, our fingers, like our relationships, can have a playful side. They can be used for tickling, hand puppets and an impromptu musical instrument.
So, as you can see, the way we use our hands can result in positive or negative outcomes. So can the way we parent.
Just remember to keep the palm open in gentle invitation, the thumb up in support and pride, the hand-holding gentle and secure and the touches loving and nurturing.
Clinical psychologist, Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D., has a specialized practice in Melbourne, working exclusively with children, adolescents and families. For the past 25 years, she has enjoyed a renowned reputation with the media, educational and medical communities as an expert in parent/child relationships.
"Dr. Vicki" is an international speaker and workshop facilitator whose seminars are dedicated to helping parents bring joy and fulfillment to their relationship with their children.
She is the author of Discovering Your Child: Parent Guide, and the weekly online newsletter, "CaringConnections." She is the proud mother of Alex, a freshman at Emory University, and lives in Indian Harbour Beach with her husband, Jack.
To contact Dr. Vicki regarding her workshops, seminars or publications, call (321)-722-9001 or visit www.askdrvicki.com.