by Rachel Thomas
Before we begin, we should define what we mean by the term grooming. When I say grooming, you might think of beautification, fashion and vanity, or about grooming your child for medical school. In fact, the kind of grooming we need for our children is about love, intimacy and good mental health.
Grooming as an expression of love
Once I went to a women’s camping retreat with about forty other women. It was the first year, so many of us did not know each other. It turned out that the campsite was infested with miniature ticks, and soon, so were we. All of sudden we were dependent on each other to remove these creatures from our bodies. We appeared a pack of monkeys, picking at each other in a desperate showing of compassion and camaraderie. It was as beautiful as it was uncomfortable; to share an intimate moment with others that was pure nurturing. That was my first exposure to the idea of grooming as an expression of love.
I try to remember this when I am battling with my seven year-old for her to brush her teeth, or even worse, her hair. On a good day, I will remember the monkeys lovingly picking at each other, and use the moment of grooming to make my daughter feel nurtured. I try to be conscious that these moments of closeness can help to maintain an intimate connection between us as she becomes a “big girl,” and hopefully later as she becomes a young woman.
In addition, when I take time out of my “busy” day, to clip her nails, put lotion on her dry skin, or massage her upset tummy, I am showing her that I love her, that she is important to me and that I want her to feel nice and well cared for.
My role as a source of physical intimacy
Many years ago, when I stopped nursing, I would offer snuggling instead of the breast. I wanted to change my role as a source of food, but keep my role as a source of physical intimacy.
Later I read an excellent article, encouraging the act of snuggling before bed as a strategy to maintain a close relationship with your child. I found this to be extremely helpful as my daughter was transitioning to a new school, and bedtime was most often the moment she chose to share her daily challenges.
I want her to know that if she craves physical affection or intimate attention, that she can find that at home.
Ensuring our kids have the affection they crave
Although for me the word grooming invokes the ancient practice of primates taking care of each other, for others it invokes fear of outsiders who might try to maliciously create inappropriate relationships with our children. Parents come together to discuss strategies to prepare and protect our children from virtual and actual predators. We talk about not keeping secrets and having good communication, about spending time together and building positive self-esteem. One great strategy is martial arts, which helps build both mental and physical self-protection.
In my opinion, grooming, in the traditional sense of the word, is a great weapon against grooming of the malicious variety — making sure that our children are not lacking in the physical affection and intimacy that they may crave.
As our children get older, we should still devote a part of our lives to being close to them through simple daily acts of primping, braiding, getting dressed up, stretching or caring for their wounds.
Of course, part of protecting them is teaching them to say no and to ask for personal space when they need it. Whether with a baby not wanting to hold hands when they have just learned to walk, or a teenager who stops feeling comfortable sitting on daddy’s lap, we as parents must learn to read their signals and respect the boundaries that they create between us.
Offering intimacy to our children does not mean forcing it on them. It means being available, offering to tie their shoes sometimes even when they already know how, offering to rub their head or massage their feet before bed, or offering to just sit together and share a moment.
A process that comes full circle
And although we prefer to think that we will never reach that point, as parents one day we may need our children to take care of us. And those moments when my daughter will take the time to brush my silver hair, or put lotion on the hard parts of my back to reach, those will be moments of intimacy that I will treasure, when the sweetness of grooming comes back to me as only evolution can dictate.
With more than 17 years living in the rainforest, native New Yorker Rachel Thomas works passionately to infuse modern lives with ancestral healing experiences. She is a Holistic Health Counselor, certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Rachel has an honors degree from Brown University, which she uses to design unique educational experiences for groups and individuals to achieve health through multi-cultural wellness traditions. You can visit Rachel at her Ethnobotanical Sanctuary and Wellness Center, Hidden Garden, in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.