There’s nothing better than having your young child wrap his hand around yours and hold on tight. Feeling my son’s tiny, trusting hand in mine, I gave three little squeezes. My son, then a toddler, gave three squeezes back.
“Three squeezes means I love you,” I told him. He smiled, liking this new, shared secret. We let his little brother in on it. Then we shared the secret squeeze with my husband. Our family’s special “I love you” sign was born.
In today’s fast, hectic and ever-changing world, social scientists agree that family traditions and rituals promote a sense of identity, security and a feeling of closeness. William Doherty, a social scientist, has explained in his book “The Intentional Family”, that as family bonds are weakened by busy lifestyles, families stay connected only by being intentional about maintaining important rituals and traditions.
I don’t remember how old my boys were when we started this very simple ritual. Old enough to walk and hold hands, I suppose. Sometimes we squeezed for no reason, just walking down the street or through the grocery store parking lot. Other times, it became an added reassurance, like when they were about to walk into a new classroom on the first day of school, or after they used their best manners when meeting an adult.
That reassurance strengthens family closeness and establishes good times and good memories, according to experts at North Carolina State University’s North Carolina cooperative extension. Rituals touch the hearts of family members in a positive way and help members feel good about themselves and each other, those experts say. In strong families, members become more committed to each other when they spend time together and create bonds.
My boys are pre-teens now. Boys being boys, holding hands with mom or dad is far less common now and the “I love you” squeeze, not quite so popular. But it certainly hasn’t been forgotten.
Just the other night we were watching TV on the sofa when my 12-year-old reached for my hand and gave me the squeeze. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the little grin on his face.
Someday, when I’m old and grey and needing it most, I know I’ll get the “I love you ” squeeze again. And as it did for my sons, it will let me know that everything’s going to be o.k.