One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is to see and accept the other for who they are. This is can be hard to practice as we each come with our own bias towards the other.
It is perhaps easier to see, accept and enjoy a small, vulnerable baby, which gives us a chance to learn the pleasure of seeing one another. This has even been given a name in research literature, called ‘shared pleasure’. This pleasure that is shared has been described as ’the parent and child sharing positive affect in synchrony’. The understanding of the value and benefits of shared pleasure is unfolding, such as that it fosters positive psychological development in the child and moderates health risks of a parent, for example depression.
I am left in awe that something as simple as shared pleasure can be so deeply beneficial to both parent and baby.
To provide a concrete example of shared pleasure, I have asked a ‘new granny’, Ali, to describe her experiences of holding her first granddaughter. This is Ali’s story of delight in her granddaughter.
There was a time I thought I would never have the chance to be a granny. Several bouts of cancer made me wonder. I watched as friends around me revelled in the joy of becoming grannies and I found myself longing to be one too.
There was great excitement and joy when we were told the exciting news. From that moment I loved you. I watched you grow and felt you kick. I whispered love words as I rubbed your mum’s tummy and hoped you felt my touch.
A bubble of excitement, eager anticipation, profound wonderment filled me to the brim as the time came for you to take your first breath. I lay awake all-night waiting, checking, breathing with relief as the WhatsApps flew across the airwaves and at last at 3.25pm on 16th August 2020, the moment we had all been waiting for happened. There you were – so perfect, so small, so beautiful. I gazed upon the photo of you and your mum - longing with every fibre in my being to be there, to hold you, to smell you and to kiss you and my darling daughter.
Due to COVID-19, this was not to be. I had to learn patience. Each minute of every hour, I waited. I tried to imagine holding you. At last, when you were 3 days old, I saw you for the very first time. There was an inexpressible bubble of joy that exploded as I took you in my arms and cuddled you. It was a defining moment for me. My heart did somersaults and cartwheels as I touched your downy head, it felt like the softest petals of a delicate flower. My finger gently traced the shape of your perfect little face and lingered on your pink cheeks. And then my pinkie finger found your hand and your tiny little fingers tightly gripped my finger. We connected. Those little hands – so perfect – I couldn’t wait to go hand in hand with you on adventures.
But then … our eyes locked and we gazed at each other. Transformative love – Granny love. The connection flutters gently between us. My love pours out from my innermost soul and raindrops of joy and excitement land gently on you. Each time I see you the gaze continues. We pick up where we left off. I love to watch as you learn new things – how to bat a toy, sit up, hold your head up. As you look into my eyes, a beautiful smile from your eyes to your perfect little mouth melts my heart each time.
I cannot wait to chase butterflies in the sunshine, find fairies in the flower petals, make iced biccies with outlandish crazy animals smudged onto them and share funny stories as we spend precious moments together. I just love being your Granny!
Ali describes so well the deeper longings, pleasures, gazes and connections between her and her precious granddaughter. These are perhaps the greatest gifts she can give to her granddaughter. And they are also some of the greatest gifts and lessons to be received by the grandchild. Not all of us have the privilege of an adoring grandmother. But we all do need at least one adoring person in our lives to support us.
Let us do what we can to see and accept others for who they are.
Let us also learn to receive the love and acceptance given to us by others.
Let us value the small, shared pleasures with each other during these challenging times.
 Anusha Lachman Shared Pleasure in early mother–infant interactions: a study in a high-risk South African sample. 2019 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03004430.2019.1613651