For years I was the household massage therapist for my kids. A backrub from Mom at bedtime seemed to settle them down for sleep more effectively than a dose of Nyquil (not that I ever tried the latter.) A nighttime massage was an antidote to bad dreams and a way to get kids to open up about things that were worrying them. In fact, I'm pretty sure they invented things to talk about just to keep it going longer. (Sometimes I did fall asleep on the job, only to be awakened by a little voice piping up, "Uh, Mommy, you stopped.")

As a working mom, I also found that rubbing my kids' backs when they were small connected me to them more closely after a day apart-and transmitted the love I felt for them in a nonverbal way. I relaxed, and they relaxed.

I was greatly influenced by a book I read many years ago entitled Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by anthropologist Ashley Montagu. According to Montagu, touch is the earliest sensory system to develop. He poetically described the fetus, bathed in amniotic fluid, enveloped by the soft walls of the womb, "rocked in the cradle of the deep." Squeezing through the birth canal is like one giant hug, he believed-adding that preemies and infants born by cesarean (and therefore deprived of the birth "hug") need extra doses of touching and rocking to compensate. For all babies, he noted, skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding with parents as well as a sense of security.

Since 1971 when the first edition of Montagu's book appeared, a new philosophy of child-rearing has gained immense popularity. It's called "Attachment Parenting." Pioneered by renowned pediatrician William Sears, the Christian Dr. Spock, attachment parenting believes in keeping kids physically and emotionally attached to parents (primarily Mom) for the first two years of life. Dr. Sears advocates co-sleeping, breast-feeding, baby-wearing in a sling, hugging, holding, and other types of closeness as vital ways for mothers and babies to be in harmony with each other. "This is God's way of making sure babies get the closeness they need," he writes in Christian Parenting and Child Care.

Having babies in bed with us all night (as opposed to sleeping with them occasionally when they were sick or had nightmares) was not that appealing to me or my husband. So the bedtime backrub had to suffice. But there was a spiritual connection that I unwittingly built over time. When my son was around five or six, I began to teach him "The Lord's Prayer" and the 23rd Psalm as part of our nightly ritual. After a while, in order to get his backrub, he had to repeat these prayers from memory. I don't know exactly what the outcome is ten years after our bedtime ritual ended. It's possible that, through operant conditioning, hearing one of these prayers will either make him want a backrub-or cause him to go right to sleep.

But either way, I feel he has gained a sense of the Divine Parent's love for him and a secure sense of God's protection through the down-to-earth avenue of a parent's loving hands.

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