At a recent assessment for Split Pea, I was asked if she makes eye contact with me. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times before by social workers, GP, CAMHS in terms of determining her attachment to me I guess. But this last time it got me thinking: Do I make enough eye contact with my daughter? I mean enough to make up for the early critical weeks/months of life when eye contact and touch is all a baby has in order to know she is loved. I don’t feel I do.
As a child I don’t think it was expected of me or asked for and besides there were so many more interesting things to be looking at, than into someone’s eyes. As a very shy teenager it was not possible to maintain eye contact with anybody for more than a few seconds, I just looked over their shoulders. Then one day I remember a cheeky neighbour shouting across the road to me, ‘lift your head up!’ as I strolled along looking at the pavement. Maybe then that was when the penny dropped that I should be looking up at the world head on and that included looking it straight in the eye.
As I became a more confident young adult, I realised you can tell so much about a person when you’re making some sort of eye contact. That people expected eye contact in the work place, like some sign of aptitude, ability and honesty. So I became quite good at it, by my mid thirties I could make eye contact to engage with others, to reassure or stare down the best of them when riled. Thank you teaching profession!
Meeting my then two year old daughter in a stranger’s home, by myself was pretty daunting. Making eye contact with this tiny person who I planned to spend the rest of my life caring for, was enough to show my perceived confidence the door and I could not show her the panic I felt, by staring into her curious eyes. After a few weeks I noticed she started to chew her lip sometimes biting it till it bled. How or why was this happening? Is she unhappy or pining away for her foster carer? It took a long time for me to realise that while I was too busy concentrating on changing the nappy, getting her to eat and doing all the ‘right’ things, that she was looking long and hard at me and mimicked how I frowned over a task and chewed my lip. I wasn’t looking at her. That all important eye contact was elsewhere, trying to figure out how a two year could produce adult size poo!
Perhaps it was a missed opportunity to bond in those early days as she searched my face for something familiar and comforting and got a mixture of frowns, lip chewing, tongue biting and finally looks of defeat or relief. My poor Split Pea. Of course there were lots of smiles and laughter but in hindsight those passing missed moments are a small regret I have. Yet I still have to catch myself becoming preoccupied and rushing about as we go about daily life, when maybe a little pause to look her in the eye or return her gaze could be the difference between a fit of giggles or a meltdown.