When you’re a parent your heart is always on the line, sometimes broken, sometimes full of joy. Psychologist and Insight teacher Allyson Pimentel shares two practices to savor the good times in parenting — and in life.
Being a parent in these uneasy times is like taking a masterclass in life’s 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. The path of parenting contains moments of tremendous joy, pride and possibility, plus moments of heartbreak, fear, and confusion.
As our children grow up in a world with so much beauty and so much devastation, our task becomes ever more complex. As my mother-in-law often says, “Small children, small problems; big children, big problems.” With all the problems we parents hold and help our children through — from colic to broken bones to broken hearts to feelings of disconnection and alienation — we can lose sight of the pleasure present on the path of parenting.
Savoring requires presence.
Pleasure is often easiest to access when our children are small and we feel deeply connected with them, delighting in their first sounds, smiles, or steps. Pleasure may be harder to access as our children grow into teens, when their neurological curriculum demands that they defy, differentiate, and turn away from us toward their own future.
It can be harder still when we contemplate the challenges of the societal, political, and ecological future we are leaving our children to inherit. We may recognize with deep discomfort that our children are becoming more comfortable staring at their screens than making eye contact, more at ease in the virtual world than they are in the natural one, unsafe even in their schools. So, what can we do when, as Wendell Berry wonders in his poem The Peace of Wild Things, “despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be…”?
One thing we can do is to savor the pleasure and joy in parenting. Savoring is enjoying and appreciating a pleasant thing completely, especially by dwelling or lingering on it. It can be a vital nourishment and fortification on the path of parenting. Research in the field of positive psychology suggests that appreciation of life’s pleasures builds happiness. It can prolong positive emotions and buffer against negative ones.
Savoring requires presence. It relies on the senses, and it can be deepened with practice. Mindfulness is a powerful precursor to savoring. Mindfulness expands our capacity to hold all that parenting requires of us. It helps us meet the pain and the pleasure with openness and kindness. The practice of savoring specifically invites us to use the powers of attention we cultivate through mindfulness more pointedly — to aim it at the pleasure and joy present in our lives and in our children’s lives.
Savoring pleasure is not to be confused with grasping after it or needing it—it is simply being with it as fully as possible. One of the beauties of savoring is that it comes so very naturally. Noticing what feels good just… feels good.
Staying with what feels good — breathing into it, inviting it to be fully felt, seen, and known — can be more of a challenge. So here are two practices — an informal one you can use throughout your day and a more formal practice you can do as part of your mindfulness meditation — to help you stay with all that is joyful and pleasurable in parenting (and anywhere else in your life).
Savor the Present Moment
When you notice a pleasurable or joyful moment that has arisen naturally between you and your child, stay with it, notice it, name it, and breathe into it.
Engage your sensory processes. If you catch a whiff of your newborn’s smell, or the smell of the scrambled eggs your newly self-sufficient middle schooler has just made, keep smelling. Linger for a moment. Breathe it in. Notice what’s happening in your body, mind, and heart. Is it relaxation? Gratitude? Feelings of love or appreciation?
Take a moment to marvel at this smell. Or this smile, this loving glance, this funny joke, this life skill your child is developing, this feeling of joy in the togetherness you’re sharing—whatever it may be, marvel at it.
You could also name it: “Ah, this is what love feels like. This is tenderness.” You can do this as many times a day as you notice something that makes you feel good. The beauty of this practice is that the more you notice pleasure and joy, the more pleasure and joy you will notice.
You can also devote time to savoring in your formal meditation practice. It can be a stand-alone practice or something you do at the beginning or end of a period of mindfulness meditation.
To do this, call to mind an image, memory, or moment that you wish to savor. It could be a time in the past when your child was especially happy or thriving, or an imagined beautiful moment in the future.
Lovingly hold an image in your mind of them in their joy, success, safety, achievement, flow, health, alignment.
Notice the details; luxuriate in them. Feel what this pleasure feels like in your body and being. Breathe into and
through the sensations as if to aerate them, giving them more space to be felt and to expand.
Let your mind wander over the good, the pleasurable, the joyful. As best you can, incline your mind toward pleasure. As in the informal practice of savoring, you can add a phrase to deepen the experience, such as “This feels so good. This is what happiness feels like.”
Whether you practice savoring informally or formally, you can enhance the experience by sharing it. You can reflect together with your child about beautiful moments or positive experiences, and help them cultivate their own ability to savor what is good in their lives. You can model your process for them by inviting them to participate and share in your joy. Because savoring is inherently connecting, it can serve as one antidote to the disconnections and distortions of modern life.
Expressing gratitude can also deepen the experience of savoring, as if you are sprinkling thanksgiving onto whatever dish you’re savoring to boost its flavor. Yet even as you savor and give thanks, you may notice some resistance, pain, or discomfort. You can acknowledge and accept that pain and pleasure exist alongside one another, and that’s the way it is. That’s life. The mind’s negativity bias has its purpose—its awareness of suffering is designed to protect you—but you can gently remind yourself that right now, in this moment, you are privileging pleasure. You are joining with joy. You are delighting in delight. You are savoring parenting.