While being a parent can be a deeply meaningful and hopeful experience, some moments can be overwhelming. Daily parenting hassles, like continually cleaning up the same messes, difficulty getting privacy, or struggling with kids resisting bedtime, can accumulate and lead to tremendous amounts of stress. Without a reprieve, you can begin to feel despondent and question your competence as a parent.
On the flip side, positive emotions contribute to our well-being. People who practice savoring positive experiences tend to be less depressed and experience more happiness. Remembering a positive experience that you had with your child can be especially helpful when you need a boost as a parent. When you can hold on to feelings of connection with your child, they can become an enduring reservoir of positivity that you can dip into when you’re under parenting stress. It may also help strengthen your relationship.
While there are many memories you create with your child, some of the most special are when things are at their best between you. You can harness the power of these meaningful memories by calling them to mind and savoring them. Not only does this feel good, but it also helps remind you of your ability to support and care for your child.
To begin, take a minute to relax in a way that is most comfortable for you, such as engaging in deep breathing, mindfulness, or a grounding practice, like paying attention to the feeling of your feet on the floor.
Then, bring to mind a time when you felt really connected, close, or in sync with your child. For example, this can be a time when you felt joy while helping your child grow, when you showed up right when they needed you, or when you comforted, supported, soothed, or protected them. Focus on this single memory of a positive relationship experience.
Next, take about a minute for each of the following reflections.
Finally, take about a minute to let your mind wander in any way related to this memory. For example, you can think about things that came up for you during your earlier reflections or about how this memory is related to other relationships in your life.
Borelli, J. L., Kerr, M. L., Smiley, P. A., Rasmussen, H. F., Hecht, H. K., & Campos, B. (2022). Relational savoring intervention: Positive impacts for mothers and evidence of cultural compatibility for Latinas. Emotion.
Mothers (approximately half of whom were Latina) were randomly assigned to four-week guided programs: Some mothers savored a positive memory of feeling connected with their toddler, while others savored a positive individual experience. Compared to mothers who practiced personal savoring, mothers who practiced relational savoring felt greater positive emotions like gratitude and pride, and greater closeness to their child immediately after the program; they were also more sensitive to their children’s cues three months later.
What’s more, three months later, Latina mothers who worked on Savoring Moments of Connection With Kids continued to practice savoring more frequently and were better able to view themselves and their children as motivated by mental states—thoughts, feelings, and desires—and to understand their children’s actions in light of their mental states, which are keys to empathy.
Reflecting on moments of care and closeness remind us of our interconnection with others: our roles as caregivers and care receivers. Remembering times when you were sensitive to and cared for your child may help you see yourself as competent in supporting and protecting your child—and, in turn, as a person who is also able to receive support and protection from others.
Accumulating and savoring positive memories helps you to build up your own personal resources, which can help you cope with hard moments in your relationship with your child in the future.
Jessica Borelli, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine