Marveling at the moments of parenting can give us a positive perspective on the world and our children
I took the above picture of my youngest daughter’s first experience visiting the Pacific Ocean quite some time ago. We had visited the Oregon Coast, just outside of Eugene, when she was just three years old. The wind was blowing pretty hard, as it tends to do on the coast in the spring, and it wasn’t exactly a warm breeze, but I was excited to be able to show her the ocean for the first time. When I put her down, she ran out a little way from me, and then just crouched down and began to grab fistfuls of the cool, wet sand as I admired her against the backdrop of the surf in the distance.
It was a powerful and memorable moment, to the point where, when I think about it, I can still taste the salt in the air and smell the briny stench of low tide as I reminisce.
This picture simply does not do the moment justice.
What I just described is what we, in positive psychology, refer to as savoring, but a very specific type of savoring called marveling. In one of my recent blog posts, I talked about savoring in terms of “basking,” but basking has an internal focus in moments where one recognizes pride, whereas marveling occurs due to the observation and recognition of an outside stimulus.
Because marveling requires interaction with an outside experience, being mindfully present and immersed in the moment is a prerequisite to the sensation, although experiences like an unusually bright, colorful, and magnificent sunset or awe-inspiring piece of powerful live music have the tendency to override this due to the way in which such situations command our attention. More subtle experiences, however, absolutely require showing up to the moment and investing ourselves fully for marveling to take place.
One of the explanations for this, beyond the painfully obvious, is that mindful presence is characterized by the discovery and appreciation of novelty in the moment. When we are mindful, we tend to see things anew, even including things we may have always noticed before, but when mindfully present, we tend to look at them in a whole new light, with new perspective.
An example of this can be found in one of my favorite activities for cultivating mindfulness: going for an aimless walk without an agenda or destination in mind. I leave my house on foot and begin walking wherever my whims guide me. I walk slowly, reminding myself with each and every step, I have nowhere else to be but right here, right now. This is an especially great activity to do with children, because they naturally appreciate this approach to walking. When they do this with us, they notice things; in fact, they seem to notice everything!
“Dad, look at the butterfly!”
“Dad, check out that rock! Doesn’t it look like a dinosaur tooth?”
“Dad, did you ever wonder why the curb is made out of concrete and not the road?”
Please allow me to make my next point abundantly clear…
In a child’s eyes, everything is worth marveling. Everything is new. Everything has intrinsic value. Every thing is worthy of our time, attention, and ultimately, appreciation.
Why should we be any different, even if we have seen such things a hundred times before?
When we learn to look at the world through a child’s perspective all over again, we can experience marveling in wonder, transforming the benign and ordinary into the sublime and transcendent.
When we apply this form of savoring to time spent with children, the benefits are as numerous as they are astounding. Marveling transforms moments that we might normally brush off as plain or ordinary into moments that take our breath away and firmly cement a memory into the photo album of the mind, forever.
For the fathers who participated in my doctoral research study, their instances of marveling came about because of the simplest actions, but were fully savored because they were mindfully invested in the moments when these actions occurred.
For one father, every time that his daughter woke up in the morning before him, she would crawl into bed with him and snuggle. He described it, in tears, stating, “I am awed that some person in my life really does love me that much, that I am her sense of security, that I am her sense of well-being while she’s here, you know?”
For another dad, he described moments of being awestruck as “peeling away” the rest of the world, leaving he and his son together, alone and surrounded by a moment of pure clarity.
Yet another father turned his nightly bedtime ritual with his son into a daily occurrence of savoring, where he described the way his son reacted to it as “melting, and not only into his bed, but also into me.”
It is no mystery why these fathers used language to describe such simple moments in terms that carry so much weight and grandeur – because they felt it. Such moments have the power to take our breath away in a very literal sense, and these are the moments that not only we, as parents, will carry with us to the grave, but so will our children. Additionally, by showing our children that we truly savor the time we spend with them by being fully present in the moment, we are teaching them what a parent-child relationship should look like, setting the stage for interactions with their children, decades down the road.
We needn’t travel to far-off places like Hawaii or Australia to catch a glimpse of something that will take our breath away in awe and wonder at the beauty of the moment.
Such moments are waiting for us at home.