Mindfulness for Dads

by Monica Nolasco, Ed.D.

In doing research for this article, I found papers published by the psycho-social community that pointed to the key issue men discuss when they look at work-life balance – that is, for the majority of men, work is life and life is work. Additionally, work is about performance, about getting ahead, and achieving success…right?

In a society, that and is still based primarily on a model of Father being the bread-winner for a two-parent, 2.1 child, dog-and-cat family, how does a father in a circumstance that doesn’t fit the antiquated model see himself?

So, exactly how many “family models” are there these days, anyway? Well, let’s see: There’s the two-parent household where the father is either the principal breadwinner or only breadwinner. There’s the two-parent household in which the mother brings home more bacon than the dad (or may be the only one earning money, so Dad becomes a “stay at home dad”.

There’s the divorced household with Dad as sole-custody parent or shared-custody parent, no custody, or catch-as-catch-can visitation rights. Oh, and don’t forget the divorce that results in remarriage on the part of either or both parents “blended families” with a mix of children from previous marriages, as well as the current relationship…and, actually, these are just a few of the family models for fatherhood present in today’s world.

As I sat down to write this article, I was asking myself why these questions about models had not come up when I wrote last month’s article, “Mindfulness for Moms”. https://sagecareercoaching.com/mindfulness-for-moms/

I think it may have something to do with the fact that a mother has a biological imperative to parent because she gives birth to the child (although I’m sure the sole-custody dads out there will have something to say about that – that is, yet some moms may give birth and either give up the right to “mom” or have that right taken from them).

The other factor at play here is how society’s norms differ for men and women with children. Men are still mostly judged on their performance in the workplace. Many of them still see their success only in terms of their status is in the workplace, their earnings, and how well they provide for their families.

No one is giving them a performance appraisal that evaluates their diapering skills or ability to kiss their child’s boo-boo. Promotions, awards, salary increases or bonuses come by being present with child from the moment you catch sight of her face in the delivery room to the moment she flies off on her own life journey.

So what does mindfulness have to do with fathering?

I just read that last paragraph and thought, “Hmm. What if men were rated on their performance as fathers?” Sounds logical, right? Men are trained from very early on to compete and measure themselves against others (mostly men) to judge how they’re doing.
But an important component (maybe the most important factor) in mindfulness practice is non-judgment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness this way: “Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose non-judgmentally in the present moment as if your life depended on it.” I believe that’s an understanding of mindfulness that men can relate to this Father’s Day.

How, then, can a dad measure his effectiveness as a father?

If you use mindfulness techniques, the answer to that question is “Don’t measure it at all.” Or, maybe, “Measure your dad-ability by a standard different from the one you use to measure your career.” The moment your child is in your presence, shut off the man-o-meter and simply be present.

An infant communicates with you in the coos and cries. What is he saying? What does he need from you? And before you start putting your judge’s cap on, remember to be compassionate toward yourself so that you can bring non-judgmental compassion to bear in your relationship with your child. Your child doesn’t know you’re learning as you go, so give yourself a break before beating yourself up about a mistake you think you made.

In his article titled “Dad Takes Child-care Leave”, Ota Mutsumi writes, “Men who have taken paternity leave fall into two broad…categories. One is of men who…delight in the discovery that fathers too have a role to play in raising their children…The other category is made up…of men who stress the difficulties involved and point to the needs for improvement from a man’s point of view…Which group is right? Both. I think. Yes, raising a child is a joy – but the difficulties are myriad” (Mutsumi, 87).

In that quote I took from Mutsumi’s article – there it is, again, that tendency to evaluate even the process of parenting from a competitive point of view. So, from a woman’s perspective and a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” vantage point, I offer fathers a Father’s Day gift – three of the tips I offered moms for Mother’s Day, but rewritten for men.

These tips are designed to help you bring yourself into the present moment, as free as you can be from the distractions that can keep you from being your child’s father:

BREATHE MINDFULLY. Before any major activity – in the morning before you turn on your phone or your feet hit the floor, before going for a run, before firing up your computer, before picking up your kids from school, before going on a date with your significant other – sit comfortably with your back supported and feet flat on the floor. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth three times, slowly.

Be sure the air on the intake is causing your diaphragm (the area just below your chest) to poke out as your lungs fill with air and flatten as the air goes out of your mouth. Notice how the air feels against your nostrils, how the breathing affects your heart rate. If you find your mind wandering, bring it back firmly and gently with a self-compassionate word, such as “wandering”. (Shattell, 3)

WALK MINDFULLY. Do the breathing exercise first to get yourself “off on the right foot”. (Note: If you run for exercise, this is not that. Walking is a kind of active meditating.) After the breathing exercise, and as you start off on your walk, continue to notice your breathing. What does the air going into your nose and out of your mouth feel like against your nostrils and the insides of your mouth? How deep are the breaths? As you walk, take note of your movements – how your arms move (or not), what your feet feel like against the sidewalk or path, how your clothes touch your body – even what the temperature is.

TAKE MINDFUL BREAKS. These are the adult’s version of a short time-out and can be taken throughout the day – at scheduled times such as when you’re having your morning coffee or at stressful moments when dealing with a teenager’s rebellion or a toddler’s meltdown. Step away and notice your body’s response to the situation. If you find your heart racing or your breathing fast and shallow, do a quick, three-breath exercise, so you can return to your child prepared to face the challenges of the moment.

LISTEN MINDFULLY. When you are with your child, pay close attention to what she is saying – in words and body movements. Take your focus off yourself and put it on your child. What does he need from you in this moment? Resist the temptation to look for the solution to a problem. Instead, be with. The give and take that is the father-child relationship will teach you what to do.

And how can we bring this all back to work-life balance?

According to Amanda M. Evans et al, in “Work-Life Balance for Men: Counseling Implications”, making a commitment to family life at least as strong as your commitment to your career can actually be good for your career. “Having higher levels of work-life balance has been associated with more positive attitudes and increased work performance among men. Men who reported making a higher investment in family roles, as part of this balance, reported a higher quality of life.” (Evans, 437).

And there is this from another paper that focuses on children’s perceptions of their parents’ roles in their lives: “Associating nurturing and caring traits to fathers is a first step towards enabling mothers and fathers to have the opportunities to fulfill both domestic and workforce roles. (Sinno, 26).
“Paying attention to what matters”, “Staying focused”, “Prioritizing”. All of these are signs of a successful leader – in business and in life. Remember: Someone is watching you to learn how to live. You’ve got this! Happy Father’s Day!

If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness and meditation and how both can help with your personal and professional development, visit the events page on the SAGE Career Coaching site or contact Dr. Nolasco via email.

 

Sources

Evans, Amanda M. et al. Work-Life Balance for Men: Counseling Implications. Journal of Counseling & Development, Oct. 2013, 91: 436 – 440. Copyright of Journal of Counseling & Development is the property of Wiley-Blackwell. DOI: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.0015.x.
Interview of Kabat-Zinn, Jon. What Is Mindfulness? PSYCHALIVE: Psychology for Everyday Life. Copyright © 2016 PSYCHALIVE. https://www.psychalive.org/what-is-mindfulness/.

Mutsumi, Ota. Dad Takes Child-care Leave. Japan Quarterly: January – March 1999, 46, 1; 83 – 89. Copyright ProQuest Central.

Shattell, Mona, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Johnson, Angela, MSTOM, MPH, LAc, Dipl OM. Three Simple Mindfulness Practices to Manage Holiday Stress. Journal of Psychological Nursing. 55, 12: 2 – 4, 2017. Copyright © SLACK Incorporated. DOI: 10.3928/02793695-20171117-01.

Shellenger, Sue. Three Fathers Reflect on the Exhausting Joys of Bigger Role at Home. Wall Street Journal, Eastern edition. Apr. 22, 1998, B1. Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc. ProQuest document ID: 398781760. http://ezproxy.fhda.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/398781760.

Sinno, Stefanie M. and Killen, Melanie Killen. Moms at Work and Dads at Home: Children’s Evaluations of Parental Roles. APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE, 13(1), 16 – 29, 2009. Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC (Psychology Press). ISSN: 1088-8691 print/1532-480X online. DOI: 10.1080/10888690802606735.