I was recently leading a support group for new dads and took note of a very simple, yet profound statement made by a brand new dad. He was talking about his wife, and helping her to manage her anxiety, fear and worry. He said, “Sometimes the best I can do is listen.” I realized that dads need coping tools as new fathers and as they support their partners; meditation for dads was the key.
Listening is a critical skill for dealing with big feelings. In being able to listen without judgement, we accept and are “being with” the other person in their feeling state. It’s a powerful form of love, to listen without judgement. To be honest, as a new dad I got a lot of advice from a lot of people, but no one told me how emotionally intense it would be.
In my recent blog post Mad Dad, I focused on understanding the emotion of anger. But anger’s not the only strong emotion that comes from parenting. Being a new father is an emotionally intense job — fraught with the possibility of fear, joy, pride, sadness, confusion or crazy power around every corner. For a lot of men, their feelings have never been so intense as they are in the first few years of parenting. And it’s compounded by the need to live with an emotional partner and a very emotional kid! Feelings run variable, high, frequent and hot. Thank goodness there are more and more tools that can help you with the job of fatherhood.
Meditation For Dads
A core tool — one that we need reminding of — is the tool of meditation. What meditation challenges us to do is be present to accept and acknowledge our feelings. A trap that many dads fall into, when confronted with big emotions, is to act on any of the Four Ds — to Dismiss, Downplay, Distract or Deny. Instead, what meditation challenges us to do is be present to accept and acknowledge our feelings. When we meditate, we are practicing love for ourselves — listening without judgement to our own thoughts, and accepting our own feelings.
Have you read this far? You must be interested. So let’s take a look at some of the basics of meditation.
What is meditation?
In a recent interview with Cambridge based psychotherapist, Doug Baker, he says that “meditation is a process that shows us the operating system of the mind and nervous system, so we can then do our own hacks to create more of the positive mind states we want, like gratitude or forgiveness; and steer away from unhelpful mind states like resentment and fear.” These mind states are exactly what meditation looks at and notices, again without judgement or criticism. Sometimes our thoughts are unwanted and disturbing and sometimes they are pleasing and delightful. Both experiences are important to “be with” and ideally be curious about.
Why is meditation for dads helpful?
How might new dads benefit from being present to their feelings or mind states? How can accepting your feelings help you be a better parent?
New dads have a lot on their plate and a long list of things to do, accomplish, and fix. While these tasks are important and necessary, it is also important to flex or develop the muscle of presence. Being present is what will foster and deepen your relationship with yourself, partner, and child. In my early days as a new father, I often casually meditated, and by that I mean, was aware without judgement, on what it felt like to hold my son. I noticed my son was in quiet an alert state. This certainly helped, as the inhale and exhale of my breath was never deeper or more clear. I was in a thankful, nurturing and loving state; it was the embodiment of peace and all the associated words. Reference The Gottman Institute’s The Feeling Wheel to learn more about the variety of feelings related to one individual feeling.
I also had moments at the other end of the spectrum, when my baby was inconsolable and screaming in my ear. These emotions blended anger, irritation, criticism, and discouragement. In those moments, the challenge was to “be with” them too, to notice, recognize, and not act on them. My ability to be with my screaming baby was helpful for my wife and for my child.
Benefits to Meditation
In addition to meditation helping with emotional awareness, acceptance and human connection there are a few other benefits that Baker noted:
- Good research has repeatedly shown a link between basic meditation training (weeks, not years) to correlate with lower blood pressure and heart rate, and lower “stress” hormones, such as cortisol.
- It also correlates with reduced rates of anxiety and depression, greater life and relationship satisfaction, improved ability to cope with physical pain/injuries, and finally, improved recovery rates to addiction.
Baker goes on to say that: “Men who tend to like to ‘fix’ things may relate to this as a method that’s tools-based, and allows us to intervene in our own inner processes- although not ‘fix’ them per se. Meditation is also about learning to accept things we can’t control, and instead practice ‘being with’ them, which is arguably a more ‘feminine’ or relational approach. So men get to also cultivate the more nurturing quality of acceptance and compassion.” This, in my opinion, is the ultimate benefit of meditation for dads — for sons and daughters to experience their father as compassionate and accepting. We can change the world one child and one dad at a time.
How To Begin: Meditation For Dads
It seems like everywhere you look these days, meditation, mindfulness and yoga classes are being offered. Start small, keep it simple and remember — you can feel the results and see the benefits in weeks not years. The first step is to bring curiosity and openness. The second step is pay attention to what helps. Here are a few options to consider:
Classes/Workshops: Individual and Group
Check your local google listing for classes and workshops in your area.
Don’t Just Do Something Sit There, by Sylvia Boorstein
If you are interested in bringing up a mindful child, try Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny’s online class: Mindfulness: Raising Self-Aware Children. Introducing mindfulness and meditation at a young age promotes positive mental health.
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About The Author
John C. Carr, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker/psychotherapist based in Boston Ma. He specializes in supporting men and new fathers to be actively involved, consciously aware and well equipped to be their best selves. His book “Becoming a Dad: The First Three Years,” has sold more than 50,000 copies and is part of the Great Expectations Series. John lives in the suburbs of Boston with his wife and three children.