The Mindful Father - part one in a series about fatherhood, male caregivers, and mindfulness

An introduction to the importance of mindfulness for fathers and male caregivers.

A father's palm facing up with a baby's hand in the father's palm.
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Mindfulness is a popular buzzword. It takes little effort to find individuals promoting the benefits of mindfulness and self-awareness. Local organizations, including Michigan State University Extension, offer mindfulness classes that are open to the public and in some cases, are offered for free.

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction series in response to patients reporting physical health symptoms that could not be identified by standard medical testing. Kabat-Zinn’s series was a boon to the chronically stressed and positive outcomes were reported by most graduates of the series. Although that class is still offered worldwide, many may not have the resources to afford such a series, or the time to commit to an 8-week series that demands a minimum 45 minutes of practice daily. However, the mindfulness training and education offered by many local health organizations are rooted in Kabat-Zinn’s work that began over 40 years ago.

According to Kabat-Zinn, the blending of Eastern techniques with Western medicine, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.” Men, fathers, and male caregivers often exist in a state of auto-pilot many times being distracted by thoughts of things that have taken place already or focusing on things that have yet to take place. By constantly being distracted and unable to be focused on the present, they tend to miss out on the enjoyment or full experience of moments that take place every day.

Although men are very capable of moment-to-moment focus on what they are doing at any given time (and in some instances have been trained to focus very well), it is easy to slip back into auto-pilot mode. Men tend to struggle with connecting to their feelings and emotions as well, which can lead to an increase of internal stress. According to the American Heart Association, when unchecked, increased stress levels can lead to several issues for men, their children, their families, and other people with whom they associate, including worsened sleep, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, increased blood sugar levels, reduced memory and concentration, and an increase in mood swings which could be seen as being out-of-character.

Being a mindful father, means sharpening abilities to pay attention to the body, stress triggers, and learning to center oneself in times of crisis or, at the very least, frustration. Through practicing mindfulness, fathers have the chance to improve their abilities to observe, to act with awareness, to describe situations, to react with situations in a non-judgmental fashion, and to respond to stimuli with less reactivity. In essence, these are things that can help spark their abilities to “cultivate habits of practicing self-care” and improve wellbeing.

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