The Mindful Father part two in a series about fatherhood, male caregivers, and mindfulness.
Empathy and the importance of mindfulness for fathers and male caregivers.
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.
As fathers engage with mindfulness, they may begin to learn about ways in which their own thoughts, feelings and emotions affect their behaviors and relationships with others. In general, all caregivers can learn to understand how they are feeling in the present moment and move beyond just thinking about what may be happening. According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, in the long run, fathers can help children to increase their executive functioning skills that help us learn to plan, focus and work through multiple tasks.
An important byproduct of practicing mindfulness is an increase in empathy towards others. Psychologist Paul Ekman divides empathy into two parts: “cognitive empathy,” which is “simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking,” and “emotional empathy,” which is when you physically feel what other people feel, as though their emotions were contagious.
By training ourselves to become more empathetic and then modeling that empathy, we increase our ability to create connections with others, especially our children. Being present and mindful may lead to less stress and more positive interactions with others, especially with children. The use of mindfulness allows focus and attention to be given in the moment as part of any relationship. Living in the moment allows a father to be responsive to their child’s needs and help everyone to maintain emotional balance.
For many who don’t have the time to commit to a long series of mindfulness sessions, dozens of phone apps have burst onto the scene that offer quick meditations, reminders to take a break and breathe, and other exercises focused on mental well-being. Many of these apps offer practices that may only take minutes to complete. Even NBA superstar LeBron James has partnered with and has been featured in commercials promoting a mindfulness app.
This makes sense at first glance. Professional athletes like James, in addition to having uncanny physical and athletic skills, can benefit from a heightened mental awareness in response to competition against other elite athletes, the complexities of X’s and O’s on the court, and the negative effects of fatigue, pressure, and season-long traveling.
Very few who read this will ever compete in a professional sport. What can mindfulness do for those of us who won’t be a Hall of Famer, a media mogul, or a star in a new soda pop commercial?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 61.6% (74.4 million) of males in the U.S. are fathers, including James. The meditative and mindful techniques that he has learned to help him excel even more at basketball can have major benefits that carry over into his role as a father and provider.