Holistic Help for New Dads
I am being put through the paces as new Dad. Between the early morning diaper changing and all the other new pressures and responsibilities of fatherhood, I’m wiped out. How can I be there for my baby boy but not keel over from stress and exhaustion?
Downtown Diaper Dad
As a new father myself, I feel your pain! I suspect you are doing a better parenting job than you may think. Remember, the relationship you have with your child is unique and there is no one “right” way to parent, so take the path the works best for your family (not someone else’s) and you’ll already find yourself under less pressure.
Stress and exhaustion are par for the course, but the more meaning you can find in fatherhood, the lighter your load will feel. Here are some simple ways, from a holistic perspective, to see the time-honored enterprise of fatherhood, make the most of the experience and, hopefully, keep your sanity:
Welcome to the nurturer in you! If you’re like most new dads, this may be the first time in your life when you and your partner are shouldering full responsibility for the health and well-being of a precious, new life. Have you ever heard the expression “If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing”? Well, let me add: “If you can burp, you can nurture”! It is a fine thing that the resurgence of midwifery and breastfeeding have made the birth and early nurturing process less medicalized and more mother-centered, but this revolution has yet to reach Dad’s arms. The identity of caregiver, of nurturer, is in all of us, whether or not we were raised to see ourselves as such. Enjoy your new status as a nurturer of your child, and cultivate your nurturing skills any way you can. No matter how you choose to nurture, by your efforts you will be setting a great example for your little boy and doing your part to empower other men to become the nurturers they are.
See fatherhood as a spiritual practice. Becoming a father is perhaps the greatest leap you have taken in your life. In a sense, your infant’s is not the only recent birth—you too have been birthed, willy-nilly, into a raw and uncertain state, and must stretch yourself and grow in new ways. If you have any “buttons,” your child will eventually find them and press them…hard! This new and challenging time is an ideal one to reassess what matters most in your life, and to see the opportunities for spiritual growth that this new stage, in its freshness and rashness, can suddenly make apparent. Approaching this rush of new experiences, some pleasurable, some painful, with focus and mindfulness can help you become a better father and a wiser individual. I recommend reading Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. The book includes simple exercises to help you notice how day-to-day parenting can provide countless opportunities for personal transformation and experiencing love in new ways.
Learn from the Master. A well-regarded Zen-style Shiatsu teacher I knew once told me that the best way to experience a true Zen Shiatsu treatment was to have an infant crawl on your back. Everybody is a healer—and since no nay-sayers out there have convinced your child to the contrary, enjoy your baby’s raw and unabashed talent. Notice how his cooing presence can melt the hearts of strangers who normally wouldn’t give you the time of day. Notice how he looks at you with eyes that have not yet learned to judge. Watch how natural and authentic his movements are, how lively and energetic he is, and how magical the world is to him. Some people pay to learn how to readopt these traits—take time to notice them in your little one and you’ll get a free lesson in the art of being human. A wonderful way to interact with your child is to give him a simple massage. It can take as little as an hour to learn how, and it offers rewarding opportunities for bonding with your infant. Check for classes at your local hospital or wellness center, or you can contact a Certified Infant Massage Instructor® in the Boston area by visiting the website of the International Association of Infant Massage® at http://iaim.homestead.com.
See your self-care as part of child-care. To help the nurturer in you, be sure to nurture yourself. I know your free time has suddenly become precious and fleeting, so I recommend daily ways of self-restoring that don’t require much time, such as stretching, a soak in the tub with bath salts, or a jog around the block. Grabbing even just 15 minutes of time on your own for quiet reflection, meditation, prayer, or a quick nap can do wonders for retaining your sense of peace, focus, and purpose. If you’re clever you can even incorporate childcare into your self-care, for example, by strapping on the sling or the Baby Bjorn and going for a nature walk together. I understand the pressure may be on for you to be provider, protector, and Super-Dad, but dropping dead from exhaustion is not playing the long game. If sleep deprivation is clawing at you, be sure that you and your partner each have at least one night a week where you can take a break from nighttime childcare duties, even if you have to sleep on the couch. If you are less frazzled, chances are your child will be less frazzled too, and you’ll be one happier holistic family.
First published in Boston Natural Awakenings magazine's June 2005 "Ask Karlo" column.
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