Becoming The Father You Want To Be By Using Mindfulness

Guest Post by Damon Dietz

Have you ever experienced that moment where the small stresses of life build-up, and it feels like you are going to explode? If you are a dad, I already know the answer. Maybe it happened when your son was having a temper tantrum in the dairy aisle at the supermarket. Or, when your daughter was screaming hysterically and yelling at you for serving her macaroni and cheese. “You know I hate mac & cheese” she screams, even though last week it was her favorite. 

It’s times like these where mindfulness can help save us from ourselves. What is mindfulness?

mind·ful·ness

noun

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Why is this important? Because most people are always looking in the past or in the future. Very rarely do we look into the present moment.  Mindfulness is about experiencing and appreciating the present moment. 

If we as dads can become better at being mindful in the present moment, we can become better dads. Let’s talk about how we can do this. 

Listen More

The last thing we want to do when we are in the middle of a temper tantrum crisis, or when we are being yelled at that we are the worst dad in the world, is to listen. We immediately become defensive, and attempt to solve the problem at hand, which is primarily, “how can I make this stop?”

Instead, I impress upon you the importance of listening. When we really listen and focus on what is actually being communicated, and not the obnoxious method in which the communication is taking place, we become better dads.  We need to give our kids our full attention. Put down the cell phone. Stop multitasking. And listen. By removing the distractions, our kids might actually start talking and stop yelling and screaming. 

Meditate

I am a huge advocate of meditation. I am not talking about hours a day of eyes closed, deep breathing, chanting, and yogi type of meditation (though that’s fine if you have the time and that’s your thing). I am talking about being present in the moment. It is as simple as closing your eyes, and taking five deep breaths. And in that moment you think about nothing, except taking those breaths. 

Once you can make a habit out of taking five deep breaths daily, increase it to six. Then seven.  And so on. Soon you will find yourself meditating for a few minutes at a time. Your mind might wander. That’s ok. Bring your attention back to the breath. The idea is to stay in the present moment. Do this for as long as feels comfortable, but many experts agree that 20 minutes of daily meditation is ideal. Harvard researches have determined that that’s all the time it takes to see measurable changes in the brain that would help you become more focused, creative, productive, and less anxious.

If you don’t know where to start or prefer a guided meditation, check out headspace, one of the best apps for guided meditations.

Have Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This was the toughest aspect of implementing mindfulness for me. I am not naturally empathetic. I am a problem solver. Most of my friends love that aspect of my personality. My kids? Not so much. 

Children yearn to be understood. It is the same reason why listening is so integral to developing a positive relationship with your kids. But it can be difficult to show empathy when you’re frustrated, but acknowledging your child’s feelings is an important way to connect. 

Final Thoughts

You will notice that when you start practicing mindfulness, your children begin to learn from your example. They will become more mindful, more grateful, and their behavior will improve as well. Mindfulness will help your relationship with your children and make you a happier and more positive parent. 

Bio

Damon Dietz is a writer, filmmaker, and professional speaker, who shares his knowledge of finance, health, and life from the perspective of a single, divorced dad over 40. He is a father to three amazing kids and thinks dads are kick-ass, even when the rest of the world thinks we’re idiots. You can read more of his musings at: www.damondietz.com

Image by skalekar1992 from Pixabay

Led By Little Bit

This picture is a snapshot of the rest of my life. My little girl will be leading me around from this day forward.

Let me clarify; I don’t have any intention of letting my daughter dictate what she gets, when she gets it, whenever she wants. I’m not going to be a parental yes-man. What I mean is this: everything I do, from this day forward, will be for the betterment and welfare of my daughter and my wife, in that order. (Before the comments start, I regularly tell my wife she is my second favorite person in the world. She agrees, and knows that’s how it should be. I’m her 4th or 5th favorite, I think….)

I also tell my wife that, as far as I’m concerned, I’m 3rd in our family equation. For her part, my wife is usually pretty good at seeing when I need some quiet and sends me on an errand or two so I can have some non-baby time. I try, though, to make sure that my girls are well taken care of before I do my own thing (which usually means playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at 2am when everyone else is asleep). This is tough for me, because I was an only child, as well as the fact that Little Bit came along later in my life (I’m almost 50, and she’s not quite 2), I was pretty set in my ways. I like to have a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, maybe read a little bit before bed. Those days are no more. My daily coffee is in a travel mug, even though I’m not going anywhere, because it’s the only way to have at least warm coffee in the mornings. Reading before bed, which used to be Tom Clancy or Jim Butcher, is now Dr. Seuss or Sandra Boynton (Ok, I kind of like the Boynton. They’re delightfully silly.) I do all this because, since the birth of my daughter, it’s simply not about me anymore. My life is led by what’s best ofr my daughter and my wife, and thus it shall be until the day that I die. And nothing makes me happier when my baby girl comes to me with a book in hand, climbs into my lap, and has me read “Green Eggs And Ham” 4 times in a row (although I kind of want to smack Sam-I-Am upside the head).

Take my hand, Little Bit. Take me on your next great adventure. I’ll be there o help and protect you as much as this old man is able.

On Frustration, Coffee, And Stoics

First things first: if one is going to start a blog, one should really add new content regularly. I have not done so. Why? I’m a stay at home dad with a toddler. Quiet time to write is not exactly in abundance, so I take the time when I can find it.

That being said, as I write this, it is just after 2 in the morning. I’ve just gotten back from my workout at the gym (good news – there’s virtually nobody there; bad news – it’s 2 in the freaking morning). The girls are asleep, and I can actually hear myself think for a brief, beautiful moment.

Why, I hear you asking incredulously, would anyone go to the gym in the middle of the night? Clearly, you say, I must be some fitness obsessed, steroid riddled muscle head. You would be wrong. I workout at ungodly hours for one simple reason: so I’m not taking time away from my wife and daughter, so I can be present in their lives as much as possible. I might ingest enough coffee to kill a horse, but it’s worth it to be sure my girls know that I’m going to be around for them when they need me. I want Daddy’s presence to be Little Bit’s normal.

It’s important to me to be sure my daughter’s sense of normality is good healthy. Mama and I want her to grow up with a better relationship with food than we’ve had (turns out, a balanced meal is not a taco in one hand and an equal amount of bacon in the other). I want her to see Daddy being healthy and strong, not pudgy and couch potato-y. And I feel like I have a handle on the physical side of my journey to better-ness. It’s the mental side I’m struggling with.

As mentioned earlier, we made the move to sunny California to help take care of my wife’s family. This involved a LOT of change all at once, especially for this midwestern boy. In my prep for being a stay at home dad, I noticed an overarching theme: a loss of identity and a lack of community. While stay at home dads are becoming slightly more common, it’s apparently still an odd concept for society at large. So, we dads can start to feel isolated and even looked down upon at times.

Couple that with moving cross country to a place where you know practically no one, and taking care of a toddler who’s not quite ready for longer outings without Mama’s magical milk making mammary on standby . . . well, you can see where one might have a rough day here and there.

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” I forget this so often. In any given situation, good or bad, rested or exhausted, I was never meant to be tossed by the whim of circumstance. I can choose my response to any frustration and see it as an opportunity to grow. So, when my daughter flails around like an electrocuted octopus when I’m trying to change her diaper, it’s probably better to think that I’m fortunate she’s alive and kicking, rather than being frustrated because toddler poop has become a projectile weapon. My lack of sleep means I’m exhausted, yes, but it’s also an excuse to have more coffee. Besides is there a better reason to wear myself out than giving my daughter a better outlook on life by watching Daddy make his life better?

And that’s what I want a big part of her “normal” to be; choosing to be positive and productive, even when she’d rather be sleeping. Which, lately, is never.

I’m going t crawl into bed now, wake up in the morning, fix my coffee and chase my toddler all day. Again. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The Starting Line

OK, a little background. I’ve been a Midwestern kid all my life. Smaller towns, open spaces, the whole nine yards. My wife (talk about opposites attract) grew up in California. Los Angeles, to be exact. How we came to meet and marry in Kentucky is a story for another time.

After almost 5 years of marriage and one kid (just over a year old), my beloved and I start talking about how she misses her family, some of their health problems, and how she’d like to be able to help them. Fast forward a few months and a few dozen such conversations, and guess where we are today? That’s right, L.A.

Culture shock would be an understatement. This has been, as they say, a difficult transition. As I write this, we’ve been here about three weeks, and I’ve been moved into the role of stay-at-home-dad. This is not a complaint. I love my little girl more than anyone on this planet. We’ve moved in with my in-laws, and I’m learning how to navigate this bustling metropolis of insanity.

I have mixed feelings about being here. The pop-culture-nerd in me is excited. Disney, Universal, Warner Bros. (Helloooooo Nurse!) and the rest. The chance to see places where my favorite movies were made, take nerdy pics with my daughter to embarrass her with when she’s older, go to podcast recordings, live shows and the like; it all makes my little geek heart pound.

Then there’s the Dad in me. I know we’re only here temporarily, but how safe will my little girl be? How can I keep her as safe as possible? It’s good that she’s here to spend time with her cousin (who is ten days older than her), and it’s good that we have some family in town to help take care of her when we need a Mommy and Daddy break.

The bottom line comes down to the question I’ve been asking myself since the day I knew we were having a child: What do I want her normal to be? What default mode can I instill in her to go back to when things get rough as she grows up? For me, this all funnels into a more personal question: How do I want her to see her Daddy living.

The answer to that question leads to a change in perspective for me about being in L.A. Instead of just seeing this as taking care of my wife and her family, I’m choosing to take this time as a new beginning. Since I’m in Hollywood, let’s call it a personal reboot. I want my daughter to see her Dad take control of his life, make better choices, be a better man, better husband, better dad, so that when she gets older, she has that as an example for how to live her life the best way she can.

Me being me, I need a plan, a framework, to make this happen, so I’m focusing in four main arenas, physical, mental, spiritual, and creative. In my mind, the breakdown looks like this:

  • Physical – eat better, get in shape, be able to keep up with my daughter and my wife, and live as long as I can for them both.
  • Mental – I’ve taken a long hiatus from learning new things, so now is the time to learn some new skills, teach this old dog some new tricks.
  • Spiritual – This is a little tougher. I’ve gone through some church politics issues and some betrayal/cover-up from church leadership in the past, and it’s led to some level of mistrust of what I call the church of man. I want my daughter to trust in God, not fallible men. I need to live that in my own life as well, and no longer confuse one for the other. Possibly more on that down the line.
  • Creative – I’ve always been a creative soul; music, theater, prose, and so on. I haven’t been able to indulge that side of me in the last little while, and I miss it terribly. Moreover, I want my little girl to have a creative outlet for herself. So, for her sake and my sanity, I’m looking for an avenue back into that side of me.

As I’ve been contemplating all of this, I’ve decided to document my journey through it all. Why? Maybe there’s another 40-something guy out there who feels stuck, scared, and stagnant, and needs a kick in the tail-feathers to do something about it, and I’m supposed to be the boot. Maybe in documenting this, it’ll motivate me to keep going. Maybe there’s another reason for it that I haven’t found yet. Regardless, here it is. The starting line. I have no idea where this’ll take me, but you’re welcome to come along for the ride of nerdiness and self improvement. Buckle up.