coping skills for mental health

Why Dads should cultivate self-compassion (and how to get started)

There are so many things to celebrate in June—Pride, Black Music Month, and one of my favorites: Father’s Day. 

As a father of four awesome kids, I find myself reflecting on fatherhood quite a bit when summer rolls around. Between Father’s Day, the school year coming to a close, and more opportunities to spend time together as a family, it brings thoughts of what it means to be a dad to the forefront. 

My fatherhood journey started pretty early in life. I was still in college when my now-wife, then girlfriend, was pregnant with our first child, Sundara. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, that was a time of joy and anxiety for me. I feel fortunate that during those early years of parenting, I was also beginning to devote myself seriously to my mindfulness and meditation practice, which would be a major coping skill for mental health for me in my parenting life as the years rolled onward. 

Parenting is a tough job. Not only do we find ourselves in uncharted waters while doing our best to care for our children and navigate the uncertainties, but there is no shortage of opportunities for us to feel guilt, shame, inadequacy, and other triggering emotions that stem from our own childhood experiences and overall mental, physical, and emotional health. 

Of course, there are also so many blissful, heart-opening moments that come with being a parent, and I think it’s important for us to remember to savor and amplify them, as our baked-in negativity bias can sometimes make it hard to acknowledge the goodness that surrounds us. 

Ofosu’s 3 coping skills for mental health in managing the ups and downs of fatherhood 

I think it’s important to encourage dads to take care of their mental and emotional health as men traditionally haven’t been socialized to care for or even acknowledge their difficult feelings or to amplify their good ones. Here are three tips I’d like to share for managing the ups and downs of being a dad: savor the good moments, practice relational mindfulness, and cultivate self-compassion. 

1. Savor the good moments.

Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative. Sure, it’s helped us to survive, but it can also make us default to only seeing what needs to be fixed instead of resting on what’s already good. 

As a dad, savoring the little moments I’m able to share with my kids connects me with the joy of being their parent. Just earlier today, I was filling out an e-vite for my 10-year-old daughter's birthday party. Some parts of the process were stressful (one being that it’s time-sensitive), but at one point, she came and leaned on my shoulder as I was typing. It was a small moment, but to me, it was very sweet. It was an opportunity to pause, take a breath, and really be present for this moment of connection between us—and remember why we were putting together the e-vite in the first place: to celebrate her life! 

Savoring the good in our lives as parents can look like so many things. It can be as simple as a hug that lasts a little longer, a kind word offered, a reflection on what you are grateful for, or something else. The main thing is to acknowledge the good in your life as a parent, however small or big, breathe it in, and be present for it. 

2. Practice relational mindfulness. 

Relational mindfulness is just what it sounds like. It means using the tools we learn through mindfulness practice and then applying them to our interactions with others. 

Practicing relational mindfulness involves being truly present for your kid(s) by listening to them and offering your heartfelt presence. It also involves sharing your thoughts and feelings from a place of kindness, presence, and honesty. 

We can support ourselves in practicing relational mindfulness by taking time to be present and kind towards ourselves and continuing to develop our own mindfulness practice. As we learn to be more and more present with ourselves with an attitude of kindness and non-judgment, we can then offer these qualities of kind attention to our children. 

3. Cultivate self-compassion. 

My number-one piece of advice to dads (and parents in general) is to remember to be kind to yourself! 

In my own experience, I find that my inner critic is the loudest when it is analyzing my parenting. I’ve learned to give myself grace, compassion, forgiveness, and encouragement as a way to support myself in my role as a dad. Simply put, self-compassion means offering yourself the same kindness you would offer to a friend or a loved one. So, whenever I’m feeling difficult emotions or judging myself harshly for my parenting style, I offer myself some words of kindness, love, and reassurance. It helps me pick myself back up and keep going, and I think it’s a great practice to model and share with our children. 

Get more mental health support with the Balance app 

If you’re looking for ways to support yourself as a dad, to support the dads in your life, or just in general, please consider downloading the Balance app—it’s free for the entire first year. Some of my favorite meditations for cultivating everything I shared in this article include the Loving-Kindness, Anxiety, and Gratitude meditations. The Positivity meditation is also great!

And finally, happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. It’s a tough job, and hats off to you for showing up and doing your best. You are enough!

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