Modern Fatherhood: Coming up for A.I.R.

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By John Foulkes, Registered Psychotherapist

Often, in my clinical and coaching practice I work with fathers (and mothers!) who’ve found themselves ‘absent’ and distracted in their relationships with their family.  If you like acronyms, it seems we can also call it Parenting-ADD – ‘absent’ & distracted dads.  Drawing from my own personal experience as a father and working with clients, I have collected from valuable resources some simple hacks that can be used to be more present and positively involved as a father with your children (and partner!).

It’s safe to say as fathers we want to be better communicators and build stronger connections to raise successful and healthy children; ultimately, to feel like a proud dad.  Easier said than done.  Given that we are pulled in so many directions – work, friends, and family – it’s often necessary to take a moment to come up for A.I.R.  

THESE SPECIFIC STEPS WILL ENABLE YOU TO BE MORE MINDFUL AND BECOME A BETTER DAD: ATTENTION – INTENTION – RETENTION.

​LET’S BEGIN…

Image of a dad and two daughters doing yoga

ATTENTION

How do we actually be more present to our children?

Often, when we’re trying to run our day, being an executive at work, running a business, or working from home, the challenge is how to actually stay present when you’re with your children.  Although a part of you wants to be able to connect, another part just wants to check out because you’re struggling with being distracted and too overwhelmed.  So, how can you draw your attention to the present moment? 

Here’s a mindfulness tool expounded by Dr. Lidia Zylowska that’s effective for reducing distraction and becoming more present.  The key element to becoming mindful and present, is to breathe in andto notice that you’re breathing.  While we focus on our breathing, we also want to focus on how the air feels entering  our nostrils and sinuses, how the air feels filling up our lungs.  As you’re noticing your breathing, this single-pointed focus is going to calm your central nervous system and allow your attention to sharpen.  You’ll become more focused to better engage with your child.

Even if we are intently focusing, it’s still easy to get distracted.  Our mind can start to race or just drift aimlessly; those worrisome to-do lists start to come up or we might daydream.  We may start to notice feelings such as anxiety or frustration.  

​The most important thing is that we actually want to label or name the experience.  In other words, if you’re thinking or drifting, then name it ‘thinking’ or ‘drifting’.  Naming that experience allows you to be less judgmental and reactive.  This, in turn, lessens our distraction and allows for a return to the ‘here & now’.  I refer to this conscious step as resetting our attention to breathing again; we are making sure that we’re becoming more grounded and better able to engage as a mindful parent or partner.

better dads Caledon Bolton John Foulkes

INTENTION

​Set your intention.

In other words, what is your purpose – your WHY –  when engaging with your child?  Is it to inadvertently get caught up in conflict, or is it to have better communication and listen more thoroughly and deeply?  

An effective tool to develop our intention is to ask ourselves a better question.  Dr. William Glasser of Choice Theory offers this simple and easy self-directed question to fine-tune our purpose: “Is what I’m about to do going to bring me further apart from or closer to the person that matters to me?”   In other words, it sharpens your intention to better interact with your child.

Having asked ourselves a better question, we are primed to listen more constructively.  Listen to what words are being said and how they’re being said.  We want to get to the gist of what somebody’s sharing with us and reflect it back.  For example, “John, I hear you’re bothered by what happened today.  Is that right?”  When we reflect back what they are saying, we’re letting our child know that we’re actually listening.  

​We want to also validate our child’s experience by saying to them, “I see how hard this is for you and I am glad that you are sharing it with me.” We’re showing that we understand and that we have empathy.  We are simply just being present.

Dad Coach Caledon Bolton John Foulkes

RETENTION

This third step, and perhaps the toughest one, is called retention.

How do we develop a habit of being mindful – to have attention and intention, so it’s ingrained in our day-to-day interactions? Here are some reminders; some tips that will help make a routine stick:

Schedule it…yes, record notes in your phone or calendar to remind you to be more mindful. For example, if you come home from work around six o’clock, it’s probably been a long day with lots of stress and the impulse is to just check out – to be ‘absent’ and distracted.  Furthermore, many of us are now dealing with at-home schooling for our children; therefore, it is paramount that we focus our attention on our kids’ learning needs.  If you schedule in a reminder such as ‘be mindful’, or mark down A.I.R in your planner, you’ll activate your attention and intention.

Picture it…use screen savers or Post-it Notes on your fridge or bathroom mirror that say, ‘Connecting time’, or A.I.R., to keep it foremost in your mind.  These visual cues will remind you to better connect and communicate with your loved ones, rather than being mentally absent or distracted.

Practice it…make this a conscious routine until it becomes an unconscious habit.  If a few days pass by and you realize that you have forgotten to follow-through with A.I.R., then gently acknowledge the slip and return to re-setting your attention and intention.  This is how the habit is formed: by continuously returning to this mindful practice.

In closing, this three-step process, Attention – Intention – Retention is going to be a way for you to better communicate and connect with your kids. You can reduce conflict, have happier children, and actually feel like a proud father. 

​The key is to come up for A.I.R.! 


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John Foulkes

John is a Psychotherapist & Coach at Dig A Little Deeper, Psychotherapy & Counselling in Caledon, ON.

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