Nature gives every child to a father. Children understand this. They expect to be protected and cared for by their father. It’s in our genetic makeup. As children, we all expected our big, strong father to pick us up, nourish and teach us, and keep us from danger. This father connection is every child’s birthright.
Healthy children grow into a blend of values and skills shared by mom and dad. For a long time fathers have been excused from children’s character formation because they were doing something more important. Fortunately, that exemption is no longer acceptable. If we consider ourselves good fathers, we cannot escape being lovingly present all their lives.
Bedtime is a daily event for fathers and children. It’s an opportunity for you to be involved with your unique power to neutralize the experience of dark danger with the understanding that daddy is here. That includes gently, playfully getting them to choose what you know is good for them.
Think back to your early memories of bedtime. What do you remember happening when the lights went out? Where and how do you remember your dad involved?
Did you remember feeling protected, safe, loved? Do you choose for your child to experience predictable safety? A father’s comforting presence assures better sleep, healthier kids. If bedtime is not soothing for you and your child, consider that you have the choice to change that.
Being comforting presence for your child can be intentionally sculpted into what becomes a valued ritual. Yes, you can deliberately mold this time of shared experience into a series of assurances from you and for you and your child.
If you stay with this effort you are deepening your use of your mystical father power. Your emotional connection to your child, which is very likely a mosaic of your own childhood and current cultural ideas of what ‘should’, will become what you choose it to be. It’s that simple. You consciously choose what will happen in a series of predictable, chosen steps.
Here is where ego says “OH YEAH? What about when she/he throws a fit, or cries, or won’t go to sleep?!? What then?” Read on…..
You must be present to be comforting.
This first article mentions “comfort” in the title. If bedtime is fraught with stress and struggle, your mind and body are being pulled apart. Your mind is not in the room with your child. It is focused on something else….getting the dishes done, doing your work project, having a beer . . . your mind is not being in the room, comforting. Your mind is engaged somewhere else, and not where your body is, in the room with your child. This is a very important understanding if we are to experience comforting.
When our mind is in an imagined future—-doing the dishes, having a beer, watching tv—the body has been left behind and starts playing catch up. The body hurries when the mind leaves to go do something in the future.
So establishing comfort for our child at bedtime requires joining our mind and body, in the moment, with our child.
When we resume using our senses in the room—touching, looking at, listening to our child—our mind automatically engages in the moment with the body. When mind and body are in the same space, absorbed in the same activity, body and mind say “Ahhhhhhhh…” home again. Now we see our child’s eyes, hear and touch and hold what they are sharing.
Choose to be a comforting presence for your child. Notice this is not saying “comfort” your child. Be comfort for your child, completely, rather than giving comfort to your child.
Being comfort is an acceptance of comfort’s availability. Is comfort available now? Is it available to you? Your child? Everyone?
Discomfort = stress
In moments of discomfort, assuming you or your child are not feeling actual physical pain, you are absorbed by thoughts rather than what is actually real, right this moment. Discomfort is a form of resistance. Comfort is a form of acceptance.
Experiencing the presence of comfort requires us to let go of what we want to be happening, and to accept what is happening.
To do this we notice something in the present. It can be anything. Our child’s eyes, the sounds in the night, our breathing. We may take a breath, and knowing our child is sad, difficult, tired, accept these emotions as part of what life is choosing.
As we release our breath we may send comfort to our child wordlessly, simply breathing. We are a comforting presence. We understand how to deal with sadness, anger, fatigue. We do this by being present lovingly, letting go of all life’s demands, our own tiredness, our own difficulties, and caring for our child.
Ego says “That’s hard, I want it to be easy”. Don’t argue with ego, you can’t win. Simply make a choice you know is in the best interest of all involved.
Notice your breath now. Take a break from trying to do anything other than watch your breathing. Watch it arrive and depart a few times. Notice, simply notice.
Being present completely for our children at the end of a long day is as simple as this exercise. Yes, it can be difficult. The experience of emotionally absent or distant dad is also difficult for our child.
This article is about establishing ritual in the assurance of safety and connection for dads and kids….comfort. The more present and attentive dads are—physically, emotionally, mentally in the room in the moment—-the safer both father and child feel.
All actively involved fathers take a helping role in children’s nighttime patterns. From diapers to baths to teeth brushing to pj’s there is a need for loving attention and direction, and fathers are designed to be part of these important practices.
Take your pick. Which of these guys do you choose to be at bedtime, distracted-and-hurrying OR Focused-and-caring?
Bedtime can be difficult to manage. Remaining adaptable means willingness to change as the situations change. Things may go smoothly for several nights and then hit a rough patch. Or perhaps you’re in a place where bedtime has become a regular struggle. As you go into and through the evening, be aware of how you are feeling
Expectation comes from repeated experience. Every night your child repeats the experience of going to sleep. Your participation in that experience as comforting presence establishes an expectation in your child that each night there will be comfort in the form of dad.
So all I’m supposed to do is pay attention to my breath and be a comforting presence? Yes. This ritual in your life will automatically establish in your child’s life.
Next week: Fathers and Bedtime Rituals: Expectation of Choice
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