Matthew Remski discusses ways to create a lasting connection between dads and their new babies, one that is attentive and not reactive.
For new fathers, mindfulness really boils down to paying close attention to the subtlest shifts in your partner and baby, maintaining a feeling of connection to both your partner and your baby, and being able to observe your own feelings rise and fall without becoming reactive. This feeling of connection can stabilize and relax the home in small but significant ways that can allow you to discover a more stable and relaxed part of yourself.
Mindfulness for new fathers can be supported by considering the following facts:
1. Nothing will ever be about just you anymore. This is a good thing.
Before she was pregnant, you could hang out in your bubble of self-interest, making plans, working, hanging out. Now you have helped create life, and the part of you in that baby, so fragile, so new, means that there is no singular anymore. Life has moved you from the “I” to the “we”, and there’s no turning back. It’s a relief, actually: you do not have to waste energy obsessing over your own concerns.
2. Your partner is doing something you’ll never understand.
She will swell and stretch and her organs will get shoved and kicked around and her joints ache for months when she can’t find a comfortable position to sleep. When the contractions come, she will pulse and vibrate and moan and howl. She will disappear into a primal trance, feeling things you will never feel. It might be dangerous. There might be complications. It is likely that she will believe at some point she is dying. But most importantly, she is becoming two. That’s worth repeating. She. Is. Becoming. Two. Her body is becoming two in a muscular, visceral way that you cannot imagine. Somehow you will have to split yourself as well, becoming at least three: the person who can empathize and love and make her feel safe when needed, the person who can stand back and watch when watching is needed, and the person who can get jump right in and get their hands dirty, without saying a word.
3. You’re playing a supporting role, but you need support as well.
You will feel on the periphery of the action, and a sometimes even invisible. When she was pregnant, everybody adored your partner. Now they will adore your partner and the baby together. This is as it should be: for a few brief years, they are at the center of everyone’s circle. Don’t let your supporting role feel so invisible that you don’t reach out for help. Before the baby comes, take every father you know out to lunch and ask them what they know. Later, when you see it happening to someone else, you can take them by the arm and go for a walk.
4. Attentiveness is your brand of breast milk.
You did not grow the baby, and you did not give birth, and you do not feed the baby from your body. But you can feed your family with attentiveness. Attentiveness isn’t just waiting around for something to happen. It is like breast milk itself. You will make it within you slowly, extracting it from the food of your daily interactions. It should feel warm, right there beside your heart. You make it with open body language. You make it by listening. You make it especially sweet by sharing your wonder and concern with your partner, late at night, when you probably should be sleeping.
5. Have this first child as though it were your second.
It’s not literally your second, but it is also not the first baby in the world. This means you can be open and trustful, because these things have been flowing for a long time. You are standing on the shoulders of an endless line of fathers who are holding down a lot of wisdom capital. They may not sharing it well enough, but we can change this.
6. Take a sober inventory of everything you are not going to lay on your child.
It’s easy to look at that baby and feel a surge of hope within you that’s more about what you want than about what they might become. You don’t know who that baby is. They carry your genes and they’ll pick up your manners and tensions. Don’t try to hide your wounds, because you can’t. But do make a commitment that the scars stop with you. Being forever curious about their story will make you curious about your story all over again.
7. Both you and your partner will change through this process. Don’t get in the way of this with your old ideas about how things should go.
You don’t know the baby. But you also don’t know who your partner is becoming, any more than you know yourself. This needn’t scare you. You’re actually attracted to that part of your partner you’ve yet to discover. You can make this into the reason why you want to wake up tomorrow: to see what new thing has happened to you both.
8. Give up on ever sleeping the same again.
You can peer through the fog of your absolute fatigue to see how your baby is breaking you down and making you into a baby yourself. But the sleeplessness is not just for the first few years. It’s forever. Because in some forever way, you’ve woken up.
9. Learn how to use a slow cooker.
Because almost everything goes better with soup. Period.
This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post