Whether embarking on fatherhood for the first time or raising a brood, there is no time like the present to curl up in your man-cave for some dad-only time. Yet, self-care requires more than just finding a separate space; it means taking care of your physical and emotional health. We know as dads you bear the weight of keeping the family circle safe and sound. We also know that men, in general, can be less likely to seek preventative health care or address their wellness needs. Men can also be at increased risk for certain chronic diseases and can have a shorter life expectancy than women. Your kids and partner need you at your best! Here are a few ways to give yourself a much-needed dad “tune-up.”
Self-care Tip #1: Stock up the kitchen and car with healthy foods
Eating healthy is a family affair. Dads play a significant role in modeling healthy eating patterns for their kids. Plus, filling up on nutritious foods can give you the energy you need to play and have fun. Make planning, food shopping, and meal preparation a team sport. Both parents have a part to play—with the bonus of dividing up the work—in bringing the family to the table for colorful fruits and vegetables, delicious lean meats and fish, and fiber-rich grains like couscous, quinoa, pasta, and more. Love a good snack attack but are always on the run? There are many online resources, such as those for on-the-go healthy snacks, that can help you plan ahead for yourself and your family.
Self-care Tip #2: Move more than you sit
It is easy for those who have an office job to go from sitting in a car to an office chair, back to the car again, only to end the day on a favorite sofa. Still, the body is meant to move more than sit. Sitting can negatively impact one’s health. Sitting can take away from the benefits of regular exercise, increase blood pressure, and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Smartphones and watches can be set to remind you to get up and move when you have been sitting too long, or you could consider adding a standing desk to your home or work-based office. Make exercise family fun time by setting up an obstacle course in the back yard, running a contest of timed drills of jumping jacks, lunges, and knee lifts indoors or hitting a local nature trail. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans offer additional ideas and resources for meeting recommended fitness goals.
Self-care Tip #3: Talk often
Engage in conversations with your partner, your children, and your other family members and friends. Pray, meditate, or journal. Find ways to share your concerns, your stresses, your joys, and your sorrows. While postpartum depression in new moms has made headlines, new (and experienced) dads also face changes to their emotional health and wellbeing when a new baby comes. It is estimated that more than 25 percent of new fathers experience depression, and this is harmful to them and their families. Keeping feelings inside only intensifies them. We must break the shame cycle and recognize it is okay to admit that life can be overwhelming, and we need help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Department of Health has a national helpline for those in need.
Self-care Tip #4: Listen more
Taking the time to listen to your spouse’s concerns or your children’s stories shows you care and allows you to slow down your pace. When we take the time to listen, we allow ourselves to pause, be more mindful, and be in the moment. Children who have active fathers in their lives do better and thrive. Quality time takes precedence over quantity of time. You may find that you are a stronger person and a stronger parent, for every time you drop what you are doing to really listen to your child and build a lasting relationship with them. Nurturing relationships in our lives is an excellent source of positive self-care.
Self-care Tip #5: Don’t stop doing what you love
Being a parent is a gift, but it can come with the price of losing the time that you had pre-children to do your favorite hobbies, visit your favorite places, etc. Kids want to know you as more than dad. Take the time to continue engaging in the activities that you love. Your kids will learn to have the passion and be more balanced. As appropriate, teach your children about your interests; you may find that you can share these interests with them as they grow up.
From the first days at the hospital to the college send-off, there are so many ways that dads imprint on the hearts of their children. By taking the time to care for yourself, you are only furthering the ability you have to be there for your family.