by Lane Vail
Fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before, embracing their roles of leader, nurturer and protector, and they’re reaping extraordinary benefi ts. According to a 2014 study published in the Academy of Management Perspectives, fathers who spend more time with their kids are both happier at home and more satisfied at work. Today, many mindful dads engaged in a natural lifestyle apply that same health consciousness to their parenting.
Support Mama. Natural fathering begins during pregnancy, with an informed birth plan. “Support whatever birthing decision the woman feels will provide her the most comfort and relaxation,” advises Dr. John Douillard, an ayurvedic chiropractor and author of six books, including Perfect Health for Kids. Hold her hand, rub her back, advocate for her rights and after the birth, support her efforts to breastfeed whenever, wherever and however long she wants.
“Fathers should recognize that the burden of care is clearly on the mother for at least the fi rst year, so her opinions and wishes deserve special consideration and respect,” says Ben Hewitt, father of two, home unschooler and author of The Nourishing Homestead.
Embrace physical closeness. Bonding through nurturing touch is powerful and rewarding for father and child. A recent study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education found that fathers that practiced infant massage experienced significant stress release and bonding with their offspring.
When dads are calm and present, they become a calming presence. ~Hal Runkel
Wearing a baby or toddler in a sling, wrap or carrier is another comforting way to spend time together.
Co-sleeping helps foster a more natural sleep rhythm with a nocturnally hungry baby, while also offering another way to connect. “Any stress my family may have experienced during the day dissipated when we reconnected at nighttime,” Hewitt says. “Looking back, I can’t imagine having missed out on that opportunity to be so close with my kids.”
Feed healthy habits. Natural dads are educated about both naturopathic and Western medicine to make informed choices regarding prevention and intervention. Douillard applies the ayurvedic principle of seasonal eating in order to bolster the immune systems of his six children and clients. Cooling foods like fruits and vegetables in summer prevent overheating; warming foods like soups, nuts and meats in winter lubricate mucus membranes and facilitate fat and protein storage; light foods like leafy greens in spring detoxify the body. His experience is that when kids with robust immunity catch the occasional malady, its severity and duration are reduced, and natural herbs often provide a gentle fi rst step toward recovery.
Douillard treats colds with a spoonful of equal parts turmeric and honey mixed into a paste. “Turmeric is a powerful anti-infl ammatory and antiviral herb that also helps liquefy mucus in the respiratory tract,” he says. For tummy troubles, he suggests offering kids an herbal tea of cumin, coriander or fennel.
Above all, parents must exemplify good health habits. “Eat better, exercise regularly, change your diet with the local season and your kids will follow along,” says Douillard.
Impart green morals. Earth-conscious parents teach their children how to leave a faint ecological footprint by supporting local eco-friendly companies, reducing the presence of toxic chemicals in the home and consuming and wasting less. However, wagging a fi nger and imploring kids to be eco-friendly is not enough; model helpful behaviors and illustrate the implications of their choices. “Instead of saying, ‘You should recycle,’ show kids online pictures of the giant fl otillas of plastics polluting the oceans,” says Hewitt. Maintain an experiential dialogue about respecting, preserving and enjoying nature.
Encourage adventure and resourcefulness. “Historically,” says Hewitt, “children learned alongside their parents and community, immersed in their environment, an arrangement that allowed them continual opportunities to prove their own resourcefulness.” All dads, like homeschoolers, will fi nd satisfying fun in sharing problem-solving, hands-on projects with their kids, like building a debris shelter in the woods, planting a garden, or using repurposed materials to engineer something with form and function. Learning doesn’t have to be a hierarchical activity, wherein dads teach children, says Hewitt. “The opportunity to learn and explore together is powerful.”
Play. Hewitt encourages dads to look for opportunities to relieve kids of their often overwhelming and scattered schedules. “It’s incredibly important for kids and adults to set aside time for free play and exploration,” he says.
“Go outside with them,” says Douillard. “Make up games, goof off, run around, roll around and just be with them. It makes a world of difference in their lives.”
Lane Vail is a freelance writer in South Carolina and blogger at DiscoveringHomemaking.com.