What’s My Role? Helping your Kids Manage Father’s Day After a Divorce

Even though the divorce separates you from your spouse legally, your children are still a part of both of your lives. This often leaves ex-spouses in uncertain territory as to how to navigate special days that they used to orchestrate for their ex. Holidays such as Mother’s Day/Father’s Day and birthdays can be difficult because they are a special day for your ex and it’s tricky to know how to manage that with your children. With Father’s Day fast approaching, I wanted to take the opportunity to address how divorced mothers can feel confident in their role on this day.

If the divorce was contentious or you experienced betrayal, you may feel like your ex does not deserve any type of celebration. This is even further compounded if your ex is making parenting choices throughout the year that often do not put the children as first priority. The thought of helping plan a celebration for fatherhood can almost be too much to stomach in some cases.

In other situations, the divorce may be amicable and result in a friendly relationship with your ex. This may still leave a divorced mom with ambivalence as to how much she should play a part in Father’s Day celebrations. Perhaps there is a new wife and you are worried about stepping on her toes. Maybe you are worried about sending mixed signals to your ex. Whatever the reason, days like Father’s Day, birthdays, and other holidays can be difficult to know your role.

The first step is to take yourself out of the equation, at least emotionally. This is no longer about you celebrating that person, but your children showing their love. If you can see yourself as the vehicle that helps your children fulfill their wishes for their dad on this day, it takes a lot of the questioning out of it. It’s ok to ask your kids how they want to honor their father on Father’s Day. It does not have to be a lavish ordeal, but they may want to make a card or make a special treat for him. As children, they often need physical help completing these tasks. By being open to doing so, you are showing them that you support their ideas and their relationship with the other parent.

This also shows your children that you are open to helping them with anything they are struggling with, including matters that regard the other parent. It gives your children reassurance that you want them to be happy and not feel stuck in the middle of an adult situation. Your children love you both, regardless how you feel about your ex. Helping them express their love to the other parent is more about helping your children feel happy and loved, not your ex.

Open conversations with your ex, and possibly his new wife, might be uncomfortable, but will help the kids feel more at ease. You may also have plans with your own family that you would like the children to be a part of. Remember, you two are the adults and are in charge of the schedule. If the kids feel torn between the wishes of the two parents, especially on holidays, they will often retreat and not want to participate in any of the planned activities.

Of course there are always special circumstances where this idyllic image of the children wanting to celebrate with their father on Father’s Day is not the case. Maybe the relationship is strained and children do not want to see him on this day. Maybe he is not around to celebrate with the kids. These real feelings can also be honored with an open conversation with your kids. They may feel guilty for not wanting to be a part of Father’s Day. They may also feel left out if their father is not around on this day. Asking your kids how you can help them is the best way to meet their needs. I have started to do this with my own children after my ex’s death. Last year was their first Father’s Day after he died. I asked them how they were feeling about the approaching day and how they wanted to handle the day when it arrived. They were all in agreement that they wanted to change it to Family Day and just do fun things together as a family. Other children in a similar situation may want to do something to memorialize them or honor them in some way. Either way is fine and it is important for the kids to know that you will support and help them see their vision through.

In the end, these holidays are not about you making your ex feel special. They are about you showing your kids that their feelings are valid and it’s ok to show their true feelings. Your support and assistance shows them that they have your permission to express all of their emotions openly. It give them a sense of unity and reassurance that their family isn’t broken, it just may look a little different.