After divorce, all holidays look and feel different. For dads, Father’s Day can be especially difficult (as Mother’s Day can be for moms). While most parenting agreements will place kids with their dad on Father’s Day, the experience will be different and may be difficult or even painful.
If you are a dad that will be spending your first Father’s Day with your kids post-divorce, here are some tips for making the day enjoyable for you and your children:
1. Be realistic
While it may be “your day,” make sure you plan your day keeping in mind the ages and personalities of your kids. If you have a three-year-old, he will still need a nap and regular snacks to avoid a meltdown. If you have a teenager, she may be irritable at spending time away from her friends. Also, understand that kids of any age may be sad at having a “family day” without the entire family. Try not to take the fluctuations in your kids’ moods personally and plan activities that will engage everyone. On that topic:
2. Be proactive
Don’t wait until the morning of Father’s Day to come up with a plan. Think about what you and your kids like to do and plan around that. In most years, Father’s Day means that dad plans the activities, but during the “firsts” of the post-divorce era is an adjustment for everyone, and your kids will need extra support. Try to find an activity that will engage your kids. It doesn’t have to be expensive; it just needs to be something you all like to do together. Every family is different, but the list is endless: make a craft, go on a bike ride, play a long board game that you never usually have enough time to play, go on a hike, bake something together, etc.
3. Be creative
Following a divorce, it can help families if they create new traditions. Keep the traditions you liked in the past, but get rid of ones that felt forced or that you just didn’t like. Maybe you always liked going to your favorite restaurant for brunch, so keep that tradition going. If you hated the family soccer match, skip it.
4. Be understanding
Perhaps your ex was in charge of getting your Father’s Day cards and gifts in the past. Hopefully, you and your co-parent are on cordial terms and try to take care of these things for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but it is also possible these things can either fall through the cracks or be a way to act out some anger between ex-spouses. Recognize that the day probably won’t be perfect, and be OK with that.
If you are not able to be with your kids this year, be proactive with that as well. Think about how you would like to spend the day. Can you talk to them on the phone or via Skype? Can you schedule another day and call it “Father’s Day do-over”? Can you spend time with your own father? Is there an activity that might distract you? Consider getting together with friends who are in a similar boat because of divorce or empty-nesting or friends who don’t have kids.
Whatever you do, don’t put your kids in the middle of it. If they can’t be with you on Father’s Day, don’t make them feel guilty about it. Kids during a divorce often feel a lot of pressure to take a side or cheer a parent up. This takes a toll on kids over time.
Father’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate your role as a dad and enjoy your relationship with your children. This relationship endures even after a divorce, and Father’s Day is a chance to remind your kids (and yourself) that you will always love each other. Come to think of it, that shouldn’t be limited to just one day a year!