How to cope on Father’s Day with an absent dad.
Father’s Day – For single mums it’s like a dreaded national holiday where you’re the designated driver – long, full of people having fun without you, and overshadowed by a craving for excessive amounts of wine.
From my experience, there are two ways to handle Father’s day when your children have an absent dad. You can either choose to be open, honest and get through the day mindfully with your children, or to strategically ignore everything and hope to god it goes as smoothly as possible.
Regardless of your choice of tactic, here are some pointers to get through it all in one piece.
How to cope on Father’s day with an absent dad
Avoidance Crash Course
For younger children and families where separation wounds are still raw, staying home and investing in a Netflix membership might be the best option for everyone’s sanity. However, this is rarely an option for single working mums when Father’s Day school events fall on the same day the boss schedules the monthly meeting (every. bloody. year). But don’t stress, tactical avoidance isn’t as difficult as you might think!
Call in backup for a fatherless Fathers Day
When you can’t make it to school events, call for backup. Bestselling author and parent educator, Steve Biddulph, suggests reaching out to another male role model involved in your child’s life and asking them to step in. An Uncle, Grandpa, or even a family friend could help celebrate the day instead. If you have the option, ditching the morning completely (with the promise of an ice cream date), also works wonders!
Make a plan for Father’s Day
I remember that my first Father’s day post-divorce plan resembled a military-style itinerary in a desperate attempt to keep the kid’s as busy as possible. My theory was they wouldn’t have time to notice the father-child things happening all around them. Since then, I’ve discovered that organising something to keep them busy when their dad is absent doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to my sanity. A family picnic or a trip to the zoo can keep them occupied. Add in a craft activity and a pizza and you’ve successfully gotten through doomsday unscarred (theoretically!).
If you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance the thought of answering questions like “why isn’t dad here?” makes you want to run and hide in a parenting book (preferably located beneath the Atlantic). These types of questions are not only difficult for us but our children, too. Unfortunately, when we’re not prepared our responses might paint Dad more negatively than we intend. For this reason, writing down a set of ‘go-to’ answers before the day can protect our kids from unplanned Jerry Springer style responses.
For years I attempted to be completely prepared for Father’s day. The problem was at the end of the day, it still came up. It might have been a few weeks after, or during a particularly stressful school drop off morning, but it was always there. Because of this, I decided that ignoring Father’s day just wasn’t for us. Instead, I tried to guide my children through it the best that I could, aiming to be completely present and open to any questions their little hearts needed answers to.
Communicate about Father’s Day
If there’s one thing you need when tackling Father’s Day head on, it’s communication – and a lot of it! Chances are, you’re going to be hit with some pretty tricky questions that make dinner at the in-laws look like a holiday! You don’t need to be a pro to answer them, but you do need to be mindful of what is appropriate and what isn’t. As a general rule when answering questions be honest without adding personal criticism and focus on behaviour, not the person.
How to cope on Father’s Day with an absent dad (cont.)
The biggest problem with avoiding Father’s day is that it creates this scary, uncomfortable attachment to the day. Instead of helping your children avoid it as much as possible, try and talk openly about it. By reassuring them that it’s a normal part of life, you can help turn it into something definable (and less scary!).
Father’s day reassurance
Children tend to feel responsible for things that they shouldn’t, especially when it comes to their parent’s happiness. Having realistic, age appropriate conversations about why Dad isn’t there can be an opportunity for teaching and sharing intimacy. It also gives you a chance to validate their emotions. Let your child know their feelings are completely normal and that their father’s decision not to be there has absolutely nothing to do with who the child is. Using this process of validation and reassurance can help alleviate feelings of confusion and leave them feeling better understood.