Dear Divorce Coach,
With Father’s Day approaching, I’m struggling to maintain a positive attitude about it with my kids. Our divorce was hard and he isn’t a very good dad either. I don’t want to encourage the kids to connect with him, but I think I’m supposed to do that, right?
First, I’m really glad you are honest about your emotions and the way you are struggling during this week leading up to Father’s Day. You are absolutely entitled to your feelings about it and about him. If you work with a therapist, this is a good time to explore how the feelings about your children’s dad may be connected to any of your own childhood wounds around your own dad too. It may help.
On a more practical level, it’s important to separate what you may feel and what your children feel and what they can and should do for their dad. First, depending upon the ages of your children, it may be necessary to help them coordinate what they want to do with and for their dad on Father’s Day. It doesn’t mean you have to make it a big deal. If they are 10 and younger, helping them with materials to make a card is simple and enough. If they are older, you can play the role of consultant and ask them what they think they would like to do for their dad. If they need help getting to the store to get a card or small gift, you can make sure that happens.
It isn’t your job to either make sure your children have a relationship with their dad. That’s up to him. It is your job not to get in the way of it either. So, even though your feelings about his parenting are negative, even if justified, you don’t need to share it with them around Father’s Day. Just stay neutral and be a touchstone if they need your help with the holiday.
As children grow, they will notice the role of their parents in their lives. If your children start to notice dad doesn’t show up or attend to them in a supportive way, you can make sure they have an objective third party, like a therapist, to listen and help them process that. As you are a part of the family system, it’s trickier for you to do so. You can listen, of course, and give neutral supportive advice like, “That sounds hard,” or “I’m glad you feel comfortable sharing your feelings about that,” without disparaging dad. If they need more help, therapy can help children and teens learn what is their responsibility in a relationship with a parent and what isn’t. It can be valuable to have this support as they navigate young adulthood and their own intimate relationships too.
In sum, feel your feelings, mom! Make sure you have support to process those feelings and don’t share them with your kids. Be a consultant to your kids to help them prepare if they will see dad but allow them to lead the way. If they express displeasure about dad, listen to them and make sure they have objective support to process their feelings too. It’s not unusual for kids to have negative feelings about each parent at various times in their childhood and teen years and teaching them to work through those feelings and not turning them into manipulative behaviors with you or dad is important too. Take very good care of yourself. Make sure you are living your life in line with values you set for yourself and your children and you will be on the path to success. If you need tools to help with this, I’m right here!
– Cherie Morris