I’m sure you never imagined being a single dad. When you fantasized about becoming a father, your hopes and dreams reflected having an cohesive family unit and being in your child’s life full time.
Coming to terms with the loss of what you thought you would have is an ongoing process, but it can be particularly challenging when holidays come around, including Father’s Day.
As a father you take a lot of pride and integrity in your relationship with your children. Your main priority is to be the best possible dad you can be, but the circumstances of divorce can make this difficult or even impossible.
Difficult exes, unfair custody arrangements, and other circumstances that are beyond your control can get in the way of the quantity and quality of your relationship with your children. Everything has to be redefined when it comes to divorce, including your parental role and experience.
You need to remember that you are not alone in your struggles as a single dad on Father’s Day, and that there are many other men who share your obstacles and issues.
Here are five common issues that many dads experience on Father’s Day, and how to approach them:
- Not being with your kids on the holiday: This is more common than you might believe; many dads won’t see their child on Father’s Day. This is a sad reality, but in these moments it can help to go inward to find resolution. Reflecting on the positive aspects of your parenting experience, and not getting caught up in the unfairness of your circumstances, will alleviate some of the suffering. Remember that physically being with your kids is only one part of being a good parent. They internalize you and carry you in their heart even when you aren’t present. Trusting this will help you move away from a feeling of distance, and allow you to connect to them through heart and spirit.
- Not knowing what to do with them: Being alone with your kids for an extended period can be overwhelming, particularly if you aren’t used to being the primary caregiver. Remembering that children appreciate quality over quantity may help you focus how to spend the time. They simply want to be with you and have your attention. Your kids want to know that you love them deeply, and they want to know you are happy. They enjoy treating you as special and celebrating the love you share. Choose something quiet and special to do together, like a marathon board-game tournament, or spend the day at the beach sharing a picnic and some sand-castle making.
- Feeling guilty about the circumstances: There will probably be moments when you feel sad or regretful about what your divorce has done to your kids. Be mindful about projecting your guilt and remorse onto them. What you imagine they feel might not be accurate; it could be a reflection of your own internal struggles about your divorce. Father’s Day can be a trigger for negative thinking because it reminds you of what you thought you would have as a dad. The truth is that you probably wouldn’t be doing anything that different if you were still married. It’s the idea of what could have been that will get you down.
- Keeping it together for them when you are hurting: If you are newly separated and this is your first Father’s Day as a single dad, you might feel fragile and emotionally overwhelmed. Be realistic about your situation, and don’t over-plan or feel obligated to do too much. You are still healing, and you will be sensitive for quite some time when it comes to your children. If you do get teary or feel like you are going to fall apart, it’s not the end of the world. Your children will learn and grow from your grief. They will be empathic and see that you have feelings and get sad too. This can deepen intimacy, and it can give them permission to share their feelings as well.
- Grieving or missing your own father on the holiday: Being a father will remind you of your own father, and this holiday can bring up feelings about him. Your memories may be sad or bittersweet, but either way, use what you are feeling to grow, learn, and become an even better father. Share your thoughts and feelings with your kids (if age appropriate). They will love to hear the stories about you and your dad. This is a beautiful generational opportunity to connect the dots, and for your kids to get to know you more deeply.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD, BCHN, therapist in Pasadena, California
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