The phone rang late on a Saturday night in June. I could tell from the number on the caller ID that it was my friend Scott. "Tomorrow is Father's Day and I will only get my kids for two hours. This is my first Father's Day since Jill and the kids left. I already feel terrible about being divorced and having failed as a husband and father; how am I going to manage tomorrow? And what am I going to say to the kids?"
Whatever the reason for a divorce, Father's Day for a divorced dad elicits all kinds of feelings and reactions. But these feelings are even tougher for a divorced dad who is a non-custodial dad or one who shares custody with his kids' mom. Not living with the kids full-time is hard enough, but having to deal with all the issues around Father's Day just adds insult to injury.
So, depending on your circumstances this Father's Day, here are a few tips for surviving and maybe even actually finding some peace and joy this Father's Day.
If You Won't See Your Kids
Perhaps you no longer live close enough to spend Father's Day with your kids, or maybe there is a legal boundary with the kids you can't cross. Whatever the reason, a father spending Faher's Day alone is fraught with challenge. Consider these ideas:
- Prepare mentally. A big part of being alone on Father's Day and surviving has to do with preparation. Consider in advance the thoughts and feelings you will have and prepare an escape route from the worst of those feelings. Plan a full day of activities. Granted, most of your male friends will have time commitments all day, so you might consider going on a hike, taking a long drive, going to the gym, or watch a favorite movie marathon. Having something lined up to do will be important in your preparation.
- Call or Skype the kids. Even if you can't be there, set up a time in advance to call or video conference with your children. Plan the call or video experience so you have things to say and do together. We have learned with our children who live away from home that you can even play games over Skype. Plan a story to tell them and have a list of questions to ask each of the children. They will appreciate your special interest in them and in their issues.
- Write a Father's Day letter to your children. Unless you are prevented by legal restriction, sit down on Father's Day and write a long letter or email to your children. Tell them how much you love them and about your best memories with them. Talk about your hopes for the future for them and how committed you are to your relationship with them. Even though you can't be together, you can still share your feelings with them. Write to each child individually so that they feel your love for them one at a time.
- Journal or blog about it. Writing about your feelings and experiences can be therapeutic and can help you verbalize your feelings. If you blog about it or post on Facebook, your experiences can help other dads who are having a similar Father's Day experience. It is really quite amazing how liberating it can be to share your feelings and experiences with others. Be sure to share not only the negatives about the day but also about what you did to make it through the difficulty.
If You Will See Your Kids Part of the Day
Most divorced dads will have at least a couple of hours with the kids on Father's Day. So if you have a limited time with them on Father's Day, consider the following ideas:
- Have a plan for the day. Plan for the time with the children as well as for the time without them. For the time with the children, plan activities that will allow you maximum interaction time to make the most of the limited time you have. Don't just sit down in front of the television or go to a movie. Plan to cook together, play a board game, go for a walk or a hike, or do some service together. For the time you are not with the kids, plan some things to do on your own that are productive. Exercise, journaling, or sharing a meal with other divorced dads or single guys may be good outlets for the time alone.
- Celebrate your father. If you can only have your kids for a few hours, think about using the extra time to reach out to your own father or other men who have been father figures in your life. Making a call, sending a card, writing a blog post or sharing favorite memories can really help your father or father surrogate feel loved and appreciated.
If You Will Have the Kids All Day
If you are one of the lucky divorced dads and will have your kids with you all of Father's Day, these ideas will help you enjoy the day even more.
- Plan your work and work your plan. It is a great opportunity to enjoy Father's Day with your children and you need to do a little advance planning to make sure that you get the most out of the opportunity. Know the kids' schedules so you can plan around naps, bedtimes, mealtimes, etc. Think about the day in context and plan activities to keep you and them busy. Think about some fun things like cooking a meal together, playing some games, or taking a walk outside if the weather allows. Make sure and pick them up on time and drop them off on time if they are not sleeping over.
- Do something creative. Kids love crafts and there are tons of Father's Day craft ideas out there. Get around the kitchen table with paper, scissors, glue and other supplies and tackle a creative project. They can make something for you that you can keep at your place, or you may make something to send home with them to remember your Father's Day together.
- Take lots of pictures. Bring your camera with you for your Father's Day activities and take a bunch of pictures. Then print them up and get them to the kids or load them onto their cell phones so they can have a good memory of the day together.
Whatever your situation if you are divorced on Father's Day, it can take an emotional and mental toll. These ideas will help you make the best of a tough situation on Father's Day and help create some positive memories with you and your children.