Honor Thy Father
How do you celebrate traditional milestones such as Father’s Day in the midst of a high-conflict divorce process when your children are angry or separated from you? Although I can recall a long list of days that have been challenging in my life, one of the most difficult things I had to do was support my children in honoring their father while I was in the midst of my divorce.
During the early stages of my divorce, I remember taking my children to the mall to select their cards and I had to keep repeating the mantra “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids.”
Fast forward nine years later and I now have to counsel many clients on how to put aside their anger and support their children in loving their other parent in the face of anger, hurt, and sadness.
The irony was not lost on me that this is exactly what my mother did when she would “force” me to buy a Father’s Day card or a Christmas Day card even when I was angry at them both. When I would protest, she would tell me “No matter what is going on between me and your Dad – He is still your father.” I truly did not appreciate how precious a gift my mother gave to me until I was standing in the store with my children and repeating the same line to them. I had to smile at that memory.
What a lot of parents do not realize is that the guilt and avoidance that young children experience during the divorce process can have far-reaching and far-lasting consequences in their relationships with both parents, in their future romantic relationships, and how they will co-parent in the event of a divorce. It is painful for children to choose between parents but in order to avoid conflict, even if you want to celebrate your father, it is sometimes just far easier to pretend that you only want to be with your mother. The loyalty conflict is real, so it is important to understand that when you support your child in honoring their other parent, you are actually reducing their stress during this painful process.
One of the most powerful behaviors we can model for our children as they navigate the divorce journey is the ability to love, even in the face of anger or hurt. Doing the anger dance on a traditional day of paternal celebration does not help your children learn to say ‘I love you Dad – no matter what.” It only teaches them to say, “When I am angry with you Dad I cannot love and honor you and I will do everything to hurt you.”
For those Dads who are dealing with parental alienation or avoidance from their children, here are just a few tips to make it through this Father’s Day and other holidays:
Minimize the Material – Remove the power of the card, gift, a meal or parenting time to define how your child or young adult expresses their love to you. For younger children who may not have any of their own resources but want to give you something, make sure that they know a poem, a picture, or just a walk in the park together at any time is something you will cherish more than a brunch or a gift from the mall on Father's Day.
Create New Rituals – One day does not define you as a parent or a father and if you are experiencing a high-conflict divorce, you will need to manage your expectations. It is important to make the most of all opportunities to access your children. If there is a new tradition you can create, or a way you can find peace in a special experience that brought you joy recently, focus on that. If you are finding it too difficult to manage the hurt, anger, and rejection, you may want to consider seeing a therapist for emotional support as you navigate your divorce.
Don’t Compete - Connect – In this day of social media, you can feel disappointed if you have children who are not posting tributes to you on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat to acknowledge how amazing and grateful they are to have you as their Dad. Relationships are daily work and when parenting time is cut in half you will have to work even harder during the time you do have. Reach out to them often and let them know what they mean to you. Remember, it is not about who makes the call or publishes a post – it is always about the connection. Don’t give up and walk away in frustration. Someone has to be the adult and if your spouse or ex is not supportive you can show your children that they have at least one healthy loving parent.
Surround Yourself With Love – Rejection always offers the opportunity to love oneself even more. Do something physical, cultural, spiritual that replenishes your well and nurtures your spirit. Volunteer, play a round of golf, get a massage, or spend time with friends and family. You are more than a provider, an employee, and a Dad. You are a human being who needs love as well. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. When your children see you taking care of yourself you are modeling the greatest gift of all, self-love.
Happy Father’s Day!
If you are contemplating divorce, struggling with a high-conflict divorce procedure, or need help during life transitions let Tamara Harris, CEO of Tamara Harris LLC, be your partner as you navigate through each stage of your journey. As an impartial, experienced professional, Tamara will work directly with you to give you the best tools and strategies to manage the specific challenges and uncertainties. Serving as your advocate, she will help you see clearly during this time where emotions can often impede and derail your divorce procedure.