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Celebrating Father’s Day as a Single Mom

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Kids need to know that fatherhood is important -- no matter how tempting it is to ignore the holiday completely

Dear Katrina,

I’m a single mom and I hate Father’s Day. It’s a painful reminder that my son’s father hasn’t had anything to do with him since he was three. He’s eleven now. It’s awkward at Mass when dads are given special recognition and I can see the pain in my boy’s face. It’s hard to not get mad or bitter. I  know you’re a single mom too, so how do you cope with the holiday? Do you celebrate Father’s Day?

Jessica

Dear Jessica,

Yes, I celebrate Father’s Day and so should you. Your son needs to know that fatherhood is important. Dismissing the holiday sends the opposite message. I know it’s hard not to get angry and bitter. Believe me, I know. But those emotions and feelings are toxic for your child. Below are three tips on how to appropriately handle the day, a kind of single mom’s guide for Father’s Day.  

1- Don’t be bitter.

Even if you feel your bitterness is justified and caused by circumstances that may have been out of your control, you have to stop and consider what message that bitterness is sending to your children, especially if you have sons.

Children internalize everything. When you speak ill of another parent in front of them they perceive it as an insult aimed at them. After all they are their father’s child.

All bitterness begets is making man-hating feminists out of our daughters, and sons who think being a father can be replaced by a mother, or who feel useless because their own mothers deemed fatherhood useless.

Bitterness perpetuates the cycle of abandonment.

2- Don’t ignore Father’s Day completely.

It’s OK to talk about it and celebrate Father’s Day whether the father of your child is going to be around or not — even if you don’t think your child’s father is a good one or deserves an ounce of recognition.

Father’s Day is important because fatherhood and fathers matter. When you ignore the holiday it sends an unspoken message to your children that none of that is true.

Also, ignoring Father’s Day and avoiding the topic of conversation with your children doesn’t mask his absence, anymore than ignoring a disease around a person who is ill makes them forget they’re sick.

Your child won’t forget daddy’s not around simply because you’ve elected not to talk about him. If anything, the silence punctuates the void.

Fill that absence with positive remarks about your child’s father. There has to be something good you can find to say. It doesn’t have been detailed. Say he had a nice smile and a jovial sense of humor. Say he was handsome. Whatever. I mean, you were attracted to something about him at some time.

I’ve seen this scenario so many times — a woman hurting from abandonment, bitter by her burden, will cut his face out of photos and remove all evidence of his existence from her life. This isn’t a healthy reaction even if you didn’t have children with the man whose memory you hope to wipe from your mind, and it’s certainly not a healthy one to have in front of your kids.

Your child is going to be a constant reminder of that broken relationship, so those feelings need to be dealt with. Also, your child deserves to have some connection to his father. Even a distant, remote connection is better than none. Let them have pictures of their father. Encourage discussion, but also encourage prayer.

Always pray. Teach your child simple prayers early on and encourage them to pray for their fathers; living, dead, or absent.

3- Celebrate Fatherhood.

As there is biological fatherhood, there is also spiritual fatherhood and mentoring. Recognize and celebrate those relationships in your child’s life.

Grandfathers, uncles, older male role models in the family, male teachers, Scout leaders, coaches, and your parish priest all deserve some recognition if they’ve taken on the role of mentor to your child.

If your child doesn’t have any of these male influences in his or her life it is imperative you go out right now and work on cultivating them. Especially if you have a son.

You’re just going to have to face the fact that you will not be able to fully teach and illustrate manhood to your sons because you lack that unique male perspective. It’s not admitting defeat or failure to recognize deficiencies in areas of our parenting and then seek outside help.

And just as boys need a male influence, girls too need to learn that not all men leave and that some men are strong and loyal and love the women in their lives.

I know the temptation is great to bash men this time of year because the hurt is so profound. Believe me, I understand completely. However, part of being a responsible grown-up and parent is learning to deal with life’s hardships. You don’t want your children to grow up believing there is no value in fatherhood, do you? Or to teach them to be chronic victims of their circumstance and perpetuate a generational cycle of abandonment?

Of course not.

Let’s put away our anger and hurt and resolve to teach by example and celebrate the important role of fatherhood.

 

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