Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 15. A little Father’s Day trivia for you: Father’s Day was originally celebrated by Sonora Dodd to recognize her father, William Smart, for his efforts in raising six children alone after his wife died in childbirth. It was first celebrated on June 19, 1910. The month of June was selected by Sonora because it was her Father’s birth month. In 1972, President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day a national holiday for the United States. I wish that all honorees of Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day) were as noble and generous as William Smart. It takes a lot for a man or woman to raise six children on their own.
Despite that fact that I felt concern over his influence in their lives, I encouraged my daughters to maintain contact with their father, even when he ceased all attempts to maintain contact with them. I believe that it is very important for the custodial parent to acknowledge the noncustodial parent in the lives of the children – provided that acknowledgement and/or inclusion in their lives will not cause damage to the children physically or emotionally.
Now, if the divorce was amicable, this is not hard to achieve. However, if the divorce was strained or the issue is abandonment, drug or alcohol abuse, or physical/emotional abuse, then the effort to keep both parents in the lives of the children becomes much more difficult. Your children many not be old enough to see the situation as clearly as you, so they are going to ask questions and desire for contact or to express their feelings about Father’s Day, birthdays, etc., in some way. Refusing to allow expressions of these thoughts and ideas will only harm your children.
It is okay to discuss the absentee parent with your children. While it may be difficult to do, the custodial parent should refrain from negative comments about the absentee parent. Instead of saying, “Your mom/dad is a no-good druggie who doesn’t care about anything but their next fix,” you could try for, “You mom/dad loves you very much, but they have some problems they need to work out that keeps them from being a good parent right now.” All your child wants to know is that they are loved and that the changes in the family are not their fault.
As your child gets older, they will want more answers and more information will be relevant.
Honesty is essential when talking to your children about an absentee parent, but only when the truth itself is not damaging to the child. Trust me – your children will come to realize who their parents are in their own time and in their own way. It may hurt you tremendously to hear your child talk about the absentee parent as if they were a saint, but the time will come when they will see that parent for who they are. Allow them to find out in their own time and their own way; do not use your influence to speed the process. This will only be detrimental to you.
I overheard a conversation recently from a divorced mother in the building who said that she and her ex have an arrangement set up whereas they take the children shopping before each other’s birthdays, Father’s/Mother’s Day, Christmas and other important occasions so that the child can purchase a gift for the parent without them knowing or having to pay for it themselves. I admire them both for being able to maintain civility so as not to harm the children. I wish that more parents were capable of doing such. As is it, we need to learn how to make the best of our situations so that our children do not suffer. Their well-being is what is ultimately of the most importance.
Finally, I would like to offer a suggestion to the noncustodial parents – mothers and fathers – who might feel slighted on Father’s/Mother’s Day, birthdays or Christmas. Rather than mope or become angry because you don’t receive a phone call or a card, try calling your children yourself. Perhaps the wounds are too fresh for their custodial parent to suggest that the children do this on their own. Perhaps the children are afraid that it is their fault and you will be angry at them. Do not expect children to have the maturity of adults – their fears may be child-sized, but they come from adult doses of reality. What does it matter where the initial effort originates as long as you are celebrating the moment with your children? I promise you that they will truly appreciate your effort and you will wind up with a smile on your face. Who know – once they realize that they can celebrate with you without stress or fear, next year you may find that you don’t have the opportunity to call or suggest an outing because they have your day planned well in advance.
To all the father’s out there, whether your are your children’s custodial or noncustodial parent, I wish you a Happy Father’s Day. May you have a day that shows you the importance of your role in the lives of your children.