You know what’s great about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? It’s that we can choose if we want to acknowledge these days, we can decide what to call them, and we can celebrate them however the heck we want. Celebrating the whole institution of parenthood should be much more than two Sundays a year, right?
We all have different family experiences and relationships with our partners, former partners, and parents. Celebrating these days can be difficult if our experience doesn’t exactly fit the cultural expectations.
I was used to celebrating Father’s Day as a family—brunch with my husband and two kids followed by a family hike or swim. But now my children’s father and I divorced—so what happens now? It can be painful to see families together on these days if you’re alone. Going through a separation or divorce or experiencing a death can bring a big identity shift, and these celebration days can sometimes be a painful reminder.
For me, celebrating Mother’s day as a single person was a new experience. There was no sleeping in, receiving flowers, or sneaking off to a yoga class like years in the past. My kids woke up at 6:30 a.m. ready to “help” make pancakes. We did hop back in bed to eat them and cuddle. It was a great day—sticky bed sheets and all—but it was a pretty normal Sunday of cleaning and bike riding (I’ll be honest, I put on a movie so I could read in bed alone.)
Celebrating Father’s Day After Divorce
When my kids go with their dad this Father’s Day, I plan to shed the typical mom guilt and congratulate myself on filling many parental roles throughout the year (and I hope you do too). If you’re getting some alone time this Father’s Day, I hope you’ll be celebrating all the ways you and your children bond.
I’m using this Father’s Day alone to replenish myself and my tired bones (maybe the bags under my eyes will even fade a little). As my children’s backpack carrier, stroller pusher, jungle gym, repair person, and bike mechanic, my body gets tired (can you relate?). And I’m going to do some of my favorite things: read in the bath, sleep in, and maybe even treat myself to a little at-home spa day.
I also feel incredibly grateful my kids have a father who adores them. I’ll be encouraging them to celebrate him and their special relationship, too. Every family’s situation is different and there were probably days I would’ve been reluctant about celebrating him, but fostering an environment where our kids can look forward to this day with their dad is valuable for us all.
What to Do When the Parenting Holidays Are Hard
If your children’s father is not involved, acknowledging this day is still important for your kids. Your child’s idea of their father forms part of their identity, so this day can be an opportunity to talk about their dad. It can be a time to share things they love about their dad or who they imagine he might be. You and your children can think the best of him and write a card or picture. You never have to send it, but the act can be healing for the whole family.
Regardless of who your child’s father is—even if he’s a sperm donor—they can be acknowledged. A friend celebrates her son’s sperm donor father by talking about all the qualities they imagine he might have. Her son thinks he is “generous, loves basketball and popsicles and probably has big feet,” just like he does.
A friend celebrates her son’s sperm donor father, by talking about all the qualities they imagine he might have. Her son thinks he is ‘generous, loves basketball and popsicles and probably has big feet’ just like he does.
Amy, a friend who is sole-parenting, celebrates the father figures in her daughter’s life: a beloved uncle and her grandpa who all happen to live on the same block. She also has a text exchange with another sole single parent to celebrate these days.
Regardless of your parenting status, it can be meaningful to reach out and celebrate the single/sole/coparenting friends in your circle. These days can feel isolating and painful, especially if a divorce or death has been recent. Acknowledging the many strengths in your community of single parents on these holidays can be very connecting. If you know a co-parenting or single parent, I encourage you to send them a text, buy them a coffee, or even just send a gif to celebrate them on these parenting holidays.
This article was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated for timeliness.