Father's Day--A Guide for Single Mothers

Father's Day--A Guide for Single Mothers

Yes, its Father's Day once again.

But what if you're a Single Mom and Dad is not in your child's life?
Or Dad is just not taking enough parental responsibility?

How do you get through Father's Day?
And how do you help your child get through Father's Day?

Your child could be 4 or 40 but no matter what their age, they may still need your maternal guidance and support on this holiday celebrating paternal love.

Let's look at some of the issues that some single mothers may encounter when going through Father's Day with or without their mutual child.


Do kid's with 2 mom's suffer because there is no 'male' in the home? Research doesn't support this notion.
Does every single mother have problems because it's Father's Day? Absolutely not.
This article is simply available to those mom's who are struggling or have kids who are struggling with Father's Day.

Wanting to Protect Your Child:

If you are living with your child and they are spending Father's Day with you, there may be multiple thoughts and feelings:

  • My child should not be sad today.
  • My child should not have any positive fantasies about their father, the deadbeat.
  • My child should understand that I am their primary provider--it is I who should be honored today for being both mother and father.
  • My child must not suffer or feel bad about themselves.
  • My child must not be exposed to messages about Father's Day.
  • My child must not be angry at their father.

When A Father Has Died:

If your child's father has died, you have the added burden of explaining the essential unfairness of life to your child and hoping they can learn to accept this truth.

Dealing With Being a Single Mom on Father's Day:

You may also have thoughts about yourself and your own situation on Father's Day:

  • He shouldn't have left me with this responsibility.
  • He shouldn't get to have such a free life while I take on the majority of child-rearing tasks.
  • He shouldn't be such a deadbeat dad
  • He should have been a better mate.
  • The world shouldn't have been so unfair to me, leaving me as a single mother with my children.
  • I should be a better mother, I shouldn't have picked such a terrible man with which to have my children.

Dealing with the 'Sometimes Dad'

But what if dad IS in your child's life--sometimes? What if he isn't really carrying his weight, contributing fairly or doing the day to day work of parenting?  And what if dad DOES show up for Father's Day and whisks the kids away for a special Father's Day?

Where does this leave you on that 'special day' in June?
You may be lost in different kinds of thoughts such as:

  • Why do my kids want to spend time with him when I do the majority of the child rearing?
  • Why does this deadbeat get to enjoy his children without taking his responsibilities seriously?
  • My kids should know how much more I do for them and how little he does for them.
  • My kids should know how cruel, evil, terrible their father has been to me.
  • My kids should not like their father more than they like me since I'm the one who cares more.

Additionally, you may do the 'double-shaming' of getting angry or upset with yourself for being angry or upset, commanding yourself with thoughts like "You shouldn't be so upset" and "You shouldn't be thinking irrationally."

In my daily work as a licensed psychotherapist, I work with both married, separated and divorced couples as well as separated domestic partners. I work with straight, gay and open relationship unions.

After a relationship with children divorces or terminates, there is often residue. After all, we are talking about two people who, at one time, believed they would spend a lifetime together and only separate upon one or the other's death in old age.

And yet, here they are dreams crushed, hopes for the relationship dashed--whether through infidelity, abuse, neglect or simply having grown apart.  And yet...and yet...they cannot completely separate because they now share a lifelong passion project together--the raising of their progeny, their offspring, their children.

And whether through reasoned discussion and informal agreement or after long, drawn out, acrimonious divorce proceedings they come to an understanding, ideally they work together for the future welfare of their children.

When Dad Doesnt' Come Through:

But...sometimes life doesn't go as planned.
Perhaps dad's priorities have shifted, or perhaps dad never had his priorities in the right place, to begin with.  Either way, dad isn't pulling his weight, he's not keeping to the terms of the agreement.

Or dad is keeping to the terms of the agreement but mom still is holding resentments for the way dad behaved during the marriage--whether it's profligate spending, carousing with the boys, illicit affairs or just simple romantic neglect--mom cannot let go of the wrongs he has committed.

Or worse still, dad was emotionally or physically abusive towards mom and never made amends for his bad behavior. In fact, he still has difficulty managing his anger towards mom and cannot have a civil conversation with her.

As a witness to multiple scenarios in which one person indeed carries the heavier load, I want to validate that yes, often you do deal with the father's bad behavior, and that life is not being fair to you or your child.

So Mom, how do you cope?

Here's how:

You start by listing all of the commands, demands, shoulds, musts, ought-to's, got-to's need-to's, and the awfuls, terribles, unacceptables type thoughts going through your brain.
I've listed many of them above but you may have a few originals of your own.

Here's the thing--by identifying and WRITING DOWN your command, demands, shoulds and musts you can begin to see some of the thoughts that make you angry, sad, depressed, scared and just feeling plain rotten about life.

Once you have identified these thoughts, it's important to take a breath and then start to ask a very elemental question about each and every one of these thoughts.

The question you are better off asking is 'WHY?'

As in:
Why must he be less of a deadbeat than he is?
Why must my child not feel sad?
Why must life have been fairer to me?
Why should I have never married that man?

The Difference Between Preferences and Command-like Demands:

Note--we are not asking the question 'would it have been better if he wasn't a deadbeat?'
We are not asking 'wouldn't it be better if my child wasn't sad today?'

No, we are asking why these things MUST be changed, why these situations are MANDATED and COMMANDED to be different than they actually are.

Of course, the rational response to this query would be that in fact 'nothing is mandated, nothing is commanded, nothing is required. In fact, my ex has the freedom (within the limits of the law) to behave very poorly. My child, while I wish they were happy, has the freedom to feel sad today. My life, which may, in fact, be unfair right now is actually the way it is right now. I can work towards changing it but the fact is, yes, it's unfair. So what? Life is often unfair. The sooner I get used to that, the more likely it is that I will take action to change it or find a way to live with the imbalance.

So you see that the way to minimize your suffering as a single parent is to find the rational response to irrational mental/emotional demands.
Our brain makes constant irrational demands and commands. It makes these dictator-like mandates because it believes that by commanding things to be different, it will help us to survive.

But thoughts are essentially untested theories about reality.
Certainly, you've had a situation where someone didn't call or text you when you believed they should. Do you remember how your mind created theories/thoughts about the reason people didn't call you? And then later you found out your thoughts were misguided, distorted?

In the same way, we have both rational and irrational thoughts competing for our attention. When we listen to the irrational thoughts, terrible upset feelings follow. Because irrational thoughts are untested theories about how life SHOULD be, how people OUGHT TO behave and how I MUST be different than I am.

Rating the Self and Rating Others:

These command thoughts are also often tied to self-rating and another rating. When we rate ourselves we are essentially saying "I will love and accept myself only when I do certain things. I will accept other people only when they do or say certain things." As a result, we put ourselves on a Validation see-saw, regularly swinging up and down in our assessment of our own value. This feels great when you go up on the see-saw--you have done your list of to-dos and you say to yourself "wow, I'm really a great human being!"  But woe unto her who hits the downswing on the see saw. That woman will then tell herself "I didnt do what I wanted to do, I didnt achieve what I wanted to achieve and therefore I am a lowly, low rated worm. I dont deserve to exist, let alone be accepted."

Rational thoughts, on the other hand, present who I am, how others and the world are, and look for ways to either change these situations or adapt to them based on realistic assessment of probabilities.
So a Rational thought might be "I wish the kids knew how badly their father mistreated me but I can live with them not knowing until they are older. They dont have to hate their father and they dont have to show me the appreciation I think I deserve. I would like it very much and I can remind them of the things I do for them but I cannot control their thoughts and emotions.

So once you have made a counterargument for your musts and shoulds, your commands and demands, your 'its awful' and 'its terrible', you are ready to come up with a more realistic, rational, logical thought that is adaptive and flexible.

"I wish I hadnt married him, but I did marry him so there's no rewriting history. I'll have to accept myself with all my poor choices and move on."

If you have identified the thoughts that lead you to upset, usually irrational and illogical demands) and you have made a strong counterargument and effective new rational statements, you will most likely feel a significant reduction in the feelings of upset and be able to rationally come up with goals for change and thoughts of self acceptance and other-acceptance.

Once you have established USA--Unconditional Self Acceptance--its time to get to work on what you CAN DO, what you can affect, what you can change.

Here are a few things you can do for your child on Fathers day

1. Make sure that your child's school is inclusive in it's Father's Day messaging.
Talk to your child's teacher and identify if they are mandating any kind of Father's Day arts and crafts or homemade greeting cards. Offer them an alternative message for kids who arent able to celebrate Father's Day, such as Friends of Mom's Day or "Parents Day."

2. How about a Friends Of Mom's Day at home?
Invite a male friend who can spend the day with you and your child in various fun activities.

3. Grandfather's and Uncles Day:
If Grandfather or Uncles are around, why not bring the child and these warm-blooded males together for a special day?

4. Favorite Male Teacher's Day:

Why not help your child create a card honoring his favorite male teacher and expressing gratitude for his guidance?

5. Allow for Expression of Thoughts and Feelings.

 Don't insist that your child 'get over it' or 'move on' from their emotional reactions. Do provide supportive reflection, which is simply restating their thoughts or feelings in a compassionate way.

Wishing you all a warm and wonderful 'Parent's Day!"

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© 2018 Ross Grossman, MA, LMFT
Affinity Therapy Services