By Christen A. Johnson
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) What is it like for moms in co-parenting relationships to help their child celebrate dad on Father’s Day? Columnist Christen Johnson takes a look.
When two parents separately manage the affairs of one child, or sometimes more, it presents challenges, typically ranging from not getting along with the ex-partner to feeling you’re handling the responsibilities of caring for the child by yourself.
One challenge could be figuring out the holidays, especially the ones like Father’s Day, when you’re supposed to celebrate the other parent.
So what’s it like for moms in co-parenting relationships to help their child celebrate dad on Father’s Day?
For Bianca Armstrong, 36, who’s been co-parenting with her ex for 15 years, it starts with “having an understanding” with both her 15-year-old daughter, Lynnette, and her daughter’s father.
“Lynnette likes to buy her dad things, so I tell her she has to earn the money because I’m not buying him anything,” she said. “I make her do a lot of chores. I always tell her it’s her responsibility to do for him and to care for him. I don’t give her any hints or anything. I just take her to go get it, whatever it should be.”
When it comes to the understanding with Lynnette’s father, Armstrong credits minimal, cut and dried communication and consistent weekend visits for their co-parenting success.
“He picks her up every weekend on Friday,” she said, “and when it comes to having conversations about what we need to do for Lynnette, we have a three-way text with all of us; whatever I say to him, we all get it. There’s no miscommunication. At times, his wife will be in the text, as well, so everyone has the information.”
Armstrong says she is not involved in any of the plans Lynnette and her dad’s family make for Father’s Day.
“They do a lot of stuff for Father’s Day,” said Armstrong, “but I have no idea what they do. We keep it on a need-to-know basis. I don’t attend any of their family functions. We keep our relationship that way because it works out for us and for them.”
While Armstrong may not cough up any cash for her ex’s Father’s Day present, she does honor the relationship he and Lynnette have.
“They’re like Frick and Frack,” she said. “It’s amazing. They have a very close relationship, and she thinks he’s, like, a god. When it comes to their Father’s Day, I won’t intervene with that; I try to make it as easy as possible for them.”
Cara Jacques, 51, who’s been co-parenting for over four years, can relate to this.
She says her 9-year-old son Christian “loves his dad to pieces” and that she helps him celebrate his dad on Father’s Day because “it’s the right thing to do.”
“He is Christian’s father, and he deserves to be recognized for the good things that he does for his son. I think he’s a good father to Christian, and Christian adores him, and he needs to know that.”
In the past, Jacques said that she and Christian have done simple things, like make a card. But, because she and Christian’s dad were in a relationship for 19 years, she says that she likes “to get something for him, because I know what he likes after all these years, and to have Christian give it to him when he sees him.”
While Jacques does help her son celebrate his dad on Father’s Day, that doesn’t mean her own feelings about her ex have disappeared.
“I put my feelings aside by incessantly saying the serenity prayer,” she half-joked. “It’s a reminder that my feelings don’t matter. Christian loves his father, and that’s all that matters.”
Karen Bonnell, author of “The Co-Parenting Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted and Resilient Kids From Little Ones to Young Adults Through Divorce or Separation” would agree that this is a parent’s best approach when helping a child celebrate Father’s Day.
“When parents have a child who they are sharing the responsibility for, they’re in that together until death do them part,” Bonnell explained. “You want to teach your children how to care about the people they love _ who you love doesn’t matter, that’s a separate issue.”
Bonnell says that no parent is obligated to do anything for an ex-partner, but the parent is obligated to help a child help his or her other parent.
“It has nothing to do with the parents and everything to do with the kids,” she said.
Below, Bonnell offers three tips for ex-partners to help their children celebrate the other parent.
Manage the kids’ co-parenting stress. “The hardest and most damaging thing for children is being alienated from a parent, and chronic and toxic conflict,” said Bonnell. “This happens when the child brings up their father, and the mom says, ‘Don’t bring that person up.’ Toxic conflict, for example, is when their dad comes to pick them up, and obscenities are yelled. That’s harmful for children. Skillful co-parents recognize that children have two parents for a reason, and we want them to feel safe and to be in a stress-free environment. Talk in constructive and civil terms about your co-parent, and solve problems together. The kids don’t deserve it.”
Control what you can. “You do the best you can. You can’t control how somebody else behaves, but you can role model positive and constructive behavior. If you stay on the high road, you can bring your best self to the equation. Those are the things you have 100 percent control over, so exercise your control where you have it, do that for your child. You’re not doing that for your co-parent; you’re doing that for your child.”
Start now. “Learning to be skillful and constructive co-parents is the most important gift that divorced or separated parents can give their children. It’s never too late. You might have had a crappy co-parenting relationship for the last 10 years, but you can fix it now. If you’re getting divorced, start out on the right foot.”