11 Jun When Your Child Can’t Be With Dad on Father’s Day
For many families, Father’s Day is a day to look forward to: a day when kids can celebrate Dad through gifts, fun activities and lots of hugs. However, for kids who don’t have a dad at home on this day, whether due to Dad traveling for work, parental separation, or not having a father at all, Father’s Day can be a difficult time, bringing up unwanted feelings of sadness and loneliness. Here are some tips for helping your child to navigate this tough time, and celebrate the day in way that highlights the uniqueness of your family situation.
When Dad Can’t be There for Father’s Day
There are a myriad of reasons why Dad may not be present for Father’s Day. Some live in another state, some travel for work, some are away serving the country. Unfortunately, it’s just not always possible for parents to be with their children for every holiday. If this is the case with your family, try to create an alternate way to celebrate Father’s Day.
Make a ‘Virtual’ Gift
Encourage your child to create a poem, song, or a drawing for Dad. Help them to prepare the gift ahead of time, using fun art supplies and a sense of humor. Then plan a time for FaceTime with Dad on the big day. Keep the gift a surprise from Dad until the big moment. For dads who are out of the country, the cell phone app ‘Whatsapp’ allows your family to connect for free (just be mindful of the time change).
Celebrate Another Day
If Dad is out of town just for the day, plan to celebrate a few days before or after Father’s Day. Take advantage of the shorter lines at brunch or dinner spots. It can be easy to overlook holidays like Father’s Day, especially when Dad isn’t around, but it’s an important day for kids and dads to connect and celebrate their relationship.
When Dad Is Not in the Picture
Father’s Day is especially difficult for children with an absent father, whether due to a father’s death, or not having a father figure in their life. To help children deal with these emotions on Father’s Day, try to create a positive alternative celebration:
Memorial for Dad
For children whose father has passed away, a memorial can be a good way to celebrate their memory. Many families will visit the place of burial on Father’s Day. Another idea is to help your child create a special memorial or celebration at home. Some ideas: encourage your child to write a ‘note to Dad.’ Once complete, roll the note up and put into a small receptacle (biodegradable is great, if possible!). If you live near water, you can throw the ‘bottle’ into the lake or sea. Other fun ideas: creating a photo collage which can be framed or hung on the wall, using a phone app to design a ‘wallpaper’ background for their phone or iPad which commemorates Dad, making Dad’s favorite meal for breakfast or dinner, and sharing stories and memories over the meal.
Alternate ‘Parent Day’
Some families do not have a father figure. If this is the case, use this day to celebrate another figure that plays a similar role. Child of a single mom, or two moms? Have a grandfather or uncle that plays a ‘father-like’ role? Use this day to celebrate that special person. Have fun with it. Make up a fun name, like “Grandpa Jake Day” and make him a cake. Or call it “Mother’s Day 2” and celebrate that mom who has dual duty with a fun brunch.
For children without a father, this day may bring up feelings of sadness. Help your child to cope by encouraging open dialogue and affirming their emotions. Remind your child that they are loved and special, and let them know that it is okay to feel sad, lonely, and even angry sometimes. Find more tips on encouraging a supportive dialogue here.
Whatever your family’s situation on Father’s Day, there are ways to make it a fun and meaningful event. Help your child to develop positive associations with this day now, and you are helping them to enjoy a lifetime of Father’s Days, and teaching them to be creative and resilient in the face of difficult situations.
Emily is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who earned her Master of Arts from the University Of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and her BA in Psychology from Graceland University. Emily has worked with children, adults and families from diverse backgrounds and settings since 2001. In 2010 she earned a Certificate in Global Mental Health from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Emily works with children and adults to overcome barriers and meet self-identified goals, focusing on identifying and harnessing individuals’ unique strengths and internal resiliency. She has experience working with those struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD, and emotional regulation issues. She also helps families improve communication and strengthen their relatationships when they are experiencing conflicts Emily utilizes a strengths-based and trauma-informed approach with her clients, relying on a wide range of tools including CBT, psychodynamic theory, and behavioral strategies.