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How to celebrate your terrible ex on Father's Day

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Graciously celebrating with your children

Father's Day is a tricky holiday when your relationship with your kids' dad is over because he's an awful person. Here are some ways to help your kids celebrate their daddy without sacrificing your sanity.

As a social worker, I've heard some pretty disheartening stories about the behavior of people who are supposed to care for each other. Some of the worst stories come from the mouths of moms who were terribly hurt by the fathers of their children.

"He cheated on me when I was pregnant with our child," said one client.

"He took all of the savings I set aside for my maternity leave, and spent it on strippers and gambling," said another.

"When I confronted him about his anger, he told me that he regretted ever meeting me," said a third.

The ongoing difficulties of divorce

With good reason, these moms cut romantic ties with the dads of their children once trust disappeared. But if you have ever found yourself in a similar situation, you're likely aware that you can't really cut ties when it comes to divorce with children involved. Between sporting events, holidays, birthdays and normal day-to-day parenting, the jerk who hurt you deeply is always right there, unless he's completely bailed on your family.

To add insult to injury, the backstory of your breakup doesn't change the way your kids feel about their dad. They love him, they miss him when he's not there and they want to honor him on special occasions, even if he's not a good dad. Moreover, they can't understand the nuances of how their dad hurt you and them — nor should they have to understand. All of these factors can leave you feeling powerless and uncertain when Father's Day rolls around, particularly if your baby's daddy still behaves terribly towards you and your kids.

How to celebrate a terrible human being

Hooray for Father's Day, right? The truth is that you don't have to like your baby's daddy on Father's Day. You do, however, have to support your children if they want to celebrate him. They shouldn't have to edit themselves or change their feelings toward their dad to accommodate you. If you're struggling with how to support them in a way that doesn't feel fake to you, here are some ideas to help.

  1. Tell a story. Tell them a good story about their dad, like how he cried when they were born or what he said during the sonogram. Even a terrible dad and ex-husband probably has some redeeming qualities to share.
  2. Listen and repeat. If your kids go on and on about how cool their dad is, go ahead and say, "I'm so glad that you love him and that you think he's cool." This statement validates your child's feelings without disclosing that 1) you strongly dislike their dad, and 2) you don't think he's cool.
  3. Say no evil. Whatever you do, allow the Father's Day celebration to go on without speaking ill of their dad. You don't need to praise him, but you do need to be nice.
  4. Give them money. Don't force yourself to go shopping with your kids for Father's Day. Instead, give them a little bit of money so they can purchase something thoughtful for him while you wait at the front of the store.
  5. Let them go. Allow your children to go to their dad's house on Father's Day, even if it's not part of the custody arrangement (as long as you feel it's safe). Now isn't the time to prove a point.
  6. Remember that love conquers all. One of the hardest things about parenting through a divorce is knowing how to keep your mouth shut when you really want justice. Try to remember that the love and support you give your children when it's uncomfortable and inconvenient will pay dividends when it comes to your future relationship with them.

More tips for single moms

5 Discipline tips for single moms
Father's Day when you don't have a partner
Your ex-in-laws and your children

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