It’s impossible to escape the media hype about Mothers’ Day, and when you’re separated and going through a divorce, it can be challenging to handle the emotions that you might find well up. All those sugary images of smiling, happy families are impossible to ignore, and I know it can really hurt if your children aren’t with you on the day. It can be easy to feel low or angry and lose yourself in thinking about the “what if’s”.
I am here to reassure you that you do have a choice. You can consciously decide to dial down any negative feelings you might have and change your experience. You always have a choice about how you react to any situation. How you react can have a significant impact on your own feelings, and those of your children.
Here are my top tips for Mothers’ Day (these can be reversed for Fathers’ Day):
Research shows that it isn’t divorce itself that damages children; it is being caught in the conflict that damages children. The ideal way to handle arrangements for Mothers’ Day (and Fathers’ Day) is by agreement. If you can incorporate the dates into your parenting plan and schedule, then do. Support your children’s relationship with their other parent and make it as easy as possible for them to be able to see their Mum on Mothers’ Day, and their Dad on Fathers’ Day, even if it doesn’t fit in with the ‘usual’ routine.
Instead of focusing on what you can’t do or no longer have, shift your focus onto what you CAN do. While it’s true that Mothers’ Day this year might be different, and not the same as before, you can change your approach and focus.
Ask yourself how you could make it better for you. If your children are little, perhaps you can take them with you to buy some flowers or do something creative with them to make a memory from the day. If they are older, perhaps you could all do something together that you haven’t done before. Shift your focus onto creating new memories that you can all treasure.
If your children aren’t with you this Mothers’ Day, flip it, and focus on the time you DO have with them, rather than dwelling on this one day that you don’t. Choose a different day to celebrate with them. You can celebrate Mothers’ Day with your children whenever you like – and you won’t have to fight to book a table at your favourite pub.
Your children will take their cue from you. If you are upset, they will be too. If you are angry and resentful, they are likely to feel conflicted and stressed. When you are upbeat and look for the upside, they will too.
Do you know anyone else in the same position as you? Could you arrange to meet up and take a walk, or have a coffee? Perhaps you could arrange to meet up with your own Mum so that you can spend some quality time together.
If you are caught in a conflict over Mothers’ Day, put yourself in your ex’s shoes and imagine that you are her. Really imagine you are her, with her background, views, beliefs and outlook. This can be challenging, but it is worth doing. Consciously step out of your own head, and into hers. What do you know about how important Mothers’ Day is to her? What does she want and need? Write down the main points that come to mind. Don’t think too hard about this, just write down what comes.
Now put yourself into your children’s shoes. What do they want and need? What would they say to you right now? Again, write down the main points.
Once you have done this, look over what you have written – what do you notice? What would be the right thing to do?
Your children will benefit hugely from seeing you considering each other’s feelings and needs. Although you are no longer married to each other, you are still both their parents, and they will model their behaviour on yours.
Most children want to be free to love both Mum and Dad. They don’t want to be caught in the middle. They are born of both of you, and they want to be free to love you both. The freedom to do this is, I believe, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.
If your children are small, you could help them to choose a small gift for their mum, that they can give her on Mothers’ Day. If they are older, a reminder that Mothers’ Day is coming up would be kind. Small gestures like this go a long way to easing the pain that can be caused if the day passes without the children even realising it is a ‘special’ day (yes, this has happened to me!). If the children are with you on Mothers’ Day, arrange for them to speak to their Mum over facetime, skype, or by phone.
If you are able, talk to your children about all the things you appreciate about their Mum. At the very least, refrain from criticising or bad-mouthing her. You might be getting divorced now, but you once loved each other enough to have children together, and you will both be your children’s parents forever.
The over-riding message from me is that, despite your divorce, your roles as Mum and Dad remain and your children want to be able to love you both. A little give and take on special celebration days can go a long way to ensuring that your co-parenting relationship is positive and has the best interests of the children at its heart.