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Helping Children of Divorce Celebrate Father's Day

06/12/2013 03:28 pm ET | Updated Aug 12, 2013

As a mediator, I am astounded by the number of stories I've heard relating to ignored birthdays, forgotten holidays and missed Mother's and Father's Days by children of divorced parents. Believe it or not, in the early (and often later) stages of divorce, self-absorbed parents (often still reeling emotionally from the divorce itself) fail to pay attention to their children's needs, and don't take the time to help Bobby or Sally make a card or gift acknowledging the other parent on a special occasion.

Think back to your days as a married couple, when you would take your child to the mall to find the perfect gift for mommy or daddy at holiday time. Try to remember sneaking back into the house, your child clutching the surprise present concealed in a shopping bag, and the held-back smiles trying to pretend that nothing's going on! Milk-carton flower pots, finger-pressed clay figurines and homemade cards designed with crayons and construction paper proudly presented to mom or dad...these moments belong to the child, who learns about the joys of giving. But what happens to those learning-moments, after the divorce? Is the child reminded about the upcoming holidays? Do you take the lead in making sure there is a card or gift made "with love from your son and daughter?" Or, do you take this opportunity to try to hurt your former spouse by doing nothing?

Years ago, a single-mom friend of mine shared a compelling story about her 7-year old daughter, who was inconsolable when she learned that it was customary for a child to create or buy a gift and/or card for her mother on Mother's Day. Sitting in her first-grade classroom with other children painting a cardboard picture frame for their moms, the child suddenly came to the realization that she had never participated in this custom, and was absolutely devastated at the thought that she had hurt her mother's feelings. Divorced when she was an infant, neither her dad nor her stepmom ever thought to take her to buy a card or take the time to help her make a homemade gift for her biological mother. It wasn't their job. Or was it?

The first gift-giving holiday as a new stepmom was admittedly awkward. What was the custom or protocol? What would be considered proper? How would Emily Post address the question, "What do I do when my child wants me to buy a present for them to give to my ex?" Rather than leave it to chance that first year, our children made homemade cookie jars, labeled and wrapped each one individually, including all parents and stepparents, grandparents and step-grandparents, and even newly joined siblings and cousins into the increasingly growing blended family. No one was left out. No one was ignored. And the children were delighted!

While I'm not suggesting that there is a requirement to spend a single dollar on that "no-good-ex" or the new stepparent you detest, I believe that it is in the best interests children for parents to help them acknowledge important celebratory events. There is merit and significant benefit in helping your child participate in customs and traditions by simply facilitating the opportunity for him or her. So, push down the negative emotions, set aside the bad history and awkwardness of the situation, and focus on the needs of your child, as follows:

Helping Children of Divorce Celebrate Holidays and Special Occasions:

1. Remind the child about the upcoming occasion and the expectation of acknowledging the other parent;
2. Ask the child what he or she would like to do to acknowledge the other parent. Make age-appropriate suggestions or recommendations; and
3. Facilitate the process by taking the child shopping, making the gift or card at home, and/or wrapping and delivering the final project to the other parent.

And by the way, while this article is contemplating the upcoming Father's Day celebration, the sentiment herein also applies to Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Birthdays and all other celebrated occasions throughout the year. Parents: Put aside your feelings for just one moment, and focus on your children. They will appreciate your caring and thoughtfulness, and will remember it in years to come. An added bonus: Your ex may actually reciprocate next year!