Q: I have care of my three children every second week. They are supposed to go back to their mothers house this Friday but Sunday is Father’s Day and I really want to have them here. This is our first Father’s Day since we separated. I have asked their mother if we can do changeover on Sunday evening instead but she is refusing. It was my decision to end the marriage and I think she is using this as a way to punish me for it. Is there anything I can do?

The first Father’s Day after a separation can be emotional for fathers and their children. Previously the day would have been spent as a family and your partner might have planned something special. Now Father’s Day will require more planning on your part.

Whether you are separated from your children because of a care arrangement or lockdown measures, Father’s Day will look different for many people this year.

Important days as separated parents

Special days in the year can often disrupt parenting arrangements that otherwise work well. Days such as Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays and Christmas can be hard to navigate as separated parents.

Set a plan early

The most effective way to navigate these special days is to have a plan. If there is a day coming up that may disrupt your care arrangement, speak with the other party as early as possible. Last minute changes are a common cause of conflict. If you think that the discussion may turn into an argument, avoid having it when the children are around.

Avoiding future uncertainty

Informal parenting agreements can work for some couples. However, creating a formalised Parenting Agreement can prevent the same issue arising again. A Parenting Agreement sets out various aspects of how the children will be parented. It can include who the children will be with for holidays and other special days, such as each parent’s birthdays.

A Parenting Agreement can reduce misunderstandings and set expectations for you and the children. If you are concerned that the other party may not comply with the agreement, you can agree to have it formalised into a Parenting Order by the Family Court.

The Ministry of Justice has a helpful template for making a Parenting Agreement and more information on Parenting Orders which can be found here: https://www.justice.govt.nz/family/care-of-children/parenting-through-a-break-up/agree-on-a-parenting-plan/

If you cannot be together in person

If you do not have your children in you care on Sunday, you can still celebrate the day. Consider activities that you would usually do together. For example, if you usually have breakfast together you could have pastries delivered from your local bakery and have breakfast together on Zoom.

You could also celebrate Father’s Day on another day when the children are in your care. There is no reason that it has to be on Sunday. The most important thing is to spend time together and giving your children an opportunity to celebrate.

Involve the children

Whenever you choose to celebrate Father’s Day, get the children involved in planning the day. Your children will probably be aware that the day is approaching. They may be wondering what will happen now that you have separated from their mother. It can be unsettling for children to go through big changes. Ask them how they want to spend the day. They will appreciate being involved and having their voice heard.

Keep any plans simple

After a separation fathers often feel pressure to make a big deal of the day. They want to show their children they are the fun parent. Remember that Father’s Day is about spending time together not spending money. You may need to get inventive about what you can do together in lockdown. It may be as simple as kicking a ball around at the park, talking about things that interest them or making a card for their grandfather.

Support system

Lockdown has placed a massive strain on everyone’s mental health. Not having your children on Father’s Day may exacerbate this strain. If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out for support. You could reach out to friends, family or a professional. Even in lockdown, counsellors are available. You can free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Summary

Juggling co-parenting in lockdown is no easy job. It is important to take the time to celebrate Father’s Day if that is something you did before you separated. You may not be able to spend Sunday with your children but that is no reason to let the day go uncelebrated. I wish all the fathers out there a Happy Father’s Day!