by Attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist Myra Chack Fleischer

If you’re a divorcee on Mother’s Day you might be interested to know that more money is spent on gifts for Mother’s Day than any other holiday except Christmas. The National Retail Federation says Americans spent $25 billion on gifts for Mom in 2019, including $2.6 billion just for flowers. Meals out racked up $2.6 billion of the tab.

But nearly a third of all children under 18 live in a home with daily access to just one parent, many due to divorce. Divorced families brace themselves early for navigating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, or other winter season holidays, and many divorced parents do a good job making these holidays fun and carefree for their children.

But when it comes to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, there isn’t often an advocate in a divorced parent’s corner to ensure their day is enjoyable. Especially when children are young, they need a little help coming through for Mom or Dad – but when the help needs to come from your ex, what should you expect?

A little planning and extending basic courtesy and kindness can ensure you have a wonderful Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, even if you’re divorced. Here are some tips to help you along:

Plan Ahead

Don’t leave the day to chance. Both you and your kids will do so much better if you know what to expect – and it shouldn’t be up to your kids to worry about this. Talk to your former spouse or partner and agree on a plan that works for you in both directions.

If your custodial arrangement means the children won’t be with you on your day, see if you can agree to a switch, or at least a part of the day for a fun event or outing, and offer to reciprocate. If not, don’t make a big deal of it. Pick another day for your special time to celebrate.

Communicate Clearly and Avoid Old Business

This can be a tough one, because a breakdown in communication is often the reason people get divorced in the first place. You may still be hurting from old wounds. Still, it’s easiest if you speak directly and clearly to your ex.

Tell him or her, “Mother’s/Father’s Day is coming up and it’s important to me to have some time with the kids. I’m sure it’s also important to you on your day. I would like to have the kids for an afternoon trip to the park. I would really appreciate it and it would mean a lot to us.” Be open to what your ex is willing to do, and work around the details if you must.

One Good Turn Deserves Another

Whatever you ask from your former spouse or partner, you should be fully and cheerfully prepared to reciprocate and cooperate.

This Is More About Your Kids Than You

Your kids want to make you both happy and feel proud about it, not be part of any games or power plays between you and your ex. Keep them out of your crossfire, at least for a day. They may also need help and encouragement to celebrate with the other parent. They may feel by having fun with just one of you, they are “taking sides.” You might not feel like spending time shopping for a card or gift, or overseeing a craft project, but suck it up and do it. Cheerfully.

Accept that your kids might be angry

If your kids are still processing the divorce, they might be too angry to want to do anything for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, no matter who was responsible for the divorce (they shouldn’t really know anyway). Sometimes you have to let the day go and wait until your children have worked out their feelings about the situation. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day could give you a chance to talk things over. Whatever happens, don’t force it.

Accept that there might be a new partner in the picture

If Mom or Dad are seeing someone new or have already remarried, think about whether your children will want to do something for them too. It depends a lot on the circumstances and the children’s relationship with that individual. If your kids are proactive about wanting to celebrate with stepmom Suzie or stepdad Dave, accept it and help facilitate their wishes as best you can. But don’t force the situation on your kids. It might make them feel uncomfortable.

Make sure your kids don’t misunderstand your efforts

Your kids may hope that Mother’s Day or Father’s Day will provide an opportunity for you and your ex to get back together, especially when you are helping them do something nice for the other parent. If you go along with some sort of fiction that things will be just the same as when you were a family living together, that’s not fair and it’s confusing to small children. Think carefully about sending mixed messages and be clear that while things are now different, they can still be good and fun for everyone.

In the end, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day aren’t about brunch, flowers, or a new golf shirt. They’re about celebrating the joy of being a parent to your wonderful kids, and doing the best you can with the circumstances you face. If your kids are adjusting to the situation, still have time with both parents, and are loved by both parents and extended family, this is the biggest gift you can ask for – and one you can give yourself by looking into the mirror and knowing you’re doing a good job as a parent.

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Father’s Day to all of our readers!