For some of us divorced dads, the approach of any holiday, from Mother’s Day to Valentine’s Day, is enough to bring on the cold sweats.
Relax. Survival, even redemption, is attainable — and it’s not even that difficult.
The secret: practice small acts of kindness.
Stay with me here. Even if the thought is, er, less than palatable, don’t let that distract you. Focus on how being kind to others is actually the most selfish thing you can do – because it paves the way, gets rid of impediments, to the best possible enjoyment of your own new, happy post-divorce life. Here are some simple ways to do it:
Survival Tip No. 1: Send Flowers to Your Ex
If she’s the mother of your kids, that is. Why? Because a big part of your job as dad is to be a guru and a role model for your kids. So, show them that just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean you don’t still care for the woman who a) you were delighted to marry and in love with the day you got hitched, and b) is now and forever your co-parent and mom to your kids. Flowers on Valentine’s Day, her birthday, or to say thanks for doubling down on watching the kids because you had to take last minute business trip can speak volumes.
Also, as the ancient saying says: “Happy ex-wife, happy life.” I don’t care how annoyed or enraged you feel, invest in reconnecting and demonstrating that you’re not carrying grudges. (And if you are, well, maybe sending flowers can be an important step to healing.) Sign the card from you and each kid. Maybe your ex will be suspicious, but whatever — she’ll still feel good.
2. Send a Card to Your Ex-Mother-in-Law
Yes, her. So harsh to you during the breakup. Sorry, but…so what? She’s still your kids’ grandmother.
Or maybe that’s not the case. Maybe your former mom-in-law’s a charmer, a good soul with a huge heart. All the more reason to send a card.
Either way, sign your name and the kids’ names and include a simple message: “With love and gratitude for being grandma.” By the way, this will also have the wonderful effect of blowing your ex-wife’s mind and, even if viewed with a raised eyebrow, earning you huge goodwill. And what goes around…
3. Have Your Kids Wish Their Mom and Grandparents Happy Valentine’s Day
Make them send a message, give hugs, wish them a happy holiday for Valentine’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, Mother’s Day (you get the picture). Maybe your kids don’t need this nudge, maybe they do. Either way, your proactivity will show them you’re a conscientious and thoughtful person, father, and ex-husband. No downside there.
Be vigilant, dad: nag them until you know for sure they’ve made some gesture to the people in their lives that should feel loved and appreciated on the day when such gestures are (rightly or wrongly) expected. Do unto others…
4. Let Your Kids See You Being Affectionate
If you’re dating, and you and your kids have had that conversation, don’t be shy about letting them see you be attentive and affectionate. It’s okay to be real and genuine with them. If you want to show affection with flowers, a special dinner, or whatever with your new significant other, go for it (and if you feel like it, include the kids). Or not. Either way, just trust and respect your kids — the alternative is so much worse. Teach them that showing the people we care about how we feel is one of the most important things in life. Teach them that being warm and loving with your new partner and being a warm and loving father, ex-husband, and ex-son-in-law is not a zero-sum game.
5. Have a Good Cry
Or even a sulk. Ignore the holiday if that makes the most sense for you. If the day makes you feel lonely, unloved, or at a loss, don’t fight it. It’s OK — you’re in good company. Don’t bury the feelings and pretend you’re unaffected — that can backfire. It’s normal and totally common to feel hurt and sadness.
So, go ahead and celebrate the holidays with a good, deep, and mindful sulk. Be self-aware about it: I know I’m moody, sad, and unsettled. I’m not fighting it — I’m airing it out in my heart and soul because I’m a human with feelings, and I’m good with that.
A version of this article originally appeared in Fatherly. Edited and reposted with permission from the author.