Father’s day for some people is difficult to celebrate if they have an abusive father or father that has been abusive in the past. Abuse comes in many forms, including emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse. Knowing how to manage and approach this day is complex if your relationship with your father has endured abuse, neglect, or even absence.
While my father was alive, I chose to remain in contact with him, despite the childhood abuse I faced from him. While this was my choice, I believe that the choice to stay in a relationship with a formally abusive parent is entirely up to each individual. I understand why in some situations, cutting ties with that parent is absolutely necessary.
Despite my choice to keep in contact with my father as an adult, I did so with much caution and boundaries, especially around holidays. I can’t say that the holidays, especially Father’s Day, were easy or carefree–to be honest, they were quite the opposite. Despite this, I don’t regret my decision to remain true to myself by keeping him in my life.
There were some precautionary steps I took at each holiday gathering, including Father’s Day that helped me honor my feelings and my family’s safety.
“It has been reported that nearly 50% of US children face some form of trauma in their childhood.”
Set clear expectations
I was very clear with my father at each family gathering that he attended where he was welcome in our home and where he wasn’t. The living room, where everyone gathered and the bathroom were the only two places he was allowed to go. This boundary was created for the safety of my children and was never negotiable. I reminded him each time he entered our home of these things, and because he was in denial of my childhood abuse, he brushed it off as if I were ridiculous–but he listened.
Along with where he was allowed to go, I normally set a time frame for any gathering so that I had an exit plan and emotionally, I could manage the time together.
On a holiday such as Father’s Day, it can be overwhelming to see people’s tributes to their fathers, when you may feel like you’ve been robbed of a good father. It can feel crushing to be at a loss for kind thoughts or words to share about your father when it feels like everyone around you is celebrating their relationship with their fathers. Avoiding comparison starts in the mind and is no easy task. It takes continuous work and effort. Accepting that others’ stories don’t make your story more or less valuable. Taking steps such as choosing not to spend time on social media to avoid amplifying the comparison may be beneficial.
Acknowledge the past
I knew very early on that I would never have the type of relationship a daughter would hope for with her father. His choices changed any hope for that, and as big of a loss as it was, there was nothing that I could do to change that. When I spent concentrated time in therapy, I learned how important it is to allow yourself to feel deeply all of your feelings. Working through difficult and painful feelings requires allowing yourself to feel them first.
At family gatherings, while it may feel easier to push feelings and thoughts of the past out of mind, allowing myself to acknowledge the past, helped me to be true to myself in the moment and helped me keep realistic expectations.
Allow time to grieve
A part of coping with past abuse is allowing yourself time to grieve the reality of the relationship when needed. Processing grief isn’t a one-time process, but a continuous experience that’s needed whenever the feelings arrive. There are so many layers of pain that may present themselves and grief is a necessary response to the hurt and pain. Whether you allow time to grieve before or after a gathering, set aside time either with a therapist or other supportive people in your life to have a safe space to grieve.
Make room for new memories
Give yourself permission to make new memories and enjoy yourself, especially on holidays. For Father’s Day specifically, it can feel like a wasted holiday if you feel your father isn’t deserving of celebration. If this is the case, celebrate other fathers in your life that you feel you can praise without reservation. If you feel like you still want to honor your father in some form, do what works for you, even if it’s not a traditional way to celebrate the day. Make a declaration to reclaim a holiday or celebration with memories of your choice.
One day at a time
There is no right or wrong way how you continue or don’t continue a relationship with a formally abusive father. If you feel that one Father’s Day you want your father to be a part of your celebration, but the next year you don’t (for whatever reason), make that decision with confidence. Many internal and external factors can determine how you feel about including your father in a celebration, so make space to change your mind as you need. You will know what’s best for you and your family and making space to change your mind reinforces healthy boundaries.
Father’s Day can be a complicated holiday without the complications of a formally abusive father. According to the American SPCC (Society for the Positive Care of Children), in 2020, there were child abuse reports made involving 7.1 million children. Of those, 90.6% were maltreated by one or more parent. This staggering statistic shows how many children are currently dealing with an abusive parent and gives perspective on the magnitude of adults dealing with a previously abusive parent. I hope these tips can help you find peace and hope during Father’s Day as well as other celebrations.
If you have other helpful tips for coping with a formally abusive parent, please share it in the comments below. To hear more about my story and how I found healing from childhood trauma, please click here.