School psychologist with smart boy

There are now so many variations and so much diversity when it comes to families that a Father’s Day without Dad no longer carries the stigma it once did.

“Often there are expectations these role-specific holidays are going to be really hard for kids and families, but experiences vary,’’ said Dr. Ashley Harlow, a psychologist with Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Harlow isn’t discounting the importance of having a dad around. He is one and knows how hard parenting can be.

“It’s easier when you have two,’’ he said. “When one parent is doing it alone, the workload is significantly greater.’’

But if there isn’t a father figure in your family, don’t fret that your child’s day is going to be ruined.

Although it seems that everyone on social media has the perfect nuclear family and is celebrating a traditional holiday, it’s not the case. Some children don’t have a dad around because they are deployed or working.

If you are concerned, follow your child’s lead and recognize and respond to their perceptions of the situation.

“If a child asks lots of questions about Dad or makes statements about being sad or jealous of families that have a dad, Mom will want to address that,’’ Harlow said. “Listen closely to their questions or statements, and validate those concerns and emotions.’’

Make what you say age appropriate and try hard not to make the day even tougher by bashing their absent father.

Also don’t feel that you have to overcompensate. Don’t worry about scheduling special trips or eating out to make up for a missing dad.

“That can create a different kind of distress,’’ Harlow said.

If a child is feeling sad, worried or upset about Dad not being around and Mom’s response is that he or she should get over it or feel happy, this may further upset the child, who might not feel listened to or validated, Harlow said.

Instead you could treat the day as a broader family celebration, he said. Or gather with other single parents and their kids.

If you are seeing signs that not having a father figure around is hurting your child, consider national organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or go local and reach out to TeamMates.

“Positive role models in a child’s life are important,’’ Harlow said. “And the need for a positive role model is not going to be solved by one day in June.’’

So enjoy Father’s Day with your child, follow their lead and celebrate that you are a family. Dad or not.

“This is a time to appreciate the best parts of being a family,’’ Harlow said.

Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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