Little Things That Can Help Ease Your Complicated Relationship With Father's Day

Father's Day, as well-intentioned as it might be, can be extremely triggering. Whether due to loss, estrangement, or absence altogether, people can struggle to avoid the holiday and manage their mental health. Hallmark has said that Father's Day is their fourth-largest card-sending holiday, and the National Retail Federation has estimated that consumers will spend $196.23 on gifts per person this year — a new record. 


Big money also means big marketing campaigns, and these can make a single day feel like a weeks-long marathon of planning and purchasing. This late June offensive can be extremely difficult for those trying to avoid the holiday. Worst of all, it can lead people to feel shame or guilt for their less-than-ideal parental situations. Father's Day (like Mother's Day) is rooted in a very traditional notion of what families are supposed to look like. Clinical psychologist and author Ramani Durvasula explained to NBC News, "A struggle with most holidays, and especially family-oriented holidays, is that they are depicted as a one-size-fits-all and can evoke numerous difficult emotions including shame, grief, anger, and a sense of isolation."


With that being said, Father's Day can also present a unique opportunity to create your own way to celebrate and honor important people in your life. While the day can sometimes feel impossible to ignore, our changing family landscapes give us new ways to transform the holiday into something that serves us. Here are some things you can do to ease and honor your relationship with Father's Day.

Celebrate your father figures

According to the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of children in the U.S. live in a household without a traditional two-biological married parent framework. From step-parents to adopted parents to single parents, the nuclear family is increasingly less common. Plus, 15 percent of all same-sex couples in the U.S. have children, meaning that over 160,000 families are not served or represented by the current gendered holiday model. Even among families that do appear more traditional, a 2020 survey found that 27 percent of adult Americans have cut off contact with a family member, with 10 percent of those being a parent or child. All of this is a long way of saying, you are not alone in having a non-traditional family arrangement and you don't have to avoid the holiday if you don't want to.


Not having a traditional parent in a traditional role doesn't mean you don't have influential parental figures. If your mom was both roles for you, honor her on Father's Day. If your aunt/uncle, grandparent, or even family friend stepped up and provided guidance on your journey, take the day to celebrate them. From a fancy brunch to a simple phone call, these celebrations can be whatever size you're comfortable with. Remember that there is no rule that says Father's Day is only for traditionally gendered or genetically determined relationships. Whatever the relationship might be, what matters is how it's important to you. Use the day to honor those relationships in whatever way feels right.

Skip social media

If you're grieving a loss, handling an estrangement, or simply don't enjoy the holiday, skipping social media for a few days can be a helpful, if not foolproof, solution. The deluge of pictures, stories, and remembrances on Father's Day can be difficult to see, especially for those who might end up experiencing what-if moments. Ramani Durvasula emphasized that most National holidays (but especially Mother's and Father's Day) can cause a sense of isolation that, "often fosters a sense of 'lack' in those whose lives do not conform to the idealized images that apply to only a subset of the population." Social media can make these feelings worse, by highlighting and/or reminding you of what you feel you don't have, which has led some people to question if social media actually serves us anymore.


Of course, cutting out all social media can be hard for some. If you don't want to altogether avoid it, different social media platforms offer ways to mitigate certain content in your feed. For instance, Twitter will allow you to mute accounts, keywords, and even entire hashtags that you might want to avoid seeing. Also, Facebook, and by extension Instagram, allows you to adjust your ad preferences, which can be helpful in avoiding a flood of Father's Day ads in your feed.

Opt out of emails

The COVID-19 pandemic propelled the popularity of a new trend: the ability to opt out of certain holiday-themed emails. These opt-out options are becoming more common among brands as a way to allow consumers to skip marketing emails about Valentine's, Mother's, or Father's Day. Brands like Etsy, Aesop, and Pandora have all made a point to send opt-out emails to consumers ahead of major holidays in a push to be more empathetic about how complicated these holidays can be.


Author and grief advocate, Megan Devine, told NPR, "I think it's a movement towards acknowledging the full humanity of your customers and your audience, and being able to say 'we see who you are as a person and you're not just a sales call for us.'" The trend continues to grow, with large brands like Levi's, DoorDash, and Kay Jewelers participating in 2023, and consumers are liking it. DoorDash reported that 80,000 people opted out of their Mother's Day marketing in April 2023. Devine explained the appeal, "It's a very simple user experience, which is why it works and is so powerful. All you have to do is click, and then this sharp, poky bit of pain in your inbox goes away."

Volunteer for a meaningful cause

Whether you want a child to have the parent you never did, or you want to honor a father figure who is no longer with you, volunteering your time can be an incredible way to transform your complicated feelings into something positive. Volunteering can be as intensive as you want so whether it's a one-day-only Father's Day shift at a local non-profit or a long-term ongoing program, giving back can allow you to work out your feelings in whatever way feels right to you.


If you would like to explore becoming a parental figure to a child who might need one, organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Boys and Girls Club can be amazing resources. For smaller commitments, explore what interests your father/father figure had or perhaps even something you always wished you had done with a parent and mine those for ideas. Perhaps your aunt who raised you always loved bird-watching (volunteer at a local bird preserve), or a boss who took you under their wing was a huge baseball fan (explore local youth baseball programs). There are unique ways to volunteer for organizations and programs in almost any field you can think of, and making the theme of your volunteering specific to a person that was/is important to you can feel especially meaningful.


If time isn't something you have to give, research shows that donating to programs or organizations with meaning (either to you or your honored father figure) can make you feel happier.

Do nothing at all

The third Sunday in June is just a day, after all. It can be helpful to remember that Father's Day is highly driven by consumerism, with people projected to spend a record $22.9 billion dollars to celebrate this year. Brands are competing for those holiday dollars, which fuels the torrent of marketing emails and ads that plague your social media feeds, inboxes, and airwaves. As difficult as these ads can be to handle emotionally, understanding the larger factors at play in promoting the holiday can help to put the Father's Day push into perspective.


Between Pride celebrations and the summer solstice, you can simply choose to enjoy a late June weekend of warmer weather and longer days without a triggering holiday in there to distract you. It can also be a good chance to learn some ways to tackle the more frequent weekly Sunday scaries. Most importantly, remember that — despite what it might look like on social media and television — you're not obligated to celebrate this or any other holiday.