Co-parenting: Birthdays After Divorce. Image of couple fighting during child's birthday partyIf you have ever been around a child about to celebrate a birthday, you know that for most kids their birthday is one of the most important days of the entire year. When it comes to birthdays after divorce, a child’s desire for the “best birthday ever” may be compounded with mixed feelings now that their parents have split.

Nonetheless, there are a few important ways that parents can make an effort to ensure that the effects of the divorce are minimized as best as possible for their child’s special day:

Reminder: Today is not about YOU.

After a divorce, whether it was 3 weeks ago or 3 years ago, you will likely experience a wide range of emotions. You may be excited one day because of the possibilities of where your life may lead, or you may be saddened at the loss of the relationship you once had. That is okay, and even expected. However, on your child’s birthday, don’t forget how those emotions can impact those around you – particularly your child. Therefore, if you are going to your child’s school for cupcakes, hosting a birthday party with your ex at a joint venue, or having a low-key celebration at home, parents should try and remember to check their feelings at the door. Take a deep breath and make a mental note to address your negative emotions at a more appropriate time – not when your child is about to blow out their birthday candles.Though it may not be easy, parents should remember that their child’s birthday is about celebrating and loving them. It is not the time for parents to bring attention to themselves, or to discuss serious details of their situation. Already found a new boyfriend or girlfriend? Celebrate over drinks with your friends next week. Lost weight and are looking good in those new jeans? Thank all the friends that notice but save the tips for how you got your “revenge body” for later. Right now, in this moment, your job as a parent is to celebrate your child – not yourself.

What Does Your Child Want?

When planning a child’s birthday, don’t forget to get to the heart of your child’s desires and to check with the other parent to make sure you are not duplicating efforts. Are you sure that your son wants a big birthday party? Maybe he would prefer a movie night with you at home, because the moving and the new school have been overwhelming. Are you sure your daughter actually wants a birthday party involving all of your best friends – that also happen to dislike the other parent? Not likely, ever. Definitely not on her birthday. I know I have already said this once, but it bears repeating, this party is not about you!

Your children may also wish for something that is simply not possible. They may want your ex to not “be mean”, or they may want the two of you to reconcile. When these tough conversations occur, refocus on the love that you both share for the children regardless of the ending of the relationship. Remind your little one that the divorce was not their fault, and that you cannot wait to celebrate them on their special day.

The rollercoaster of emotions that come with divorce are not exclusive to adults. A birthday may trigger a wide range of emotions for your child, especially after a split. Parents should encourage their children to freely express their feelings in a safe environment. Ask questions. Try not to downplay or disparage their comments and feelings. Instead, go one step further by listening and attempting to understand. Working through these feelings together while also making sure that you are doing what is in your child’s best interest is the best birthday present you can give them – whether they realize it or not.

Should you co-host a joint Birthday Celebration?

The wounds from a divorce may still be fresh but remember that your child’s biggest wish may be that you and your ex both be at the same birthday celebration. If you both believe you can hold your own and put your child first, then entertain the idea. Note though, both parents must be willing to maintain an appropriate demeanor during the joint celebration. If you and your ex are able to put aside differences and the understandable pain of a divorce at a joint birthday celebration, then you may find that your child is also more capable of coping with their changed circumstances.

However, if you or your ex simply cannot handle the emotional toll of a joint celebration (despite best efforts), you can agree to a range of other options. Maybe host the birthday party at a venue in which one parent can come for the first hour and the other parent for the second hour? If this proposed birthday party arrangement still hits too close for comfort, maybe it is simply a situation where each parent will have a birthday celebration during their respective parenting time. Some little ones may even like the idea of having two birthdays!

In the absence of a joint celebration in some capacity, parents may have to come to terms with the reality that only one parent may get to see the child on their actual birthday. If this is the case, parents may need to compromise – with one parent seeing the child on their birthday during even-numbered years and the other parent seeing the child on their birthday during odd-numbered years.

The good news? You don’t have to figure this out alone. If you have one in place, consult with your Parenting Coordinator and review your Child Custody Order or Parenting Agreement. Some Orders may take birthdays into consideration. However, not all Orders address birthdays. Additionally, even if the parenting arrangement addresses birthdays, you may also have the ability to mutually agree to any adjustments necessary with your ex. Talk with your family law attorney if you are unsure. If you feel that your child’s birthday might be a point of contention or if there is no reference in your Agreement or Court Order, work with your Family Law attorney, Parenting Coordinator, and other experts to adequately address birthdays so that you can focus on celebrating what really matters – your child. The happiest of birthdays are the ones spent laughing, loving, and creating memories your child will remember forever.

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