After a divorce, dealing with birthdays can be challenging for many families. It is especially difficult when parents are just working out the details of their parenting plan.
It’s perfectly normal for parents to feel a little possessive or even competitive about the children’s birthdays. They often feel like they need to create the best birthday celebrations, in order to help the children overcome the loss caused by the divorce.
The best thing you can do for your children’s birthdays is to avoid conflict over the whole thing.
Here are some ways that other families deal with birthday celebrations:
The parents alternate being with the child on their actual birthday, from one year to the next. This is a very common way to handle the issue, but is not the most satisfying for the child. When children are in school, birthday celebrations are often planned for the weekend before or after the actual birthday. If the parenting schedule is interrupted for the actual day of the birthday and then the birthday party needs to be scheduled in an awkward way to fit into the parenting plan, children often feel frustrated that they don’t have any control over their special day.
The parenting plan does not change. Each parent celebrates the child’s birthday during his or her regular parenting time. This works well when the parents share parenting time on a liberal schedule, even if it’s not 50/50. Children get to see each parent on or near their birthday, without the schedule feeling forced or disrupted. Children generally like this plan and parents find that the time tends to equalize over the years.
The parents share the birthday. One parent has time in the morning and the other in the evening, or one for an hour or two in the early evening and the other a little later in the evening. This kind of arrangement is definitely kinder to the parents than to the children. Neither parent has to be left out, but the birthday child spends more time moving around from place to place than actually enjoying the birthday. Children are very resistive to this kind of plan, especially as they get older.
The parents celebrate the child’s birthday together. Whether it’s on the actual birthday or for the birthday celebration, the parents are there together. When the parents can be cordial and respectful of each other, children like this arrangement. They feel like they are the one who’s really important and that the parents are working together to make their day special. Parents who cannot be in the same space with each other without fighting should not consider this kind of arrangement.
Each parent has a separate birthday party or celebration during that parent’s parenting time. This scenario is not recommended; it often makes children very uncomfortable, especially if each parent is trying to outdo the other by having the “best” party. Most children understand that this kind of competition is not about them or what they want. But they will often go along with the parents’ plans because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The stress for the children in this kind of situation is compounded when each parent invites the same friends to the separate parties, which can be embarrassing for both the birthday child and the friends.
However you plan to celebrate your child’s birthday, it’s important to consider the child’s feelings before your own. Children probably won’t even remember each individual birthday event – unless of course, it was filled with the pain and anxiety of trying to smooth over conflict between his or her parents.
© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, LLC