Your child’s first post-divorce birthday can be an emotional experience for the whole family. Whether you and your ex co-host the party or plan separate events, the occasion often stirs up grief and other difficult feelings that life didn’t go the way anyone planned. No matter how you feel about your ex, you must put your grievances aside to help your child celebrate their important day. Here are some guidelines for successfully navigating this emotional minefield.
What To Expect
You may feel nostalgic, remembering the last birthday party when you were still an intact family; you may have been a miserable intact family, but you still got to spend the day together, and you and your then-spouse were probably on your best behavior. Navigating the day, and the party, as a single parent makes you face the reality of divorce, and how it’s impacting your child.
Should You Co-Host The Party With Your Ex?
If you and your child’s co-parent (aka your ex) are on amicable terms, you may be able to compromise on location, cost, and individual responsibilities without much bickering. But if you can’t seem to agree on anything and loathe the sight of each other, co-hosting a party might not be advisable, or even possible. Sure, it’s ideal if your child could have both of you at the party, but only if you can get along. The last thing your kid needs on his birthday is to feel burdened by your divorce. He deserves to enjoy his celebration with his friends; he does not need to play referee or feel so anxious that he can’t enjoy his own party.
Should You Host The Party By Yourself?
Including birthday protocol in your child custody agreement can prevent confusion and disagreements. Many co-parents trade off years: one year you have your child on his birthday and are responsible for hosting the party, and the next year your ex does the same. Although it may make you feel sad and stressed to organize the party on your own, it can also be a relief to do so without interference and discord.
Should You Invite Your Co-Parent? And What to Say To Your Child If You Don’t.
You should invite your co-parent only if you are reasonably certain that the two of you can put your child’s feelings above your own during the party. This means that you treat your ex as you would any other guest — with politness. Your child should not have to peer out of the bouncy house to see you his parents in a heated exchange.
If you and your ex are unable to be at the party together, make sure you discuss this with your child ahead of time. Tell him that his other parent will not be attending the party, but will be celebrating with him on a different day. Explain that the two of you have decided that it will be a more peaceful occasion if you’re not both there, but big bonus: more birthday fun!
Still, even if you try to keep the moment light, allow your child to express his feelings, and don’t try to whitewash them. For instance: “It sounds like you’re really upset that Daddy won’t be at the party. I’m sorry our decision isn’t what you want. You’re entitled to your feelings and I’m here to listen to you if you want to talk to me about them.”
Allow your child the dignity of owning his feelings and moving through them. If he starts begging you to invite your ex, remember: you’re the parent and it’s up to you to make the decision that’s in your child’s best interest. And their best interest is to enjoy his party without experiencing any conflict between you, or feeling pulled to take sides. Older kids may have a better understanding of the divorce, and may be relieved that they won’t be exposed to tension and fighting on their special day.
Have child custody questions? Need help adding birthday party or holiday provisions to your child custody agreement? We can help. For an initual attorney consultation, please contact us or call today: 888-888-0919.