After divorce, pretty much everything in our life changes, especially if we have children. That includes how we celebrate birthdays after the divorce is final. During separation, parents may attempt to celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and some couples try to keep that up even after the divorce process is over.
One of the main factors in answering the question, “Should divorced parents spend birthdays together?”, is how the whole divorce happened. I didn’t want the divorce. We had a good, full, fun life together with four amazing children, and I was devastated by my ex-husband’s ongoing affair, and the divorce that was inevitable because of that.
I was most upset about what our divorce did to our children’s lives. I was furious that after divorce, every single holiday and family celebration is more complicated for them, including birthday parties.
As divorced parents, we are usually trying to keep things as normal as we can for our children. We want what’s best for their overall well-being. During divorce, there are so many huge decisions about the new reality our kids will have to face because of the divorce: Decisions like deciding who has primary custody? Visitation schedules? Where will they go to school? How will our extended families be involved?
While we are dealing with all of those huge decisions after divorce, we are usually thrown off the most when we have to figure out all of those “small” decisions where the rubber meets the road every day for us and our kids.
We find ourselves staring at the ceiling at two in the morning ruminating about: “Should divorced parents have joint birthday parties? Should we spend vacations together?” What about co-parenting birthday parties? What resources might give us some clue as to how to handle those days that are especially important to our children?
After surviving my own divorce, and helping other women from all around the world navigate theirs, the answers to the questions listed below can give some clarity about whether or not to have a shared birthday party for a child after our divorce.
The Age Of Your Child?
How old are your children? In our case, because we had been married for 33 years, our children were older … 30, 28, 26 and 15. We didn’t have to make that decision about shared birthday parties after divorce because the kids didn’t want us to celebrate together. We did try celebrating one last Christmas together, and it was pretty much miserable for everyone involved.
However, in my divorce recovery work over the years, I have heard of couples, who are able to successfully celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Most of those couples had children who were young enough that they didn’t really know why mom and dad weren’t living together.
Once children are older and know more details of the divorce, they usually have feelings about doing things together. Listen to your children. Let them know they are heard. Don’t minimize their feelings and their wishes. Try to accommodate them if you can.
Who Has Custody On Your Child’s Birthday?
In most divorces, the custody and visitation rules are very carefully and specifically laid out. Especially when there is still open conflict between the child’s parents, it is essential to have rules in place (written out and filed with the court!) that are only changed when absolutely necessary.
Most custody agreements allow for parents to have the child on their actual birthday at least every other year. In most situations where both parents are active in the child’s life, the birthdays are celebrated separately at different times and places. That can be okay for the children because they have total focus from each parent whether that focus falls on their actual birthday or not. Parents need to be sensitive to older children’s schedules, too, if they are involved in school and extracurricular activities.
Most parents and children of divorce can navigate occasional changes in the visitation schedules, but the more you can stick to the schedule, the better. For example, if one parent has an extended family occasion that can’t be changed (like weddings, funerals, family reunions) and it falls on the other parent’s weekend, the parents should be able to make adjustments to allow for those special events.
Do You And Your Ex Get Along?
Whether you and your ex get along during separation and divorce is the most important consideration as to whether you should do birthday parties together after divorce or not.
If you or your ex are either extremely angry or desperately sad, or if there is any history of violence or abuse, it is not a good idea to celebrate a child’s birthday together. Except for the youngest children, most kids can feel the tension between their parents even if they don’t show it outwardly.
In most cases, it is best to have each parent be able to focus individually on the child and not be secretly trying to harass, score points, or be distracted by what’s going on with their ex-spouse. Also, there is the issue of either spouse bringing a new significant other to the birthday celebration. If that happens, co-parenting birthday parties after divorce usually doesn’t work.
A different take on birthday parties – when an older child of divorce is hosting a party
I have had more than one divorced woman ask advice because one of their older children is having a birthday party for a grandchild, or for their dad (her ex-spouse) who caused the divorce because of an on-going affair with another woman. The older child told her mother that the girlfriend was going to be at the party, and she (the mom) could decide to attend or not. A difficult decision!
My advice to her was to decide what was best for her, make the decision and then be content with her decision. I said, “If you decide to go, go and be happy. If you decide not to go, don’t go and be happy. You decide. But don’t obsess about it or second-guess yourself. Decide to be happy whatever choice you make.” That’s easier said than done, but still good advice.
Where Is The Party?
Another variable in the equation when you are trying to decide if divorced parents should team up for a child’s birthday party after divorce is where the party is happening. It is much easier to co-host a party that is on neutral ground rather than a party at one of the parent’s houses.
A party for a child at Chuck E Cheese or the local bowling alley is easier to team up on than a party at either one of the parent’s houses.
Does Your Child Want Both Parents There?
As mentioned above, older children usually make it clear if they want the parents to celebrate their birthday together or not. Divorced parents hosting two parties is usually the best and most conflict-free choice for everyone involved.
According to a Psychology Textbook: Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg (7th Edition, Temple University), “Research links the adverse consequences of divorce to a number of factors including:
- The exposure of the children to marital conflict (even after divorce)
- Disorganized or disrupted parenting
- Marked increases in the degree of stress experienced by either household
So, when deciding whether to host joint birthday parties after divorce, the decision has more to do with the amount of conflict between the parents, rather than with the divorce itself.
Could Your Child Misunderstand?
If younger children might think that because his or her parents are together for the birthday party, they are going to be back together for good, that can cause false hope and confusion about the divorce in general. When younger children are struggling to accept the divorce at all, it is usually better for each parent to celebrate that child’s birthday separately.
Like some ex-husbands or ex-wives, our children often harbor deep hopes that their parents might not have to divorce at all, and that their family will be together again eventually. That sometimes causes the children to act out or to regress in fully accepting the divorce.
Will In-laws Or Extended Family Be Present?
Another touchy subject, when it comes to family celebrations like holidays and birthday parties after divorce, is how to handle extended and in-law families. I am a sister, an aunt and a grandmother to name a few. I’m also an in-law. I cherish those positions in the family. I want to be included in family celebrations. What happens when divorce means that I won’t be invited?
As hard as it is, we, like the rest of the family, have to let the parents make those decisions. If we are not invited to something because we are an in-law, we have to find ways to connect with our in-law grandchild or niece or nephew on our own, with permission from the parents, of course. There are fun and memorable ways to celebrate birthdays one-on-one.
Whether we like it or not, families take sides and sometimes, especially if we are an in-law, divorce means that we won’t be included in celebrations we would love to be a part of. That’s one of the extended consequences of divorce and it’s heartbreaking! But again, get creative about how to stay connected.
Are Two Parties Better?
As far as the kids are concerned, if there is no out-in-the open animosity between parents, and if each parent allows children to have a good relationship with the other parent, then everything usually works itself out.
If one parent doesn’t have custody on a child’s birthday, two parties can be even better than one. If each parent includes his or her extended family members in birthday celebrations, that may work out even better for the child. This is true especially if in-law extended families have drawn a line that excludes the other parent.
Another challenge for kids of divorce as they get older is that, especially for school holidays or college breaks, time gets tight and the child has two of everything to attend. Older kids can feel pressured and like they can never can never relax because they have to go to Mom’s house for their birthday party or Christmas dinner, and then they also have to go to Dad’s house for his version of the same celebration.
Celebrating birthdays after divorce is just one more fact of life that needs to be worked out. If both parents act in good faith and are flexible, while keeping the best interest of their children foremost in their thoughts and actions, birthday parties can be good and fun and relaxing for both us and our kids … even after divorce.
If you are just beginning the road of separation or divorce, and are trying to make your children’s lives as good and pressure-free as possible, check out our MasterPlan Program And Community including the Parenting Through Divorce program. The Parenting Through Divorce program was created by a child of divorce who interviews other young-adult children of divorce about what they really wanted and needed from their parents during and after divorce. I think you will be encouraged and surprised by what they have to say. Don’t try to struggle through this alone when we have so many ways to help.