Have you had those moments when you find yourself waking up while you gently hold a particular specialness because itâs your little sweetheart’s birthday today? If you have, you may also have felt the moment you realise your little sweetheartâs bedroom is empty – and itâs not because theyâre old enough to be out with friends. The reason their bedroom is empty is because youâre a divorced parent and your beloved child is with your Ex.
Young children celebrating birthdays without you is one of the cold realities we face in parenting post divorce. Of course youâll hear the warm-fuzzy stories of those that manage to put all differences aside and take the âwholeâ family out for a picture-perfect day while everyone keeps up appearances for the children. But for most who have been through a divorce, itâs a far cry from reality.
It is true that many children have said they would swap the best birthday present to have their parents stop fighting. Itâs also true that many children say that one of the benefits in having divorced parents is that they receive double presents. Both these sentences describe children beautifully. Their ruling desire to have greater harmony surrounding them and also their delight in being spoilt – and you canât blame them.
When our children have their birthday, they are given the opportunity to finally come out on top from the âtraditional familyâ kids. The inconvenience of their disruptive living arrangements as they shift between two homes fades very quickly when they get double bonus time. While I donât necessarily think itâs a smart idea to have double parties, certainly double presents helps.
If youâre the parent who has the empty bedroom on your childâs birthday morning, remember to make the call first thing in the day to let them know youâre thinking of them. If youâre the parent with the full house, allow your Ex to be part of the special day without a comment, look or suggestion that theyâre intruding. After all, quite possibly next year the shoe will be on the other foot and itâll be your turn.
I believe that birthdays are important to celebrate. This isnât because of the presents, nor the value of them. This is because in a world where our children sometimes struggle to feel significant, we give them one day each year that is uniquely special to them in our family culture. Itâs a chance to remember and celebrate their life in our home.
Annual celebrations, repetitive in nature, offer both the conflict and the resolution. If you can agree upon the importance of the day, perhaps youâll have more chance of avoiding (or at least) resolving any tension.
Here are four simple tips to start removing the conflict:
1. Let your child see both parents on their birthday if they want to – even if itâs only brief and messes up your routine. Birthdays are their day and being free from routine rigidness will make it feel extra special.
2. Each year, alternate who puts on the Birthday Party. Taking turns with who will host is empowering and lets both parents have an occasion to make special in their own way.
3. Play to your strengths. Some parents are exciting birthday party parents and they give experiences that children cherish into adulthood. Some are not – and thatâs okay. Itâs about recognising what youâre good at and becoming comfortable with it. If youâre a more quiet birthday celebrator, have a quiet one while you go the extra mile to make it special.
4. Avoid the temptation to compete. Stop asking probing questions on who makes birthdays more fun or special. Avoid comparing or expressing your disappointment in happenings inside the Exâs place. Let the differences be without feeling inferior or superior to your Ex.
Itâs one day that your kids want to live childhood dreams – let them do it free from any disagreements between their parents. Remember: make Birthdays special and keep the reason for them in focus.