Have you had those moments when you find yourself waking up while you gently hold a particular specialness because it’s your little sweetheart’s birthday today? If you have, you may also have felt the moment you realise your little sweetheart’s bedroom is empty – and it’s not because they’re old enough to be out with friends. The reason their bedroom is empty is because you’re 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 you’ll hear the warm-fuzzy stories of those that manage to put all differences aside and take the “whole” family out for a picture-perfect day while everyone keeps up appearances for the children. But for most who have been through a divorce, it’s 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. It’s 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 can’t blame them.

When our children have their birthday, they are given the opportunity to finally come out on top from the ‘traditional family’ 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 don’t necessarily think it’s a smart idea to have double parties, certainly double presents helps.

If you’re the parent who has the empty bedroom on your child’s birthday morning, remember to make the call first thing in the day to let them know you’re thinking of them. If you’re the parent with the full house, allow your Ex to be part of the special day without a comment, look or suggestion that they’re intruding. After all, quite possibly next year the shoe will be on the other foot and it’ll be your turn.

I believe that birthdays are important to celebrate. This isn’t 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. It’s 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 you’ll 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 it’s 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 that’s okay. It’s about recognising what you’re good at and becoming comfortable with it. If you’re 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 Ex’s place. Let the differences be without feeling inferior or superior to your Ex.

It’s 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.


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Jill Darcey (author, parent, founder, and speaker) is a mother of three with thousands of hours of experience as a counsellor and coach, and more than a decade of real-time experience with "complex family" parenting --- parenting through separation, divorce or some other family breakdown. Jill is someone who has both vision and wisdom and has learned a lot of what does and doesn't work — and some of it the hard way!

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