A Special Time for Your Child
Children's birthdays can turn into complicated and sometimes uncomfortable events if you haven't planned how to handle them after your divorce. This is often included in your parenting plan. If not, you may want to add it. Remember the adage "a stitch in time saves nine?" Nowhere is this more true than with parenting plans!
Focus on What your Child Needs
Children love birthdays. It's a time when they get to feel very special. It's a day just for them that usually involves receiving presents and having cake and maybe even a party. Woo hoo!
One sure-fire way to ruin this special day for your child is to get into a tug-of-war with the other parent about who gets to spend time with the birthday boy or girl. This is your child's special day. What does he/she need to make it a day to remember?
Bigger isn't Always Better
- No conflict. Zero, zip, zilch, nada, none. Think how awful it would be for your child to look back on his 6th, 10th, or 14th birthday and remember, "Oh yeah, that was the day my mom called the police on my dad." Ouch! Not the kind of memory you want to record in a scrapbook. Parents, you have it within your power to control your conflict with the other parent. Please, use it.
- Parents who act like adults. This is your child's special day. Focus on what he/she wants and needs - not what you want (or think you need).
- Creative opportunities for your child to celebrate with both parents. This doesn't mean that you must celebrate all together. For some parents this might work, and for others it isn't even close to a good idea. It's all about eliminating stress and conflict for everyone. You have a lifetime of days to celebrate with your child. It will help greatly if you don't fixate on just one day. If it isn't your year to be with your child, celebrate the week before or after. Or alternate with the other parent so that one of you handles the party at home and the other attends a party at school or scouts or soccer club etc. I don't know many children (or adults for that matter) who would complain about having too many celebrations. In my family we joke about celebrating birth-months rather than birthdays.
Need help planning a great party? Birthday in a Box has tons of ideas with 115 party themes for kids from 1 - 12. All you do is pick a theme and Birthday in a Box will send you everything you need for a perfect party. In addition, the site is chock full of resources to help you pull off a party your child will love. You'll find party planning checklists, over 200 game ideas, crafts, and recipes, both edible and non-edible. In other words, everything you need.
- Ability/permission to use their gifts at either parent's home. I've heard sad stories from children who tell me that they got a very cool present but can only play with it when they are at mom's (or dad's). Put yourself in your child's shoes. How would you like it if you could only wear your favorite watch, or use that Blackberry, or drive your favorite car part of the time? I know I wouldn't like it. And I'm telling you, your kids don't like it either. Be generous and take the high road when it comes to your children's belongings.
Just for the record, I also want to say that children don't need big parties and expensive gifts. What they need is time with you. A colleague of mine says that children spell love with another four-letter word - TIME.
Don't Forget Grandparents and Extended Family
Your children's grandparents are going to want to celebrate too. Grandchildren are oh so important to grandparents. Sometimes in a divorce, grandparents and other extended family lose out on spending time with their grandchildren on important events and special occasions. This is a huge loss not only for the grandparents but also for your child. Be creative about finding ways to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other important family members in your celebrations.
Children aren't the only ones in families who like to celebrate their birthdays. Parents also may want to celebrate by spending time with their children. Here are a few ideas that may help:
Take me from birthdays back home
- Help your child make or purchase a gift and/or card for the other parent. By doing so you are modeling generous, sensitive behavior for your child.
- Offer to switch parenting time or just give up some of your time so that your child can spend time with the other parent on his/her birthday.
- If the other parent lives in a different town, help (or remind if you have older children) your child make a special telephone call.
- Keep any differences you may have with the other parent to yourself. Don't put your child in the painful position of having to choose one parent over the other. This means watching what you say as well as monitoring your non-verbal behavior. Kids pick up on all of it.