How to Handle Children’s Birthdays After Divorce

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Celebrating the birthday of your child, particularly when he or she is young and bright-eyed and excited, is one of the joys of parenting. Children bring such an innocence to theme parties and of course adore having a day devoted to them. When couples divorce, handling birthdays can become an issue, particularly for parents with a high level of conflict from the divorce.

In an ideal world, parents would coordinate the planning and execution of the event, and they would place the interests of the child above any lingering issues between the two parents. But we do not live in an ideal world. From the perspective of the child, having two birthday celebrations rather than one may have some surface appeal – after all, who does not like more parties? But a child has one birthday, and the child may feel odd celebrating it on different days. Also, the child will wonder why the parents cannot come together for a celebration for just a few hours on such an important occasion; the emotional issues may be so strong that they overtake the fun of the party. The preferred option would be for the parents to come up with some way to work together or at least be present together. Parents could alternate years planning the party, but every year both parents would attend. If the families of the parents have a difficult time getting together, make the kids’ party the main event and allow each family to have a personal celebration.

Alternatively, parents could consider having part of the birthday with one side of the family, and the remaining part with the other side of the family. Also, if the parents have such a high level of conflict that they cannot be together without risking an episode, the parents can agree on a location for the kids’ party and trade-off as host – one parent takes the first half, the other takes the second half. Parents should make every effort to avoid one parent becoming excluded from celebrating the child’s birthday.

A birthday is a milestone event for a child, and one of many family celebrations that may happen without all family present. While a child of divorce can understand why parents may not share Thanksgiving or Christmas together, a birthday solely about the child is a bit harder to process and creates more emotional upheaval. Parents should consider this aspect when handling their plans – do not make the birthday about dueling parties and silly competitions that could embarrass a parent. Make the child a priority and figure out how to share this special day together in some way that works for everyone. If the birthday cannot work, what will happen with other future child-centered celebrations, like graduation? If you have questions about birthdays and divorce, contact us – we can help.