Four Tips for Celebrating Birthdays as Co-parents

Just because you divorced your child’s other parent doesn’t mean you stopped dreaming of creating beautiful birthday memories.  Have you and your co-parent discussed how you will celebrate your child’s next birthday?  And exactly how do you create those glorious childhood memories when you no longer control the entire situation?  Should you include step siblings if the party is at your house?  And what about those big birthdays with more elaborate celebrations.  Do you organize two events or celebrate together?  Here are my four tips for celebrating birthdays as co-parents.

Tip #1 for Celebrating Birthdays as Co-parents: Talk with your co-parent about birthday plans

Now that our son is an adult, Bob and I still enjoy making his birthday special.  Just yesterday, we each took time to celebrate with him.  This time we got together with him separately due to scheduling difficulties.  But we did talk about it just as we always have.  When Ian was younger, we collaborated on planning birthdays from year to year.  We took turns planning the kid parties and we came together to have combined celebrations with extended family on special birthdays. 

Talking about your plans ahead of time will dispel any assumptions about the day.  Who is the child scheduled to be with on his birthday? And will the other parent have an opportunity to see them?  Is seeing them on that calendar date important to either of you?  Are there any plans to be out of town for either the child or the parents? 

Right or wrong?

I know one parent who intentionally planned for her daughter to be out of town on her birthday every single year. The dad never got to spend a birthday with his daughter.  Was that right?  Was that fair to either of them?  I was close to this situation. While it was sad, I don’t believe the father talked to the daughter’s mom about this. He didn’t expressing how important spending time with her on her birthday was to him. And he never proactively offered to help plan a birthday celebration. Maybe this would have changed things and maybe it wouldn’t have. We will never know.

Tip #2 for Celebrating Birthdays as Co-parents: Accept that as a Co-parent, you must give up some control

Control is actually a funny thing when it comes to divorce.  On one hand, you gain more control over many aspects of your life.  Big things such like where you live and the way you prioritize your life. And smaller things like how you decorate your home and what you eat for dinner.  Ironically, when you no longer live with your co-parent, you relinquish control over decisions made when your child is not with you.  You lose control of what your children eat, what they watch on TV, what time they go to bed, and how your co-parent disciplines them.  Sure, you can make suggestions. And you should discuss all of these items with your child’s other parent.  But in the end, they will make their own decision and you will have no choice but to live with it. 

Your Child wants others to see that they are “normal.”

But wait… weren’t we talking about celebrating birthdays?  Why is it important to accept that you have less control when it comes to planning your child’s birthday celebrations?  Because if you are going to share responsibility for birthday planning, you’re not going to be able to control what happens in the other parent’s home.  Still, it is important for many children to get to share their whole life with their friends. So while you my have to give up control, you can still help to make the celebration a success.

Instead of telling your ex how a party should go down in their home, offer to help with the cake, invitations, or decorating.  Be prepared for the fact that they may refuse this help because they have their own ideas.  That may be you next time around.  Keep your focus on the idea that you want your child to enjoy their birthday. 

When it came to celebrating Ian’s birthday, Bob and I traded off on birthday planning just like any other co-parenting responsibility.  One year I planned the kid party, and the next year Bob did.  By doing this, we each got to enjoy this little slice of parenting, creating the memories we envisioned for Ian.  We also split party expenses so that no one felt like the other was taken advantage of.

Tip #3 for Celebrating Birthdays as Co-parents: Invite kids from your co-parents’ side

When planning parties, it’s easy to get caught up in all the little details. Your busy choosing party favors, selecting a birthday cake, and picking fun activities for the kids.  You’re so focused on making sure to not forget classmates or your relatives that you could easily forget to invite step-siblings, and others important people from your ex’s side.  This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. They are simply not in the forefront of your mind. 

But forgetting these significant people in your child’s life can have major implications. It can lead to sadness for your child and hurt feelings for the ones left out. It could even lead to your child being similarly omitted in the future.  To avoid this mess, if your child is old enough, ask them who they want to invite.  Then ask the other parent for input so that you are not relying entirely on your child to remember everyone.

In the case of our co-parenting relationship, Ian’s step mom Brandi was a big help in planning Ian’s birthday celebrations.  When we held the big gatherings, she helped with every aspect and freely offered up her home to my family and friends. Looking back on it now and being a step-parent myself, I wish I would have done more to include Brandi. Why only on the big birthdays? Maybe going forward that is something I will work on.  Co-parenting is a life-long journey and it’s never too late to do better!

Tip #4 for Celebrating Birthdays as Co-parents: Celebrate Milestone Birthdays as One Big Family

Coming together as one big happy family now that you are divorced may not work for all co-parents.  But if your only hesitation is that it will be awkward, get over it.  The benefits to your child, you, and others close to your child outweigh the awkward feelings you’ll experience.  For one, your child can expend all their excitement and energy on one gathering.  They won’t have to feel as if they need to save up some emotion for the second act. 

Second, you both get an opportunity to rebuild relationships with in-laws and friends from whom you may have become estranged.  These relationships may provide comfort, support, and more to you and your children in years to come.  I know for me, this certainly was the case.  And by the way, the awkward feelings you experience at the beginning diminish as you spend more time you spend together. This will make all those encounters at your children’s sporting events and performances more enjoyable for everyone.

When Ian’s special birthdays came up, Bob and I joined forces.  For the milestone birthdays, one of us would host a single party for friends and family from all sides to celebrate together.  Our son loved this because he got to spend time with all of the people he cares about at once.  As co-parents, Bob and I each welcomed the other and their family into our home as we would any family member.  This absolutely sowed bonds and created cherished memories important to all of us.

Do you have a co-parenting story to share?

Do you have tips for celebrating birthdays as co-parents?  Would you like help with a co-parenting problem? Submit them to the Collaborative Co-Parenting Community. I will scrub your submission of any identifying information and post it to this blog for others to read and comment on.

For more co-parenting tips, check my blog for articles on a variety of topics.

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