A Guide to Co-Parenting a Child’s Milestones and Birthdays
Dynamics are changing in the American family, with many parents divorcing and learning to co-parent after separation. In fact, about 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Fortunately, there are many resources and tools out there including co-parenting apps to help divorced parents navigate their new lives with their children!
Divorce isn’t always a negative experience for children. While it is a significant life change, children who have parents who co-parent in effective ways can gain two healthy and happy families instead of remaining in one that might be unhealthy and conflicted.
One key element to successful co-parenting includes finding ways to share in the celebration of a child’s birthdays and milestones. Although co-parenting through these occasions may include more steps, it can still provide the essential support and healthy relationships that a child deserves. Luckily, there are unique ways to provide that support, such as sending out e-cards with video messages or birthday invitations with pictures.
Let’s take a closer look at how to co-parent a child’s milestones and birthdays.
Take Time to Discuss Boundaries Between Parents and Families
It’s important that parents have a conversation well before a celebration to discuss boundaries and expectations. Will there be a party on your child’s actual birthday? Wish which parent is the child scheduled to be with on that day? Does it make sense to plan a party together? If there is tension between the co-parents, perhaps one can plan a party this time, and the other can do so for the next celebration. In some cases, it may be better if you each plan your own small party.
Sometimes, while the co-parents have a perfectly amicable relationship after a divorce, other family members may not. To manage potential uncomfortable situations with extended family, parents should have an open and honest discussion about whether these sour relationships might dampen a celebration. Sometimes, even for the sake of this child, some adults are unable to control their tempers or emotions. In this case, it may make more sense to hold separate celebrations or to have extended family participate virtually. Showing support through a group video created specifically for the occasion is a wonderful complement to in-person celebrations. These difficult discussions about guests and anticipated tensions should occur when the children are not present in order to keep them separate from potential disagreements or conflicts.
Defining Themes and Financial Logistics
Whether it’s a birthday party, spelling bee, soccer tournament, or school play, planning or attending a child’s event will differ after separation. Parents will no longer be able to quickly touch base about upcoming events and details during dinner. Co-parenting requires that both parents plan in advance and make an effort to find a time to talk about and coordinate around future events.
Planning a child’s party requires lots of decisions (think decorations, cake, entertainment, and goody bags). Many of these decisions are based on a party theme. With this in mind, parents can simplify decision making by first picking a party theme. Think about your child’s interests and how you can personalize the party to them. Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal, book, movie, sport, or superhero? A party theme can help make the birthday celebration special for your child and easier for you and your ex to make decisions about other aspects of the party.
When planning an event, parents will need to set a budget and agree on who will pay for what in order to avoid any disagreements or misunderstandings. Also, be mindful of your ex’s schedule and realize that finding an agreed upon time for an event might be more challenging than it used to be.
Lastly, and most importantly, have an open and honest discussion about how to best meet your child’s needs and expectations. You don’t want to promise them the moon and then not deliver. Be realistic about what the two of you can accomplish while co-parenting and work together to plan a celebration (or separate celebrations) that your child will be happy with.
Whether you choose an invitation that matches the event theme or one that matches the birthday child’s age, digital invitations make it easy to provide important event information and gather RSVPs. The hard part about planning invitations is making sure both parents are on the same page about logistics and who is invited to the event. Here are some tips on how to plan invitations while co-parenting:
- Guest List: The first thing to do when planning to send invitations is to establish your guest list. First, ask your child for a list of who they want to attend. Next, discuss the event with the other parent and ask how they’d like to approach the situation. Would they like to invite extended family, step-children and new partners, or would they rather keep the event small and intimate? You don’t want to forget any guests so be sure to reach out to your ex to avoid any hurt feelings.
- Timing: Once the guest list is finalized, invitations for kids parties should be sent out 2-4 weeks before the party. This gives parents of the guests time to figure out their schedule, add your child's birthday to their calendar, pick up a gift, etc. Be sure to talk with your ex about who will be responsible for sending out the invitation and keeping track of RSVPs.
- Event Details: When you're ready to send the invite, make sure it includes all of the relevant information such as date, time, location, etc. Be sure to ask parents about any food allergies and if you have special requests, such as no gifts, you can also specify that on your invite. Before you send the invitation, show it to your ex to make sure you didn’t miss anything (or anyone!).
Plan for Gifts
Gift-giving may change after separation and should never be used to “buy” a child's affection or alliance. As parents, you should not buy bigger and better gifts to one-up a former spouse or convince your child of your love. Proper gifts and budgets should be discussed beforehand, in private, so that everyone’s on the same page. If there is a big gift that your child really wants, consider buying it with your ex and presenting it to your child together.
Parents should also consider preemptively deciding which house certain gifts may go to. Your ex might not want to get stuck with all of those glitter and slime crafts (so sparkly and sticky!), and that brand new bike should probably park at your home if your ex lives on a busy street.
Remember — It’s About the Child
Although co-parenting may be difficult, remember that it’s in the best interest of your child. Here are some tips to keep in mind for a successful co-parenting relationship around celebrations.
- Share control: It’s important to understand that when you co-parent, there will be give-and-take and some sacrifices will have to be made. Parents will also need to learn how to negotiate. You might not get to host your child’s birthday party this year, but maybe you can negotiate to see him on his actual birthday. If you decide to hold separate parties, perhaps one can primarily be for friends and schoolmates, while the other is with your ex’s extended family.
If your ex does host a celebration, remember not to critique. Instead, offer to help. And don’t be discouraged if your assistance isn’t needed. The offer to help will still be appreciated.
- Be inclusive: Parents should make an effort to celebrate as a family and keep in mind relatives they might not be in touch with as much as they were pre-divorce. Consider sending digital holiday cards to extended family members that contain updates about your child so that they can share milestones. Cards for Grandparent’s Day, Thanksgiving, or winter holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa are perfect opportunities to keep in touch.
- Normalize your situation: All your child wants is to simply have a fun party, just like their friends from non-divorced families. With that in mind, don’t ostracize your ex or speak ill of them to your child. Badmouthing your ex undermines your child’s relationship with the other parent and that isn’t fair. Know that, as a divorced parent, you are not alone and any frustrations you might have should be shared with a close, trusted friend.
- Stay in Communication: Parents should foster communication not only around celebrations and events, but for the overall health, experiences, and wellbeing of the child. An open, honest, and ongoing dialogue with the other parent will not only make co-parenting easier, but your children will be happier and healthier because of it.
The transition into a co-parenting relationship can have its ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work together to create happy memories around your child’s milestones. Be sure to remember what’s in the best interest of your child and you’ll be sure to have memorable celebrations for years to come.
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