The year following a divorce is tricky because you have a lot of “firsts” that you must learn how to manage.
Your first Christmas morning without your child under your roof. The first time you have to attend parent-teacher conferences with your ex. The first time your child refers to your ex’s new significant other.
Perhaps one of the most challenging moments for a newly-divorced parent to manage is when it comes time to celebrate your child’s birthday. Even though your marriage was far from perfect, your child’s birthday may have been at least one day out of the year that you and your ex-spouse managed to get along for the sake of your child. How will you handle it once the divorce is final?
Here are some things to ponder when it comes to planning your child’s birthday party after a divorce.
It’s not about you. Your child’s birthday is his or her special day. No matter how much you were hurt or mistreated during your marriage, your child’s birthday celebration should be a celebration of your son or daughter.
That doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard, but if your child wants both parents to celebrate at the same time, you may have to learn how to manage your emotions.
Reach out to your ex between three and four weeks before the birthday. Explain to your co-parent that you are willing to put aside any differences you have with each other to celebrate your child’s birthday. Ask if he or she is willing to do that as well.
If your ex agrees to act appropriately, go forward with the planning. If the conversation ends in a fight, you may be forced to have separate parties for your child. Remember, you can only change your own behavior. You can’t change anyone else’s.
Avoid having the party at either yours or your ex’s home. Even if either party does not own the family home, your ex will see items in your house that may bring back bad memories. If your spouse is reminded that he no longer owns the large TV because you obtained that in the settlement, that may open old wounds that will lead to an argument.
Instead, choose a park, zoo, or swimming pool as the location of the party.
Once you have chosen a neutral location, ask your ex to participate in some of the planning. This means that you may have to let go of some of the control of the party.
Ask your spouse to complete tasks that may not be as important to you, especially if your ex has a difficult time following through on promises. For example, you may ask your ex if he or she will make goodie bags or pick up balloons. If the party doesn’t have balloons or goodie bags, it’s not the end of the world.
If money was a problem during your marriage, you might want to try to share the expenses evenly. You may be the one who pays more than your share. It’s not fair, and it’s not right, but you may have to do it to keep the peace at the party.
Explain to your family and friends that you are choosing to do what’s best for your child by co-hosting a birthday party with your ex. Ask the people on your guest list to be on their best behavior and show grace and maturity. If your family members or friends aren’t able to do this, you may have to ask them not to attend.
Many families host large parties for adult friends and family to celebrate a child’s birthday. Since many adults are usually in attendance, you may have served alcohol in the past. If this is the first birthday celebration since the divorce or if you have a particularly volatile situation, you may consider only serving soft drinks at your party.
Your child may not be too keen on this idea, but you may consider trying to set a spending limit for your child’s birthday gifts. If you don’t, each “side” may try to outdo the other on spending, which may cause hurt feelings. You may ask guests to attend the party without a gift or to purchase a book for the child instead.
If you don’t set a spending limit, you may have your child open the gifts with only you and your ex watching.
If your divorce was especially volatile, you might not realistically be able to host your child’s birthday party together. As the years go on, it may become easier.
This article was originally posted at Midlife Single Mommy.