Divorce is tough. It’s tough for everyone, even if it’s ultimately the best thing for everyone involved. Yet at the same time, it’s not that uncommon, especially in this day and age. While we might look back at previous generations and wonder why the divorce rate is going up, the fact is that a lot of marriages that lasted a lifetime weren’t necessarily happy; rather, it was once considered unacceptable for people to divorce. Now, people feel more comfortable with the idea of divorce on a societal level. We now recognize that psychologically, a lot of people simply marry at the wrong time or too early, and therefore need to divorce for the best of both parties. People aren’t sticking with a marriage simply because it’s the theoretical “right thing to do” anymore. On average, the typical first marriage lasts about eight years. But that doesn’t mean that the shame and stigma surrounding divorce has entirely disappeared. It can be difficult to face the first major life events surrounding a divorce, especially if you have kids. Even if they’re ultimately better off, children can have a hard time accepting divorce. Holidays can be hard enough for them to handle until they get into a routine, but birthdays can be even more sensitive. And even if your child doesn’t seem daunted by the idea of their first birthday party following a divorce, it’s understandable if you might be. There is always a lot of pressure on parents to plan a perfect birthday party. That pressure inevitably intensifies after a divorce, when you want everything to be perfect.
Fortunately, you aren’t alone. As previously mentioned, a lot of people get divorced in this day and age, and it’s important to understand that you can still plan a perfect birthday party for your child even if you are divorced. Chances are that a lot of their friends are divorced, and you need to consider the fact that children are often just as put off by their parents acting as if they need to be handled with kid gloves as they are with new changes. It can be a bit difficult to reach the balance necessary, and with that being said, we’re tackling all of the topics that a parent might want to think about when planning the first birthday party after you begin co-parenting as a divorced parent.
1. Prepare For Emotions
It’s natural for you or your child to be emotional following a divorce. It’s important to remember that getting divorced does not break up a family, but rather creates a new idea of what your family is. Of course, not everyone responds to divorce the same way as everyone else. You may not have a lot of negative feelings or sadness about your divorce, and that’s okay. The issue is really understanding that your child might. Kids may be too young to understand that a divorce is necessary; or they could be full-grown adults and still be too emotional to really separate themselves from the situation. All of this is natural. Conversely, you could be the emotional one and your child might even be relieved by the divorce. What’s important is that you’re open and honest with your kids about your emotions, and encourage them to be open and honest about theirs. While it’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll be emotionally set before the birthday party happens, counseling is always a good place to start. Through counseling, you, your co-parents, and your children can navigate the emotional minefields that come with divorce.
On the day of the birthday party, however, you as the parent need to be prepared and act accordingly. This is why working with a therapist on things like resiliency training can be so important. The last thing you would want is to unload all of your emotions about your divorce on your child, particularly on their birthday. No matter what you plan to create a perfect birthday party, none of that is going to matter if you make that party about you and your feelings regarding your divorce. This doesn’t mean that you have to suppress your emotions and completely deny what you’re feeling. But you have to find the appropriate time and manner in which to express your feelings. This is something you’ll have to be careful about throughout your time with your children following your divorce; don’t make it all about you. Understand that your kids are going through something over which they have no control, and acknowledge their struggles while at the same time process your own in a way that does not negate what your children are feeling. Be human, of course; but remember that your children are relying upon you.
2. Consider Inviting Your Ex
This tip isn’t going to work for every family; it depends heavily on what your relationship with your ex-spouse is like. But it can be difficult to plan a perfect birthday party without knowing whether or not your ex is going to be there. It’s important for you to consult with your child about this, if them being there is an option. Take their opinion into account; it’s really the most important one. At the same time, think long and hard about whether or not you and your spouse will be able to cooperate with one another on a friendly level. Some exes are quite amicable, even becoming friends after the divorce is over. Others have major issues with one another, and can’t be amicable even for the sake of the children. Ultimately, you will ideally get to this place. But if you aren’t there right now, remember that your kids come first. Your maturity is paramount to their adjustment. For some children, it won’t matter if their birthday comes with cool perks, like a bounce castle or custom birthday party shirts. They’ll just want their parents to be kind to each other and present equally. Other children aren’t really going to care.
Then comes the really thorny issue: what if your children want their other parent to be there, but they can’t be there? This may be because your ex-spouse is involved with legal issues that make it difficult for them to attend the birthday party, which does occur during some divorces. It could be because you and your ex-spouse are still figuring out your custody arrangement. Many child custody attorneys will advise that you and your spouse keep your distances from one another during this period unless absolutely necessary. No matter what your reason, there are times when you and your spouse just won’t be able to be around one another with your child for an extended period. Therefore, you need to prepare your child for this possibility. Again, discussions are key. But you should also make sure that your child is able to have a birthday celebration with their other parent, whether it’s a full party or a secondary occasion. This could even be viewed as a “plus side” of the two of you splitting up. It might not be ideal, but it might be nice for your child to have two of everything. Be prepared for challenges, of course. Everyone is different in terms of how they process emotion, and you must be respectful of your child’s feelings even if you can’t fulfill their every wish.
3. What If You Do Host By Yourself?
While you may be focusing on planning a perfect birthday party post-divorce, the fact is that this is only going to be the first birthday party you’ll be planning following your divorce. Right now, you can focus on the fun things, like whether or not you should host the birthday party at a pizza shop, or if another option is a good idea. But the fact is that you’ll have plenty more birthday parties to host. The fact is that if you decide to host your child’s birthday party on your own, you’re probably setting a precedent. You and your ex will have to decide how you’ll host the next birthday parties. Will each of you host a separate party? Or, as more parents tend to decide, will you trade off on different birthdays? There are a lot of different options to consider. Another factor to consider, of course, is whether or not this should be hammered out in your custody agreement. Some parents choose to be more relaxed, while others prefer to have an explicit agreement in place.
One major reason why a lot of parents choose to host together is that it’s also somewhat difficult to plan a perfect birthday party on your own. A lot of parents are stressed out by the idea of planning a birthday party on their own, let alone a birthday party that’s taking place soon after a divorce. While you may have the impulse to “make up” for the divorce by planning an extravaganza, the fact is that you’re better off planning something within both your financial and emotional limits. You’re not a failure if the birthday party is somewhat less fancy than what you may have done when your ex was there to help you out. And if you weren’t the cook in the family, don’t feel as if you failed if you order food delivery. It’s all a part of the adjustment period.
4. Prepare Yourself For Questions
Perhaps the most stressful part of planning a perfect birthday party is the fact that it’s a party in the first place. There are a lot of issues surrounding divorce in terms of how people perceive divorce, and how curious they might be about it. There may be questions from children; that’s perhaps to be expected, especially if the children are particularly young. Field these gently, and with understanding; and for that matter, discuss with your child what to say if their friends ask them about your divorce. But you may also want to think about the fact that some adults may ask questions as well. As strange as this may seem to you, it’s not unusual for adults to become a bit too curious about divorce, perhaps because some of them see it as taboo; or perhaps because they don’t quite know how to keep to themselves. No matter what their reasoning, it’s understandable if that makes you want to take down the birthday lawn signs in your yard.
But again, you have to think about your child first, and understand that you can’t deny them a perfect birthday party because you’re worried about questions. This year, it might be a better idea to invite fewer children to the birthday party. Most people are probably trying to keep their gatherings small in a post-pandemic world anyway. No matter what, answer any questions to whatever degree you want, but keep your response short and polite. You don’t owe anyone your life story, but you also don’t want to cause a scene at your child’s birthday party. To keep questions to a minimum, you might want to put away any visual reminders of your ex, like family photos including them or custom made jewelry they gifted you, at least for the duration of the party.
There really isn’t any such thing as a perfect birthday party, least not in a defined manner. But you can certainly make a birthday party easier on yourself and your child with these tips. For that matter, you can take this time to put aside the divorce for a while, and really focus on bonding with your child and lavishing them with attention.
At the end of the day, stress is what really can prevent you from throwing your idea of a perfect birthday party. Don’t stress yourself out, don’t worry too much about what you’re going to be doing with the birthday party itself, and focus on your child. This is going to be an emotional time no matter what, for at least one of you. Let yourself feel, and at the same time let yourself enjoy it!