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Co-parenting – how to keep the happy in birthdays

By October 12, 2017No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

Co-parenting naturally means you’ll still have to interact with your former spouse, and one of the most challenging times after separation or divorce can be your child’s birthday.  This can be an especially emotional time if your divorce is still fresh.  It can hard to explain to a young child why one of you isn’t going to present in the morning on their birthday this year. And depending on what the birthday plans are, it is difficult to imagine playing happy families for a day if you’re going through an acrimonious split.

But your child’s birthday needs to be fun and memorable for your child, so the aim is to focus on what your child needs, and number one, that’s no conflict.  If that means shielding your child from the stress of your split by keeping the parents apart, so be it.  Your child shouldn’t be feeling like they’re in the middle of a tug of war, and not get to enjoy a proper celebration on their day.

For certainty, many people build birthday arrangements into their parenting plan or orders.  An example of a birthday arrangement that can work is: your child spends time with you for a period of three or four hours on the actual birthday, or you might choose for your child to spend most of the day with one parent and then go to the other parent later in the evening for dinner and an overnight stay. That sort of arrangement could then be swapped in alternate years so that your child has the chance to have a full and relaxing birthday with each parent.

Birthday parties

Whether or not you have specific birthday arrangements laid out in writing, working out what to do for birthday parties can add another whole layer of stress to this time.

For birthday parties, you basically have three options: throw one party together, alternate throwing a single party, or throw two parties.  There are pros and cons to each, and you’ll need to be guided by what is best for your child.  Always keep in mind that this day is about them, not you.

Some parents make a pact with their ex to celebrate birthdays together, or to arrange a birthday party together. Kids typically prefer this option, but obviously it can only work if everyone can be respectful and civil.

If you can see your way to co-hosting a party with your ex, the advantages of holding a single party include that you can manage the expense involved, invitees won’t have to choose between two parties or attending both, and that your child can have all their family and friends present in the one celebration.  It can also be very comforting for your child to have a familiar situation for their birthday as in previous years when you and your partner were still living together.

On the downside, you need to be sure you and your ex can get along during the party and the planning beforehand. Your ex may have different ideas to you about things like the theme, location, cake or guest list, and you need to know this won’t be a recipe for more conflict.  If you aren’t sure you can cordially divide all the work involved in throwing your child’s party, consider whether you can alternate who is going to be in charge.  Also, the danger of holding a joint party is that it can also possibly give child the false impression or hope that mum and dad are getting back together.

Even if you believe you and your ex can get along for the day, can you trust your extended family to behave and not use this as a chance to vent or make comments that will spoil the atmosphere? It may be that you need to consciously exclude potential troublemakers on either side.

You aim is to minimise tension at all times, so ensure you give everyone plenty of advance notice that both sides will be attending, and consider holding a joint party on neutral ground such as a playground, park or kids’ play centre.

But if you just can’t bring yourself to share a single party, or know it will simply cause too much tension, keep the drama away by holding your own party.  Children can be excited by the idea of two separate parties, one hosted by mum and one by dad. Remember that the younger they are, the less weight they will place on their birthday being held on a particular day. Some parents find it helpful if having separate celebrations to focus on having a “birth month” rather than a birth “day”. Ultimately, it’s always better to create two very happy environments than risk putting your child through a situation which may be awkward or upsetting in a joint environment and on a special day.

No matter which arrangement you decide to go with, remember to give permission to your child to use their gifts at the other parent’s house – this is the time to be generous, not petty.

Parent’s birthdays

You can set up arrangements regarding parents’ birthdays in your parenting plan or orders too.  Sometimes parents negotiate an arrangement along the following lines: if the parent’s birthday falls on a school day, the child spends from after school until after dinner with the parent whose birthday it is; or if a non-school day, the child spends the whole day with that parent.

If you don’t have arrangements specifically set out in a parenting plan or orders, and your ex’s birthday falls during “your time”, you might consider offering to switch days or to give up some of your time so that your ex can spend some or all of their birthday with your child.  This not only has the benefit of modelling decent, sensitive behaviour to your child, but hopefully, will encourage goodwill and see your ex reciprocate for you on your birthday.

Whatever the arrangements are going to be, don’t forget to help your child make a birthday card and buy a present for the other parent, and if you live in different towns, make sure to help your child make a special phone call to their other parent on their birthday.

Do you need advice in relation to a family law matter?  Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice.  For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance.

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