A child's upcoming party, once a cause for simple and joyful anticipation, can work single or divorced parents like Mandy A. into a lather. "My son's fifth birthday is at the end of this month and I'm not sure if I should celebrate it with my ex or not," says this Circle of Moms member — and that issue is just the tip of the iceberg.
Like many parents who are going through divorce or have recently set up separate households, Mandy wants to shield her son from the stress she feels about her split by keeping his father out of the celebration she'll be hosting. But she's unsure whether this is actually in her son's best interest or not.
Some parents to have two separate kid's parties – one hosted by Dad and another by Mom (...and let the competition begin). Some invite their ex to co-host the celebration. But the emotional whirlpool kicks up when they try to bring the grandparents, aunts and uncles and extended families into the mix.
This begs other questions: Who's house? Who should be invited? Here Circle of Moms Members offer tips for keeping the "happy" in your children's birthdays after a divorce.
1. A Shared Celebration
Many Circle of Moms members say they've made pacts with their exes to celebrate their children's birthdays together. Kids generally prefer this approach, but it obviously only works when the parents – and their extended families - can be cordial and respectful to one another, as Jennifer O. stresses: "For my step daughter's next birthday we are having a party on our side of the family and inviting her birth mother's side of the family as well, and everyone is completely on board with this," she says. "I think it would be such a positive thing to have everyone all together, getting along, to celebrate. I know everyone will behave themselves."
If parents do decide to hold a joint party, many moms suggest holding it on neutral ground, like at a park or recreation center where you can rent some space. And, as Chrissy C. suggests, it's a good idea to inform both sides of the family in advance that they are all going to be there, "to minimize the tension."
2. Each Parent Holds Their Own Party
Other Circle of Moms members prefer not to co-mingle at their kids' parties. "I don't think it is a great idea to do parties together," declares Karen H., whose children get two parties, one on her side and the other on their dad's. "First off, there are problems with family members saying stuff to one another, making faces or remarks to others etc." Second, she explains further, "I have noticed that it gives some inkling that the parents might get back together. The kids tend to feel 'the family thing' again, when it's not real."
Sarah G. has mixed feelings about this issue, as she loved her family's tradition of holding large barbeques for her child's birthdays. Now that she and her husband have been separated for five months, she's not sure what to do for her son's fifth birthday. "My ex and I also get along very well but he and my mom had a falling out when we split," she shares. "So we talked it over and decided it would be best to have separate parties just to keep the drama out of the celebration. After all, the party is about the kids not the adults."
Michelle D., who has been separated for almost two years, is another moms who is convinced that separate parties are easier in the long run. As she explains, "It is easier for all of us, otherwise it just gets uncomfortable." She says her kids (a girl, 7, and a boy, 4) not only understand, they prefer it because they get to have two parties!
3. Honor Your Child's Preference
Sometimes the best way to approach your child's birthday party is to let him decide, says Kendra M. "Ask him what is least stressful for him. My ex and I get along great now, but we asked our son and he chose to have separate parties, so I have not had him come to a party at my house," she explains.
Caroline O., who has been separated for almost three years and held joint parties in the beginning but found them difficult, stresses that each situation is different. "For my son's third birthday it was obvious that we were not getting back together and we were discussing having two parties when my son walked up, grabbed us both by the hand and said 'Mama, Dada, I want to have one party with everyone together." Listening to her son's request, Caroline O. and her ex kept the party a joint family one. "It was a little tense for me, being around all his family, but I made it work for my son," she says.
Lillian C. agrees that the sacrifice can be worth it, emphasizing that the day is, after all, "your child's birthday and not your's or your ex's."
How do you handle post-divorce birthday parties?
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