Recently I worked with a number of child and teen clients who were getting ready to celebrate their birthdays. We all know that birthdays are very important to children of all ages! However, what I heard from these children and teens was quite the opposite:
"This is my birthday but I feel like I have to please both of my parents and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do."
"This is just like my soccer games -- should I leave with my father or mother?"
"My mother said I can't spend my actual birthday with my father because it's my mother's time to be with me."
Birthdays become a source of contention for parents and sad realities for children. It doesn't have to be that way. I am sure you don't want to hurt your child. In fact, be proactive and think about what you can do to truly make a happy birthday for your child.
1. Think about this very, very special time and go back to the day your child came in to this world. Do you remember the joy, the pride, the awe, the love? Cherish that memory and bring it to this birthday.
2. Whose event is it? While you created the event, it is your child's day! Think about five, 10, 15 years down the road. How do you want your child to remember his/her birthday?
3. Remember that there is enough love to go around. The best gift that you can give your child is to allow your child to love and be loved by each parent.
4. Even if it is your designated access day, support your child having some time with their other parent. Some parents have a joint dinner; others give their children a few hours with their other parent.
5. Some parents are able to have dinner together at a neutral restaurant or their own home; this means the world to children as long as the focus is on the child and there is no discussion or noticeable tension.
6. Ask your child what might make him/her happy.
7. While children love gifts, the best gift is spending time with you and your focusing on your children. It is easy to get drawn into the best gifts, most expensive electronics. Your child might try to set up the parental competition by reporting what the other parent is doing. Acknowledge your child's happiness.
At NFRC's peer counselor meeting recently, children, teens and adults shared their thoughts about birthdays:
One adult suggested "calling a truce" with your co-parent: "Allow your child to do what he/she wants."
A sixth grader said, "Kids should be able to make a decision about what will make them happy without worrying about their parents." A teen said, "Give it up for a day. ... Parents are always fighting over their kids and it spoils everything, especially if it the kid's birthday."
A number of children and adults suggested a parent celebrating before or after a child's birthday and designating that time as special birthday time.
Said one wise adult peer counselor, "We should celebrate children and teens every day." Perhaps this is the best gift we can give our children.