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Parenting Time and Your Child’s Birthday

One of the many very difficult aspects of being newly separated or divorced is dealing with parenting time, child custody agreements, and not being able to see your kids every day. I can remember crying hysterically the first night my kids slept out of the house. Just 3 and 5 back then, I remember thinking, ‘There is something very wrong about this. How can a mother not spend every night with her young children?’ I felt guilty, sad, worried, and really really bad about myself, feeling selfish for getting divorced.


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One thing, in particular that is extremely difficult for newly separated men and women when it comes to parenting time is, what if your ex’s night with the kids happens to fall on one of your kids’ birthdays?

Do you not get to see your child turn 9??? Or do you have to wish him or her a happy birthday over the phone?? You don’t get to see him/her blow out the candles on the cake? You don’t get to have a birthday dinner on your child’s actual birthday? And you don’t get to tuck him/her in bed, kiss the forehead and say a prayer to God to keep him/her safe and happy??


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Being divorced and not spending your child’s birthday with him/her can be extremely stressful and painful. You feel like you’re missing out on a monumental day. It feels isolating and depressing and it makes you feel lonely, even second-guessing/regretting the divorce.


The hope is that newly separated parents can be amicable enough on birthdays and holidays, that they are willing to deviate from the schedule and allow the other parent to have some parenting time with the kids for at least part of the day. But, that’s not always the case.

With divorce can come extreme resentment, anger, and vindictive behavior (even from the best hearted people). So, a person might seek revenge on their ex by depriving them of parenting time on the child’s birthday because by law, that day is theirs.

I find that extremely sad, but the reality is, it happens. A lot.

I do know that you can have a clause put in your divorce decree which states that on each child’s birthday, each parent gets half the day. But how sad is that, that you have to have it in writing? Still, it might be the best option if there is a lot of anger during your divorce.

But let’s say that it’s your child’s birthday, it’s not “your day” with your kids, it’s not in your decree and your ex won’t budge. How do you cope?


Easy! Have your own birthday celebration on another day!


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What’s wrong with having a birthday celebration with your kids a couple days before or after your child’s birthday? What I think is important to remember is, no one (including your children) will focus on the fact that it’s not the actual DAY, but rather that you went to a restaurant, or made a really nice dinner, and baked a cake and opened presents to celebrate your child’s birthday.


There is absolutely no reason to be depressed or sad on the actual day because you are eventually going to celebrate it (or you already did).


Another thing you can do is, when saying good-bye to your child the night before his/her birthday, tell them that you will be in their heart all day long, thinking of them on their special day. DO NOT act sad or cry or get emotional or say, “I’m sorry I can’t be with you on your birthday.” That will only make the child sad.

Be happy and say, “I can’t believe you are going to be 9. I’m so proud of the person you are becoming. You are kind and smart and beautiful and I am so lucky that I am your mom (or dad.)”


The bottom line is, there is NOTHING to be sad about, even if you can’t be with your child on his/her birthday! NOTHING. Feel gratitude for your child’s health and happiness, and the fact that you are out of a marriage that wasn’t working. I promise it’s not going to be as hard as you think!


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Here’s the good news. I think with time, many couples–even those who were bitter and angry with each other at the beginning of their divorce, eventually learn to coparent beautifully. Over time, oftentimes parenting time schedules get thrown into a drawer, and the divorced couple learns to make adjustments to the parenting time schedule, make exceptions, do each other favors, and of course, celebrate the kids’ birthdays together.

Living that way is so much better for everyone! I know this from personal experience. Think about this: how happy would a kid be to celebrate his/her birthday with BOTH parents at the same time? I’m not saying you have to have a huge birthday party together, but even just 15 minutes for a cake together will be remembered so fondly by a child.

I remember years ago, I knew this couple who hated each other so much that they would have two birthday parties for their child. Literally, I would have to bring my child to each one’s house to celebrate my friends’ kid’s birthday twice (and bring two gifts!) I found it very immature and strange for the child.

Ask yourself, ‘Don’t I want to be better than that?’ I know it’s not easy, but putting your children firston their birthdays means seeing your ex for a few minutes or an hour, even if it’s painful or infuriating. You’ll be really glad you did.


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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorced Girl Smiling is here to empower, connect and inspire you. Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling, the site, the podcast and the app. A former television journalist and newspaper features reporter, Pilossoph is also the author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.

The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.