Dealing with children’s birthdays can be one of the more complicated aspects of co-parenting. Even parents who can find a way to split custody of their kids over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays may be unsure of what to do when their child’s birthday rolls around.
If your child wants and expects a birthday party, the question becomes whether the two of you coordinate one celebration or you each throw a party. Many parents prefer to have separate parties for their child. After all, what child is going to turn down the chance for more than one party? If your child is still in the toddler/preschool years, however, two parties can be confusing.
The link between birthday celebrations and aging in preschoolers
Several years ago, researchers found that some young children are still grasping the concept of birthdays and age. In two studies, they told stories to nearly 100 children between three and five years of age that involved children having birthdays with or without birthday parties.
Some 20% of the kids thought that a child who had two birthday parties turned two years older – one year for each party. Even more (25%) thought that a child who didn’t have a birthday party didn’t turn a year older.
Humans are unique among animals in tracking their ages and linking them to a specific date. As we get older, we’re less likely to be concerned with having a big (or any) celebration. However, for kids, birthday parties and getting older are very closely tied together. It can take some time and development for them to grasp the difference between having a party and actually turning a year older.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a reason to struggle through a joint birthday party with your ex if it’s going to be miserable for everyone – including your child. However, if you choose to have separate celebrations for your young child, just make sure they understand that this is all for one birthday and that a birthday can involve many and varied types of celebrations.
This isn’t a problem you’re going to have for very long. Before you know it, your child will prefer to celebrate with their friends, without either of their parents around. However, if you’re still working out your parenting plan, it’s a good idea to address your child’s birthday in it.