Monday, February 15, 2016

A Peek Inside the Blended Family: Birthdays

When I posted last week about our custody schedule, I had originally started it as a single post that I felt it important to share, but had so much background to fill in just to get to the present and what I wanted to say.  Thus, as I was writing the idea of continuing as a series came. I have a few more ideas swirling around that I hope will develop as well, but for now I'm proud to continue an authentic, real life look at life in a blended family.

George and I have been discussing Reagan's upcoming 12th birthday which led to reflection of previous birthdays and other family birthdays within our house. I wish I could say that this has always been an easy and positive aspect of our blended family.  As with most things in our blended family and trying to coparent, the push pull struggle is definitely prevalent in birthdays.  

Way back in the early days before shared custody, we'd plan celebrations on our every other weekend with our family. That started out easily enough then soon enough we'd have to deal with things like, "Reagan is sick and won't be coming to your house this weekend." knowing we'd be celebrating Andrew's birthday that same weekend.  I remember that being so stressful, disheartening, and really just unnecessary as we were still trying to navigate a life together in our own house.  Legally, her mom violated a custody order by not allowing George to get Reagan on his time. We will never know if she was actually sick that weekend or not because by the time we got to see her two weeks later, of course she was better. We clearly didn't have the kind of relationship to discuss what was best or what course of action to take together. Mom took liberties as the custodial parent and made decisions where our hands were tied. 

George had a birthday during this time where he only spoke with his daughter instead of spending time with her like he legally should have. It was the first time in 6 weeks he had been able to speak with her as she was alienated and withheld from him during that time without any consequence. 

Reagan's 5th birthday was the worst ever. Her birthday fell  during the custody trial that year and a slew of false accusations were made in an effort to keep primary custody with her mom. Instead of celebrating, she spent her 5th birthday talking with social workers and police officers. 

We managed to get to a point where we simply celebrated her birthday when we had her and did the best we could trying to avoid the drama that inevitably surrounded. We celebrated Andrew when it worked for our family and sometimes Reagan was there and sometimes she wasn't. George's birthday has always had a legal protection. In 8 years, Reagan has never been with us on my birthday.    When Lily was born, she had a summer birthday where we had more flexibility to ensure there wasn't a time issue. Though on Lily's 3rd birthday, Reagan decided she didn't want to be at our house and wanted to go back to her mom's and miss Lily's party.  George was really hurt, I was angry, and Lily still remembers.  Reagan had learned in her short life that we were unimportant, so it wasn't a big deal to miss in her mind. Over the years, her participation has grown to be valuable to her, thankfully. 

After a lot of work and time, together with her mom and stepdad, we were able to have a birthday party for Reagan with friends when she turned 9.

The handful of years that we have only had weekday custody of Reagan, we figured out that celebrating her birthday consisted of a special treat where we'd of course have candles and sing happy birthday and we'd also go out for supper with our family which is not something we do with everyone in our family. Typically, the birthday person chooses their favorite meal and we eat at home. But because of Reagan's schedule and us not having any weekend time, we haven't been able to have a party with our friends. We wish it weren't that way, but being constrained with the Monday-Friday custody schedule didn't lend itself to making that work with everyone.  

This past fall, the birthdays all came to a head.  After asking for Reagan to be able to be with us for Violet's 2nd birthday party on a Saturday when we had weekday only time, we tried to work out something with her mom.  Trying to negotiate times with her mom is always a lengthy process. Rarely is it simple. Lots of back and forth, different scenarios and multiple conversations occur. Ultimately, her mom wanted George to leave Violet's party early to bring Reagan back to her house.  
I had spent a very long time of being considerate of her mom's time, family, commitments and tip toed on what I would say to ensure we'd be able to make things work without poking the bear, this time I was absolutely floored. I was standing in Party City with Violet getting party supplies when that text came in to bring her home during the party. I wrote back and said that I couldn't believe she would ask that of us and I would never ask her to leave one of her children's parties to pick Reagan up.  

I was in utter disbelief and plain and simply, angry.  

While I truly, truly understand her mom being protective of her time being short and only weekends, I couldn't help but feel resentful at the same time. She chose the schedule to be this way, so why is there no flexibility on important times like birthdays? For a kid who already feels like she's missing out on the "fun stuff" at our house all the time to have to miss a family member's birthday is unacceptable. 

In the end, negotiating went like this. We agreed to give up Reagan being at Andrew's birthday party over Thanksgiving weekend, so her mom could have her 5 day weekend "unbroken."  Basically choose one of our kids over another.  I absolutely regret that we did that.  I have expressed that on more than on occasion to her mom that I regret it. It was wrong and it will never happen again.  Her mom also said that we just need to do what they do and plan birthday parties on our time like they do. It's easy to do that when "your" time is all weekend time.  

All of the conversation surrounding Violet's birthday last fall continue to scream out to us that we needed a schedule change.  

Reagan was able to attend Violet's birthday party and was picked up during the party. George didn't have to leave.  While not ideal, her mom did bend a bit about it and as I said before, we gave up something in order for her to be here.  

I just can't imagine missing out on my siblings birthdays or that even being ok to consider. We just would never even consider having Reagan miss out on her siblings birthdays at her mom's. I still cannot fathom where that is acceptable. 

Last year, Reagan's birthday was on a school day which given our schedule, she was with us, so we started out the day with a traditional birthday doughnut with candles before school. After school, George and his mom took Reagan shopping and they went out for supper together. She opened gifts and we had cupcakes and sang happy birthday again that night with our family. It was a nice day!

Come to find out much, much later (like 2 months ago) that Reagan shared with her mom that we had a "lame birthday donut" and said we didn't get her any presents.  

I wasn't angry at all. 

Honestly, I was hurt.

We work hard to make sure that she is included in traditions regardless of her time here because she is our child.  

Throughout conversations with her about this, we learned that she was upset that she doesn't have a birthday party with our friends like "everyone else does."  We discussed how she thought that would work given our schedule as weekdays with us/weekends with her mom. We talked about the ways we do celebrate her and have made it important to us that we go out for supper where she chooses and we don't do that with anyone else. We asked her why she said a birthday donut was lame as we do it for Lily and Violet as well and talked about traditions we have in our family. We asked if badmouthing and lying was the way to get anything to change or could she have done something differently.

The whole thing left me feeling like we work so hard to ensure we do the best we can given what we've had and it's all for nothing.  Nothing is good enough. 

As an isolated event, the birthday donut isn't a big issue, but as a part of the bigger picture, it's a piece of the struggle we have with her about honesty, her back and forth pot stirring, and communicating her feelings to the parent where the concern actually is.  

Birthdays should just be able to be celebrated, happy joyous occasions! I lovelovelove party planning and the last time I truly loved planning for hers was when she was turning 4. I made one of my favorite cakes I've made ever and there was little to no drama. Just it should be. I hope we get back to that some day.

How do you handle birthdays when dealing with your blended family?

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