It’s a common scenario. Dad is treating the children to lavish gifts, trips and in other ways spoiling the children when he is with them, while Mom is struggling financially.
Mom is furious. But she also knows better than to bad-mouth Dad to the kids. (This is a wise mother who understands that put-downs will only backfire on her in the long run.) So Mom is looking for suggestions on how to best handle this situation. Usually there is an underlying motive behind this kind of behavior which is often influenced by how often Dad sees the kids. Some questions to consider include:
1. What kind of relationship does Dad have with them when he is not there?
2. Is Dad intentionally doing this to anger Mom -- or is it unconscious irresponsible behavior?
3. Is he resentful about not seeing more of his children and therefore intentionally trying to hurt Mom?
4. Is he aware that Mom is struggling financially? Does he care?
5. Is he trying to show her up and influence the children away from her?
6. Does he know that spoiling is often sabotaging to Mom’s relationships with the kids?
7. Does he think he’s being a wonderful Dad?
Once you understand the agenda behind his behavior you are better able to offer a solution – or at least find a direction in which to initiate a conversation. Clear communication is important at this time. Here are some suggestions. 1. Have a heart-to-heart chat with Dad.
If you can communicate without anger on this level, remind him of how his behavior appears from the children’s perspective. He might want to consider their confusion between the two lifestyles of their parents as well as the lessons they are learning about fiscal responsibility and other consequences of spoiling children. 2. Send Dad a note.
Ask him some of the questions above if you are not sure about the answers. Share your frustrations with him without accusing him of intentionally creating these challenges. Explain that the children are aware of the different economic climates of their parents and ask you about it. Suggest that the children will be more at ease if there is less contrast between their lives with both parents. Invite him to talk to you if he has unresolved issues that need to be addressed. 3. Accept the reality.
Explain to your children that Dad, like many grandparents and others who do not live with the kids on a daily basis, wants to make his time with them very special by treating them to things that are not part of their everyday life. If he were at home with them, that wouldn't be the case. Mom can't do that because there are too many daily chores, responsibilities and expenses that she has to tend to. Let them know how lucky they are because this way they get the best of both worlds.
The key here lies in communicating the consequences for the children when Dad shows them different values and a different lifestyle than the one they are living with you. If that is Dad’s intention, you might have to back off and live with it as per the last suggestion. Once you know Dad’s take on the situation continue to be the best parent you can be. In time your children will recognize your love and devotion despite the attraction of material lures and temptations. Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is the author of "How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love!" Her e-mail is email@example.com. For more information about her and resources for parents, visit http://www.childcentereddivorce.com.