It's the same story every time your kids come back from a weekend with your ex: They show off the latest toy or electronic device they got, brag about how late they stayed up the last two nights, then struggle to fall asleep for school the next day. (Good luck trying to wake them up in the morning!)
It's infuriating to deal with an ex who gives the short shrift to parenting, then tries to buy your kids' affection on the weekends.
No doubt, parenting with a Disneyland dad or mom is tough. To make it a little less frustrating, we asked parenting experts for some advice. Read what they had to say below:
The problem: Every time your ex has the kids, he showers them with extravagant gifts -- the big-ticket items you tend to save for the holidays. There's no way you can compete. Your financial situation is lopsided in favor of your ex.
How to deal: The next time the kids come home with a new Nintendo Wii U or iPad, remind yourself that love can't be bought, said Kate Scharff, a Washington DC-based psychotherapist and divorce mediator.
"Electronics (and concert tickets and designer clothes) are to kids what nicotine gum is to a heavy smoker; they offer quick, temporary relief followed by a craving for the real thing," she said. "The next time your child wakes from a nightmare, skins his knee or needs help with a book report, it won’t be the latest Apple product he runs to. It won’t even be the person who gave it to him: It’ll be you."
The problem: While you're handing the daily grind of parenting, your uninvolved ex-wife swoops in and whisks the kids off for a ski trip in Aspen. "Ah," you think, "if only she could show up for the occasional parent-teacher conference or soccer meet."
How to deal: Remember, as hard as it for you to raise the kids without your ex's help, her absence is even harder on the kids. Be the bigger person and let them enjoy their time with her, said Scharff.
"The next time your ex tries to compensate for poor parenting with a splashy gesture like MLB playoff tickets, try not to roll your eyes. Let your kids enjoy whatever time and attention come their way," Scharff said. "Even seeing your sports idol pitch a no-hitter in the World Series can’t compare to having both parents cheering from the bleachers at your little league game."
The problem: When your kids are at your ex's house, it's fast food every night, no restrictions on cellphone use and 1 am "lights outs." You get peeved every time they brag about what dad let them get away with over the weekend.
How to deal: Unfortunately, not everything in life is in your control -- and that includes your ex's house rules, said Tina Swithin, author of Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield and a high-conflict divorce coach.
"You first need to accept that what happens on the other parent’s time is just that: the other parent’s time," she said. "In my coaching practice, I often share the serenity prayer with clients to keep them centered: 'Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.' Ultimately, you have control over your relationship with your children and your own parenting time. Put your energy and focus into being the best parent you can possibly be."
The problem: You’ve worked hard to establish a daily family rhythm, from bedtime rituals to limits on screen time. When the kids return from the Land of Anything Goes (aka your ex's house), you feel like you need to compensate by doubling down on your house rule.
How to deal: Resist the urge to play bad cop, Scharff advised.
"Comments like 'Your father had you for 24 hours and you spent 20 of them online. No computer this week!' only cast you in the role of enforcer and erode your relationship with your kids," she said.
The problem: You worry that your ex's "money can buy love" approach to parenting is sending the wrong message to your kids.
How to deal: Talk to your ex about your concerns in a level-headed way, said Rosalind Sedecca, a parenting coach and the author of Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies For Getting It Right.
"Remind your ex how her behavior appears from the children’s perspective," she said. "She might want to consider their confusion between the two lifestyles of their parents, the consequences of spoiling the kids, as well as the lessons they are learning about equating love with 'things.'"
The problem: You can't help it: Knowing that your kids clearly favor your ex gets to you.
How to deal: Like the story "The Tortoise and the Hare," a steady effort wins the (parenting) race, Swithin explained.
"The Disneyland Dad persona will not stand the test of time," she said. "While it may take a while for children to realize this, they will have more respect in the long run for the healthy parent who was stable, consistent and loving. Children thrive with consistency and structure. They'll look back with admiration at the parent who was there during the hours of homework, late-night fevers and parent-teacher conferences."
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