I'll go ahead and throw it out here: competition is for sports. So why is it that when we are married, we work together as a team and when we divorce, we compete against one another? I realize that you aren't a "team" anymore. But aren't the players the same? Isn't the goal of raising happy, healthy and well-adjusted children still the same? It should be!
It takes two people to play the "divorced with kids" competition and one person to stop it. You have to be the one to stop the competition before it gets out of hand and before you start recruiting new players -- like your children! After a while, children become wise to the competition between their parents and they start playing one parent against the other. Don't let this happen to you.
Step one begins with looking at your situation in a different way. It isn't a competition for who can buy the most toys or clothes or fulfill the kids' every whim. It isn't a competition for love. Your children automatically love both of you. Ultimately, those toys will head to the Goodwill pile. Those clothes get passed down or a new trend will take over. The he said, she said routine your kids hear will set the stage for future therapy. Is this what you wanted for your children?
Stop the madness. Set your focus back on your original goal: happy, healthy and well adjusted children. Resist the urge to compete with your ex. If junior shows up with the newest iPod, don't feel like you have to show your ex up by buying junior the newest iPad. Here are some tips to break your old competition habits:
1. Say Goodbye to Buying the Love: I know it's hard when your child always seems to come home with the latest and greatest whatever from your ex's house. Instead of thinking you have to buy something too -- stop. Save your money. Be happy that your child has something cool and ask him to take some time to show you how it works. Take time to see the new gadget and engage with your child. Your children will always remember the time you spent, not the gifts you gave. Ask any adult.
2. Forgo the Bragging Rights: It's tempting when the ex calls to tell you that he is going to be the first one to take the kids to Disney World. Your old first instinct would be to try to book the same trip for a week sooner, just so you can be the first. The new you won't do that because it's juvenile. Instead, be happy your children get to go on such a cool vacation. If you still feel the urge to do the Disney thing, take them another time and create your own memories. I promise you, your children won't like Disney just the first time.
3. Just Say Nothing: The old bite-your-tongue routine is tried and true and it works. Sometimes there is nothing you can do when your ex wants to keep the competition rolling. Your best move is to say nothing. Don't engage. Just smile and move on. After awhile, it won't be fun to compete with someone that doesn't play.
There is one thing you should strive for: being there for your children. Be truly there for them. Be a listening ear. Be a shoulder to cry on. Create traditions and memories that don't compete with anyone. There is enough love to go around for everyone.