Helping Divorced Parents Cope With Conflicting Lifestyles

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

As a Divorce & Parenting Coach I continually get asked questions from concerned parents. One of the questions recently sent to me focused on an issue that many divorced parents face with mounting frustration. It had to do with this woman’s ex-husband treating the children to lavish gifts and trips when he has them, while Mom is struggling financially. She added that she is aware that she shouldn’t say anything negative to her children about her ex, but she was finding it difficult in the face of her circumstances. The question, of course, was what can she do about this?

It’s impossible to provide a specific answer when the so many of the circumstances are unknown in this situation. How often is Dad seeing the children? What kind of relationship does he have with them when he is not there? Is he angry about not sharing custody? Is he resentful towards Mom regarding other issues? Is he aware that she is struggling financially? Does he care? Is he trying to show her up and influence the children away from her? Or is he oblivious that his behavior is creating an issue for her? Is he aware that he may be spoiling the children? Does he think he’s being a wonderful Dad?

I’m sure you’ve thought of several other questions that are relevant to this situation. In so many cases there are no black and white answers to these types of problems – and certainly no simple solutions. It’s all about shades of grey, trying to find a common ground, a means of communicating your feelings and concerns in a way that doesn’t put the other person on the defensive, making them wrong and therefore no longer interested in a dialogue.

I began my answer by acknowledging Mom for understanding and respecting the importance of not bad-mouthing her former husband to their children. I also agreed that it was indeed difficult when Dad spoils the kids with material attention while Mom is struggling to make ends meet.

I offered some suggestions that she might want to consider. Depending on the age of the children, she could explain to them that Dad, like many grandparents and others who do not live with the children 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 day-to-day routines, chores, expenses, etc. that she has to tend to. So this way they get the best of both worlds.

She could also talk to Dad, if her communication level with him allows that, and 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.

I brought up several questions Mom needs to consider. Is Dad intentionally doing this to anger her — or is it unconscious irresponsible behavior? Is he resentful about not seeing more of his children and therefore intentionally trying to hurt Mom financially? Each of these factors plays a part in how Mom can best communicate the consequences for the children when Dad shows them different values and a different lifestyle than the one they are living with her.

If you have some other ideas and suggestions on this topic, I encourage you to go to my blog and enter your perspective. Let’s get a dialogue going on this tough topic. Just keep in mind there’s no absolutely right and wrong takes on this, especially when we don’t know the circumstances. We can all learn from each other’s experiences and, hopefully, grow in more positive ways ourselves – for the betterment of our children.

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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! The book provides fill-in-the-blank templates for customizing a personal family storybook that guides children through this difficult transition with optimum results. For more information about the book, Rosalind’s free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, her coaching services and valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, visit

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