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To the kids, I would explain that while new toys are great, since they live with me, I buy them things that are also great and needed: food, home, clothes, medicine, etc. To the ex, I would discuss this in private (away from kids) if I thought it was getting out of hand, or if I needed help paying for necessities. I would also encourage a college fund be set up and contributed to instead of a constant flow of unnecessary gifts.
If the kids are young enough to want toys, they're probably too young to understand the concept of overcompensation. I'd focus the discussion on the sheer number of toys they have, rather than the source of the toys. And a civil chat with the overcompensating spouse is probably in order, if only to attempt to set limits.
Before you reply, bear in mind what clinical psychologist Edward Farber calls rule No. 1 in raising a healthy child post-divorce.
"The most critical issue is the child's ability to have a relationship of meaning with both parents, absent as much conflict as possible," says Farber, who is on the staff at the George Washington University School of Medicine and wrote the recently released book, "Raising the Kid You Love With the Ex You Hate" (Greenleaf Book Group Press).
Don't turn the toys into a conflict, he says.
"I've yet to see a child come into my office distressed or depressed because at one house he has a Wii or an Xbox and at the other parent's house he doesn't," Farber says. "I do see kids in my office distressed about their parents fighting over whether they can have a Wii or an Xbox. Parent in a way that avoids conflict with your ex."
Now. How do you reply to your kids' pleas? The way you reply to other pleas that don't fit your value system. "I would deal with it the same way I'd deal with 'My best friend is allowed to stay up until midnight, and you make me go to bed at 9,'" Farber says. "I'd say, 'That's how they do it in that house. We do it different.'
"If I believe my child has to earn toys by doing chores and every weekend at my ex's he's getting toys and games, I would say, 'I'm glad you enjoy the toys you have over there. In our house, we do chores to earn toys.' Are you going to catch some flak? Of course. Are you going to catch some flak when the neighbor kids have a pool and a Wii and other things your kids want? Of course."
As early as first grade, he says, kids can understand that different situations beget different outcomes.
"They understand that for math they have to show all their work and for spelling they just have to spell the words right," he says. "Different settings, different expectations, different rules."
No need to denigrate, or even comment on, your ex's value system when it comes to toy-buying.
"You parent the way you're going to parent during the time you're with your child," Farber says. "It's not a competition where you expect the child to decide which parent is the better parent."
Have a solution? Your daughter is terrified by rumors about the "mean" third-grade teacher. How can you calm her jitters? Find "The Parent 'Hood" page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and solutions.
Have a solution?
Your daughter is terrified by rumors about the "mean" third-grade teacher. How can you calm her jitters? Find "The Parent 'Hood" page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and solutions.