I need advice on preparing for fallout.
September 26, 2011 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Divorce & Custody Filter: I think my husband is trying to buy my daughter's affection. What can I do?

First: this has been a rough divorce. My daughter is almost 6, and she's been through the wringer throughout the divorce. We have split custody, and I'm paying alimony until the final papers are signed, which is in less than 2 months. I'm broke. I'm always broke right now. The alimony and child support are making my bank account cry. I've got everything organized so that I can afford her birthday party in less than 2 weeks.

I found her the perfect present, for around $25. I asked her what she wanted, expecting something close to what I'm planning on. She said an Xbox. I laughed, because really, why would a 6 year old need an Xbox? She insisted that Daddy said he would get her one. Today, I asked him what he planned on getting her. He said a DSi. I mentioned what she said about the Xbox, and he said he might get her the Xbox for her birthday and the DSi for Christmas.
Here's the issue.
(1) She's going to be six.
(2) It's not that I don't want my daughter to have nice things. It's that I don't want her to be spoiled this year, only to be let down next year.
(3) I know that she loves both me and him. I don't think he needs to buy her love.
(4) We've never had a lot of disposable cash. I was the breadwinner before we separated, and now I'm completely strapped for cash. Our gifts were much more restrained in the past. I know that kids' presents get more expensive every year they get older, but $20 to $150 is a huge jump.
I don't think I'll be able to dissuade him from buying what he's planning on buying. How do I handle the fallout when my daughter comes home, to her "normal" life, with her new, awesome presents staying at dad's apartment?

Throwaway email is icantaffordthat@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure I was around six when I got my first gaming system. There are a ton of games out there for younger children. Games that are centered on education/learning. I would lean more towards the DSi though.

Could it be he's feeling guilty, and because of that he wants to buy these things for her? Or is it possible you are feeling jealous because he can apparently afford these items and you can't?

I don't think he's trying to buy her affection. If he were trying to do that.. then I could see him buying both the xbox and the dsi.. plus lots of other toys, games, stuffed animals and so on.

As for the possible fallout.. it might not be as bad as you think. Especially if he gets her the DSi, which is portable.
posted by royalsong at 3:17 PM on September 26, 2011

Very unlikely you can prevent him from doing this, though I think your concerns are very reasonable.

How is your relationship with your ex husband ?

If he really is sing the present to "one-up" you and presumable he can't really afford it (you're paying HIM alimony, I understand?) perhaps you can negotiate with him and make the X-Box a "combined" present from his parents, rather than a mommy versus daddy present.

Open the discussion with him with how combined presents are likely easier financially on both of you, and maybe more comforting for the child to receive. Close it by pointing out that as "primary bread winner" you'll win the long term battle if it's based on financial incentive.
posted by oblio_one at 3:21 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

How do I handle the fallout when my daughter comes home, to her "normal" life, with her new, awesome presents staying at dad's apartment?

With all due respect: It's a "normal" life at her dad's too. There's just different rules and/or different stuff at different places. Like how you don't get to wear jammies at school but you can at home. Try really hard to not set up the idea that one home is "normal" and one is "abnormal" and then it's not that one place is better or worse ... just different, and different is OK.
posted by macadamiaranch at 3:23 PM on September 26, 2011 [32 favorites]

Avoid, at all costs, the inclination to "other mother" your ex's bank account. Once you fork over the money (which I understand, totally, is a huge point of resentment), it is his money to spend as he wishes. There will be different rules and different things at mom's than at dad's. Some will be better and some will be worse. It is only a contest if you play it as one.

The correct approach is "Wow, an xbox, you lucky girl! Did you play any games? What game did you like best?"
posted by DarlingBri at 3:23 PM on September 26, 2011 [37 favorites]

Play with her with your perfect present. It's worth way more than having an Xbox to a five-almost-six year old. When I was five, my favorite toys were the ones with which my parents played with me, especially a refrigerator box and a Hot Wheels track that had been my mom's once upon a time. It's not a "normal" life if Mom makes it really fun when it's her week.

It's really hard to believe she'll know how much an Xbox is worth, except for perhaps in her friends' reactions. Maybe kids are more money conscious these days, I don't know. I would be more worried about her getting what she asked for this year and not getting what she asked for next year than "oh, you guys spent $200 last year and only $20 this year".

Seconding royalsong about how the DS is portable, if you think he would allow her to take it with her.

Not seconding oblio_one at combined presents. I'm dating a recently divorced man who has an 8-year-old daughter who convinced herself that because Mommy and Daddy went in together on a Christmas present, they were getting back together.
posted by skyl1n3 at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is the Xbox something he would use too? I know our Nintendo was as much for my mother as it was for us.
posted by gjc at 3:32 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Six is a perfectly good age for a DS -- and in fact many of the children of my acquaintance had them at around four. But that's beside the point for right now.

I'd like to suggest that the "daddy buying love" peril isn't quite as awful as you might think. A typical six-year-old doesn't yet have much of a concept of money, nor that the DSi is a hundred times more expensive than, say, a Strawberry Shortcake doll. Since she won't quite get that underlying assumption, she a lot less likely to make the leap to "and therefore daddy loves me a hundred times more."

Going forward, it would be a good idea to have conversations with her about all of the things people do when they love one another: hugs, laundry, giving up the last Munchkin. And you can let her know that some people think buying things is a way of showing love, but it's not a good substitue for hugs and board games. (Just make sure not to use her daddy as an example in this or any similar chat.) This will help to get her in the right frame of mind for the future, and it's also not a bad life lesson for her to learn.
posted by Andrhia at 3:35 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

And you can let her know that some people think buying things is a way of showing love, but it's not a good substitue for hugs and board games.

No, please don't do this. Planting the seed, in a child, that Daddy is trying to buy your love is cruel -- even if you think it is true, especially if you think it is true!

DarlingBri has it. Oh an XBox, honey! Yay, how fun!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 4:02 PM on September 26, 2011 [17 favorites]

I'm a child of divorce. My dad did this. Know what? I LOVED my PS2. It kept me going through the crappy hard times in mom's small house with no other awesome things to bring my friends over for. It did NOT make me love my dad any more or mom any less. I still grew up and still saw my dad's faults for what they were and that it was better all around that my mom got custody. I just also got a sweet PS2 on top of that. And it wasn't enough compensation for the crap that my parents put me through, believe me, but it helped. I don't think I was "spoiled" and I doubt it's possible for kids of acrimonious divorces to ever be "spoiled" the way you'd expect most kids to be.
posted by Nixy at 4:03 PM on September 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Let him do it. Why deny your daughter these gifts?

Children have an amazing capacity to see real love, and who is really paying attention. If all he has is gifts, she will see right through it.

You can not expect to control how your ex shows his love to your daughter. And it will only become a huge fight between the THREE of you if you attempt to exert such control. And it is a losing fight for you.

Give her your time and your love - and trust me, she will see what counts, she will see who is the consistent parent, who really has her back.

You should smile at the XBOX gift, and then spend time playing the game with her, being with her.
posted by Flood at 4:14 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

You cannot control what he buys for her. (It boggles my mind though, that if you are paying him alimony he has the income to buy it)

6 is plenty old enough for a game system - however, frankly an Xbox is not the most child-appropriate system. Wii = Yes, PS3 = "possibly", XBox = aimed at adult male gamers...

In terms of most appropriate device - a DS/DSi would be better.
posted by jkaczor at 4:22 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

At that age, I had no idea who was spending more on me. I did notice who made a big deal about spending and made me feel guilty about it. Just be nice and get her the perfect gift.
posted by SMPA at 4:29 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Part of divorce with kids is recognizing that your child has a separate life at the other parent's house. You can't control it. Keep being the kind of parent you know you should be. Encourage your daughter to love and respect her Dad. Help her pick out birthday and Christmas gifts for him. Be polite to him to show her how to be a grown-up. Work together on things like Parent's Night, sharing pictures and grade reports, sharing info about your child that will help you both be better parents.

You're going to parent with your ex- for the next 12 years, and more. He can be the fun Daddy and buy stuff, and it will have a temporary effect. But you can be the stable parent, who has fair rules, a regular schedule, who makes sure the laundry gets done, the homework gets done, there's proper nutrition. Ideally, Dad will do that, too. And you can have fun with her and be there for her. Someday, she'll recognize you for it. She'll tell you that she appreciates what you did for her.
posted by theora55 at 4:34 PM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am the child of divorced parents and a divorced parent myself. Do not concern yourself with ex husband and his gifts. Child will see right through it even if they are too young to verbalize. Kids prefer fair, even handed dealings with limits. If his house is a "fun house" where there are no or limited limits she will not be fooled. You cannot buy a child's love.

I have no idea about age appropriate for the systems as my kids are now teenagers all in high school and we do not have a system. (Nor does ex wife.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:13 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

darlingbri is right. when my ex did this i went out and bought games and memory modules for the system. didn't cost as much and he really appreciated it. it's easy as a divorced parent to see parenting as a competition, but it isn't. if your kid loves you and your ex then you've already won.
posted by lester at 6:36 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

My ex-husband buys my three and a half year old son all of the "fun" things that I don't allow--video games and gun toys and stuff like that--and my son has fun with it, but he vastly prefers the things that I do with him, like reading books and doing puzzles and going hiking, and he tells me so. So yeah, kids prefer special one on one time, as many others here have said. Give her plenty of that and be fair and consistent and you have nothing to worry about.
posted by mudlark at 8:33 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kids have this funny way of being incredibly sensitive to who their parents are and shockingly insensitive to what they do. For example reading ability in children is powerfully correlated with the size of their parents library, but entirely independent of the amount of time their parents spent reading to them. Be the kind of parent who values the kind of love unaffected by shopping while handling uncomfortable cash imbalances with grace, and your daughter will grow into the sort of person who does the same
posted by Blasdelb at 11:22 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My gf's son is going through something similar right now, except that dad cannot afford anything son wants. He also doesn't play with his son, nor do other caregivers in his family. OTOH, we play with him, doing things he wants or we guide him in, and he has said many times that playing with him is very important. Son has dsi, wii, and ps3 at dad's house, xbox at ours. Rarely plays xbox here b/che wants to do other play (legos, playmobil, kick soccer ball, baseball, play in fort) with us. Son is 6.

All of this parallels my own exp at his age: what I had was less important than who played with me.
posted by jdfan at 2:51 AM on September 27, 2011

There's really nothing wrong with your ex buying your daughter these items. I think you just resent the fact that he's able to buy her expensive gifts when you aren't. And that's understandable, but please, please, please make every effort not to lay your baggage on your daughter. Pick your battles. If this is the "worst" decision your father makes as a parent, you (and your daughter) have it pretty good.

And enjoy playing Xbox and DSi games with your daughter.
posted by orange swan at 5:26 AM on September 27, 2011

From the OP:
Thanks everyone for all of your answers. I want to answer a few of your questions:

1. I am 100% sure I can't stop him from buying what he wants to buy.
2. My relationship with him is rocky at best. I recently had a medical scare and he accused me of making it up to garner sympathy. He's continually threatening to take her away from me. And, yes, I really resent him for the alimony. I pay the child support without a grudge, but the fact that I'm paying him to exist really pisses me off, and it's 3x what the child support is. I don't get that.
3. He has already spent a lot of money on her. She talks about new toys all the time, and always going to restaurants, and so does he. He'll casually mention on the phone that he'll check her schoolbag for a particular item, once they leave [restaurant that costs at least $50 for two people.]
4. I say that my house is the normal house because he's skipping homework with her, doing it incorrectly when he does do it and taking her to his night classes on school nights as late as 9 or 10 pm. When she gets home, she expects to watch movies all night, eat ice cream instead of dinner and she has temper tantrums when she doesn't get her way. Every time, I clearly and calmly tell her that there are different rules at different houses and I understand that it takes a little time to get back in the swing of things. I stress that just because Dad does things differently doesn't make it wrong, and I always (ALWAYS) tell her that we both love her and we always will. I don't tell her that I think my ex is screwing things up; my parents did that and I remember how it felt.
5. The presents will not be allowed to come to my house. He'll give me bullshit reasons, and the end result is they will stay there, so I'm not going to fight it. She'll cry, though.
6. I really like the idea of saying what a great present(s) the game(s) is/are.
7. While I logically understand that parenting should not be competitive, I still feel like there's no way for me to keep up with him because of the sheer number of things he's buying for her, or taking her to. I have another child with developmental needs who requires more attention. I do play with my daughter, but after work, I have 2 1/2 hours to do homework with both of them, cook, eat, do laundry, do dishes, take baths and do the bedtime routine. Playtime doesn't happen that often during the week at my house, but it does happen at Dad's. I also can't afford to take two kids to chuck e cheese's/the movies/the zoo/the aquarium/a museum/out to eat every day. I just can't do it. Weekends are filled with playtime and dancing. But at Dad's, it's fun every day. So, how do I convince myself that it's ok to do the housework things we have to do during the week and do inexpensive play on the weekends?
8. I do NOT, under any circumstances, want to make this about Daddy being different in a bad way to her. But he recently backed out on two major things he promised her (this happened to me a lot, when we were married) and my confidants are trying to prepare me for her to be disappointed in him. The thing is, even though that's something we argued about all the time, I don't want her to be disappointed in her Daddy until she's able to handle it. I don't want to back him up and in effect lie to her, but she's five, almost six. She's been through rough times in our marriage and rougher in the divorce. How do I bolster her resiliency after Dad's broken promises? Can I keep her from being angry/disappointed with him?

I know this is TL;DR, but if you did, thanks for your help and your time. I really do appreciate it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, I know a few people who have had to pay alimony in an unfair way, and it just sucks. You have every right to be angry and resentful, except that it only hurts you, not him. Maybe once in a while you can go outside and howl at the moon. your kids are so lucky to have you, and that's the only reward. Someday, they'll recognize it.
posted by theora55 at 11:06 AM on September 27, 2011

I know it is hard to accept the situation as it is, but truly, time is your ally here and in the long-run, your parenting method will win out and help your daughter (and other child) become healthy productive adults. More than that, they will appreciate you too!!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:37 AM on September 27, 2011

I don't want to back him up and in effect lie to her, but she's five, almost six. She's been through rough times in our marriage and rougher in the divorce. How do I bolster her resiliency after Dad's broken promises? Can I keep her from being angry/disappointed with him?

No you can't, and you shouldn't. Her relationship with her father is her own. She is old enough to talk on the phone, and old enough to ask him "why" just as she asks you "why" he let her down.

I am in 100% agreement with the other posts in this thread that say don't get caught up in the competition, do the homework and housework with a smile and let his house be the "fun house," and just be the best loving, positive parent you can be no matter what happens at the other house. However, one thing I learned too late with my kids is that it really isn't your job to help them see dad's treatment of them in a positive light, and trying to spin it that way makes it harder for them. She's going to see that he's letting her down, and that you aren't the reason. If you spin it in his favor for her when she asks you "why did dad let me down?" then she's going to wonder about you too. Because she gets it. Not in the moment, and not when she wants ice cream for dinner, but overall, in general, she knows she can count on you. If you lie to her in order to spare her the pain of dad letting her down, it will just postpone that lesson further down the line, and make it harder for her over a longer period of time. If in fact he is the type of father to leave his daughter hanging & let her down, then let her get disappointed at age 6 and learn to deal with it so she isn't still holding out hope at 16, 26, etc. My son is 17 and just told his father recently to stop with the sporadic phone calls w/no follow-through. I feel terribly guilty because of all the years he spent asking me "wtf dad?!" and I replied with "he loves you, really he does." Keeping dad off the hook kept the kid on the hook :( Don't badmouth dad, but don't buoy him up either.
posted by headnsouth at 12:07 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

If he's getting her a gaming system, pick out a game with her for that system, and also something else that is not expensive that you can play with her at your house. I think in most 6-year old's brains, the thinking goes something like this "daddy got me the xbox and a game for the xbox, and mommmy got me this game for the xbox, and this boardgame!" and not "daddy spent a lot of money on the xbox, but mommy only bought me a game." She'll treasure the game you give her because it will be the one that mommy gave her out of all the games for the xbox.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 12:30 PM on September 27, 2011

Don't waste your energy worrying about this. Children's affections cannot be bought. The mother of my stepson gave him a wrapped present every. single. time. he arrived at her house... twice a week... for 3 years. He learned to milk it to get the most out of her insecurity, but it didn't affect his parent/house preferences in the slightest.

Be strong about the different rules in your house. Don't let your daughter play you against each other. She will try.

I hope that the end of your marriage concludes swiftly so you can start building the new low-drama co-parent relationship you need to have. As sickening as it is right now, in order for that relationship to work, you need to have respect for his decisions in his time with your shared daughter. Especially when you don't like them.

And the alimony thing sucks. I'd always thought that was for older stay-at-home ladies when their husband left them for the young secretary, for some reason. (some reason = TV)
posted by jacanj at 10:52 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't want her to be disappointed in her Daddy until she's able to handle it.

This is not something you have any control over, really. I realize you want to protect your little girl from all the sad, scary disappointments out there.... but really, children have an AMAZING ability to rebound from emotional crises IF they have the freedom for the full and natural expression of their emotions. Let her experience life; it is going to be full of awesomeness AND disappointments regardless. Even you will disappoint her at times.

It only has to become a lifelong trauma if your responses teach her that it is.
posted by human ecologist at 9:37 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh my goodness, does human ecologist have it exactly correct: It only has to become a lifelong trauma if your responses teach her that it is. I was also a child of divorced parents with one parent who tried to buy my love. As an adult now I am conscious of the dichotomy - one parent scraping by, saving for my college education but unable to buy fun things, and the other parent lavishing gifts and vacations and time on me (while also sinking himself into crippling debt, I realized later). I know it now and can recount it logically, but I have a visceral memory of when I saw how hard this was on the poorer parent - that's what hurt me, not their battles (as much) or that one parent couldn't get me the best birthday gift.

Hang in there. Your daughter will be an adult for a lot longer than she'll be a young child - things will even out. I am now best friends with the parent who struggled; I only wish I could go back in time and reassure her that things would work out.
posted by AthenaPolias at 5:42 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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