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How to Deal with a Co-Parent Who Spoils

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It can be hard to know how to deal with a co-parent who spoils your kids. After a weekend at Dad’s, when they’ve had no screen-time limits, sweets galore, and the answer to “Can we buy/can we do/can we go?” is always yes, you’re left feeling helpless, frustrated, and inferior.

You know in your heart that the answer isn’t to match his spoiling ways. That will just lead to entitled kids. But what’s the right way to fight back? Here are 5 co-parent spoiling problems and helpful solutions.

Spoiling problem #1: You’re afraid of becoming the lame parent.

When your kids started living at two houses, you probably wondered if they would label one of you the “fun house” and one the “boring house.” When he spoils, it’s hard to not wonder if that’s how they see you. Dad is cool and fun. Mom is lame and boring.

Solution: Remember, married parents have the same concern. Forget about the labels and just focus on being Mom. Regardless of your ex’s flexible rules, treats, and outings, “Mom” is a label that will always make you special.

Spoiling problem #2: He buys things you don’t want him to.

When your daughter comes home from opening Christmas presents at Dad’s, waving a shiny new phone, the one you’ve got under your tree becomes an expensive paperweight. Or if that phone is something you think your daughter is too young to have, you’ve now got a conflict on your hands.

Solution: This is where communication is key. Sure, it’s still possible that he’ll go against your wishes or try to ruin your surprise, but if you fail to communicate, you can’t blame him. Talk about presents before you buy, and once a year, have a conversation about what age is appropriate for certain privileges. If you think your son should earn money to pay for half of his car, Dad has to be on board. In these conversations, compromise is key.

Spoiling problem #3: He only wants to have fun, so you’re the heavy.

When Dad takes them on outings every weekend and you’re left to make them finish school projects, do chores, and get in bed by 9 p.m., you come away looking like the bad guy.

Solution: Consider his perspective and try to show compassion. If you have primary custody, he might want to make the most of the time he spends with the kids. Fun and frivolity feel like the best way to do that. But stay the course and be like Goldilocks. Resist the temptation to loosen or intensify your house rules to make up for the looseness at Dad’s. Your kids will appreciate the consistency and comfort they feel from the boundaries you’ve set.

Spoiling problem #4: His budget is different from yours.

Sometimes it’s just a fact of life. You are two different households and with different incomes. Even if you wanted to spoil the kids you couldn’t buy them all the stuff he does.

Solution: True story—my older son said to me, “I wish our house here was as big as Daddy’s.” I responded with, “We’re not moving. Our houses are different, but you have a warm bed and lots of love in both, so you’ve got it pretty good.” Keep reminding yourself that money doesn’t buy love. Your presence in your child’s life is infinitely more valuable than any fancy, big-budget item.

Spoiling problem #5: The kids have developed a sense of entitlement.Share, Save, Spend

You’ve tried talking to your ex-husband and explaining why you disagree with the spoiling, but you don’t see eye-to-eye. You are witnessing your kids becoming more entitled every day, thinking they don’t need to earn things, and everything is disposable.

Solution: If you don’t know exactly how to deal with a co-parent who spoils the kids, think of what proactive ways you can instill the values you want them to have. Find ways to volunteer to help those with less than you. Teach the kids budgeting with a “Share, Save, Spend” bank or iMOM’s free printable.

How do you feel when your kids’ father spoils them? How have you dealt with it?


What does it mean to cooperate?

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