For children of divorce, being caught in between two parents who love and cherish you, but no longer want anything to do with one another, can be challenging. It can be a constant search for comfort, as you may feel like you are owed on some level.
For the divorced parents, you may see how the divorce has affected your child, emotionally, mentally, and physically and wish to offer them momentary comfort. After all, they may have just witnessed intense marital discord, followed by a messy divorce, and a difficult custody battle. With the time that you have with them, you feel like that they are owed joy.
When both parents feel this way, they can often find themselves competing for their child’s affection, keeping score with one another in an effort to outdo one another. As divorced individuals, they still may harbor ill will toward one another and wish to outdo one another.
Being a competitor
Competitive parenting can be harmful a child’s development. Also known as competitive co-parenting, it is defined as one parent undermining the other in the presence of the child or jockeying for control of the child, according to a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.
The act of one parent competing for control is furthered by incentivized affection and creates a reason for a child to prefer one child over another, alienating the opposite parent and forcing them to compete.
Parents can begin to hear through their child how the other parent lets them have ice cream after dinner or takes them to the movies. Without a civil line of communication and with the claims being within the realm of possibility, there is no way for the parent to think that this may be untrue.
This forces them to try and outdo the other parent, creating a level of competition that benefits the child. They receive the benefit of both the guilt of being caught in the crossfire of a difficult divorce and a responding action from a competitive parent, looking to outdo their co-parent.
Some of them resort to the tactics of becoming a Disneyland parent, which has become so commonly used that it has its own definition on several legal sites. According to USLegal, a Disneyland Parent is a noncustodial parent who indulges his or her child with gifts and good times during visitation and leaves most or all disciplinary responsibilities to the other parent.”
The indulging aspect of a Disneyland parent is what the competition feeds on. It is the notion that if a parent does not spend more money in an effort to win the affection of the child, they do not actually love their child. It is a self-defeating feeling that many parents cannot handle, due to budget constraints. They make themselves sick over not being able to do what it takes to ‘stay in the game.’
While a competitive parent attempting to outdo the other parent both may engage in disciplinary responsibilities, they may not be as severe as they should be, out of fear that the other also is attempting to outdo them with lighter consequences to bad behavior.
Many children are smart enough to sense this and begin to use this dichotomy for their own benefit. Without acquiring that extra toy or video game that they wanted, they have the ability to exploit the competition through how much they are allowed to get away with. Instead of having a bedtime at 8 p.m., they may ask to push that bedtime to 10 p.m. Instead of doing homework right away when they come home from school, they may ask to play video games for an hour.
Keep in mind that these children are not inherently bad. They are playing on emotions that many of them simply do not understand, and they have been given too much power in this situation.
They should not be thrusted into the spotlight and be influenced by the behaviors of the adults around them, because the adults around them should know better. They should understand that as a parent, setting boundaries and creating limits is a necessary part of parenting. Whether they are popular or well-liked is irrelevant.
They also should understand that as co-parents, they are stronger together, and that does not mean, them as a married couple. That means them, as communicative, civil, and noncompetitive co-parents that can both provide loving and stable home for their children to thrive in. They should be able to set aside their differences, so that their competitive impulses do not allow the common children to divide and conquer.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.