In the midst of divorce and separation, almost everyone suffers from emotional insecurity at one time or another. Hell, when you are reeling from rejection from hurt and loss, from bewilderment and fear, or the feeling that you were not quite good enough, even the most confident amongst us can start to feel a little emotionally vulnerable and unsure of ourselves. Feelings of insecurity, divorce anger (what the heck is that?), and that sense of failure that comes with marriage breakdown can make it difficult to think or behave rationally. Those feelings can also cause us to be overly protective of our relationships with our kids and of how we parent them. This can all lead to conflict and tension and difficult interactions with our ex making the feelings of insecurity even worse. Results? A vicious cycle with detrimental and destructive results.
There's enough love to go around
With time (and a good dose of maturity and humour) any feelings of insecurity should fade away. Common sense typically prevails, leaving us with the awareness that, when a child expresses love, admiration or respect for their other parent, it doesn't diminish their love for us.
However, when caught up in this emotional self-doubting vortex, parents can be especially susceptible to feelings of competition with one another. They can enter into a contest for their child's love and affection and for the title of best or favourite parent, perhaps not even realizing that they have been drafted into the competition. They can also tend to forget that, from a child's perspective, there is ALWAYS enough love to go around.
Having one's former spouse repartner is a common stressor for many divorced and single parents. The arrival of a stepparent onto the scene can trigger parental insecurity. It can also give rise to a sense of competition with the newcomer disrupting settled parenting arrangements or exacerbating ongoing difficulties between parents – to the detriment of the children caught in the middle. Competition for affection between parents, divorced or otherwise, and also between parent and stepparents is a no-win road to damaging children and their relationships with the adults who love them.
Common types of competition seen in separated and stepfamilies can include:
American rapper, songwriter, and entrepreneur Lil Wayne and his ex, reality star, Toya Wright, may be a prime example of having fallen into the trap of competing for their 16 year old daughter's, Reginae's affection. For Reginae's sweet 16, she reportedly received not one but two expensive luxury cars: a red BMW SUV from her father and a white and black Ferrari GTO from her mother!
One-upmanship and rivalry between you and your ex, (or between you and your ex's new partner) spoken or unspoken, can have a strong negative effect on your children. Whether or not you express it verbally, kids can recognise – and pick up on – the conflict of loyalties and sense of competition that can develop between adults, and families, in and around divorce. In Reginae's case, whilst she seemed super elated over both vehicles (if her reaction on YouTube is anything to go by), if one car (or parent) surfaces as a favourite it could be a complicated development in terms of her parent's relationships with one another and also with her, as she moves further into adolescence.
Whilst competing with your ex and their household may go some way to meeting your own personal needs and help you to feel valued and wanted or possibly even satisfied at getting back at the ex, it really only places the kids in the middle of a no-win tug-of-war. After a while any self-respecting child or teenager, wise to the competition between their parents, will likely start playing one parent and household against the other to get what they want and to get their own way. Furthermore lax boundaries and inconsistent routines can confuse children and leave them feeling insecure and unsafe.
Children of competing parents are also much more likely to act up or to say things that they think their parents want to hear for attention as they see that this is something that their parents are willing to do and they want to please them. Spoiling your kids with toys and expensive gifts, in addition to complicating your relationship with your ex-spouse, can also sabotage your own financial goals, potentially damages your children's relationship with money and teaches them no life lessons about fiscal responsibility. It also has the potential to create overindulged and spoilt brats.
As a parent or a stepparent, it's vital not to play into these kinds of competitive and comparison games. It is destructive to your relationships with your children, your co-parenting relationship with your ex and to your children's overall emotional wellbeing. Ultimately competition is for sport, for board games, for World Cups and Olympic glory. It does not have a role to play in post separation parenting if your goal is to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted children. When there are two of you actively involved in parenting and raising your kids, then there is really no room for thinking one of you is better than the other and trying to score points with your kids – you and the other parent without doubt each have something different to offer and your kids not only need all of it, they inevitably love you both too!
As a parent, where do your insecurities lie? When have you competed with the other parent?