A divorce is not something that spouses win or lose, but, unfortunately, many people view it this way. Parents may especially see their child custody arrangement as a contest, since many people refer to it as “winning” or “losing” custody of their children.

Often, that feeling does not disappear, even after the divorce. It is all too common for divorced parents to compete when it comes to their kids, but competitive co-parenting is often more hurtful to the family than helpful.

Parental competition appears in many different ways. However, there are two primary ways it manifests:

  1. Parents avoiding disciplining their children or disregarding the other parent’s rules for the kids.
  2. Using finances or material things to compete with the other parent.

Competing with rules only confuses kids

When parents avoid discipline, they want to be perceived as the “fun parent.” They might allow the children to do whatever they wish at their house, which completely undermines the rules at the other parent’s house. For example, parents might change bedtimes or let their children watch movies or television that is inappropriate for their age.

They avoid ever saying “no” to their children so that they remain in the child’s “good graces.” However, this lack of discipline—or the lack of consistent rules—can negatively impact a child’s development.

Financial competition is detrimental for both kids and parents

The second most common way that parental competition manifests is with money. Many people hear stories such as one parent purchasing the newest iPads for their child’s birthday, but then the other parent attempts to overshadow the other by gifting the child tickets to Disneyland.

Financial competition after divorce is rarely beneficial for anyone involved. Spoiling children with gifts in exchange for affection often does not help families. And spending money on gifts can negatively impact parents’ finances.

How can you avoid competitive co-parenting?

Usually, parents compete because they feel insecure about their child’s affections after a divorce. Dealing with such emotions is not easy, but it is critical that parents prevent those feelings from causing a dangerous competition that puts a strain on their family.

Parents can avoid co-parenting competitions by:

  • Adhering to—and possibly modifying—the parenting plan
  • Placing the child’s best interests first, no matter what
  • Sticking to a budget regarding all childcare expenses, gifts and items
  • Communicating with the other parent regarding rules and expectations

Co-parenting after a divorce is no easy task. However, it can be much easier if both parents strive to avoid competitive behavior.