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Balancing Spending on the Kids after Divorce

Q: I’m a recently single mom of three. My ex and I both work and I receive support for the two younger kids. While we were separated, we talked about how to keep spending kind of even for what the kids needed and wanted. Now that we’re officially divorced and I have almost fulltime custody, it feels like he gets to spend extra on the fun stuff while I just pay for the never-ending list of what the kids need every day. How can I help my kids understand that it’s more important to spend money on needs first?

A: Managing finances on your own after years of having two incomes pay for one household can be challenging. There are a lot of regular expenses to making your household run smoothly; and you’re right, these aren’t the “fun” expenses your kids notice.

Vying for children’s attention and affection is something many parents struggle with, and it can happen even when families live under the same roof. While you can’t change how someone spends their money, you can help your children understand how both you and their dad still take care of them and provide what they need.

If at all possible, we would suggest a family meeting at a neutral time and place. Your children need to hear from both of you that looking after their needs is important and that needs come before wants. We would encourage both of you to agree to some basic ground rules in advance of the family meeting with your kids so that it doesn’t turn into an argument between the adults.

Many families don’t talk about money at all. Arguments ensue about what someone did or didn’t spend, but sharing age-appropriate information about what housing, bills and groceries cost isn’t something most kids hear. Use this opportunity to help your children learn about money and create a positive legacy from what right now is a difficult situation.

All the rationale in the world doesn’t change the feeling that your ex gets to spend on the fun stuff. Resist the urge to try and buy your kids’ love by reaching for your credit card. Piling on bills that you can’t afford to pay will only turn into feelings of bitter resentment.

Focus on what you can do; spend time with them. By showing them that you respect them and care enough to listen to them, they’ll know they can count on you when the chips are down – and that’s a reward you just can’t buy.

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