I am recently divorced. My former husband buys our thirteen year old daughter whatever she wants, like designer clothes.I can't compete. She gets angry when I won't buy her what she wants or take her out to eat but I don't think it's good to spoil her, plus I don't have the kind of money her father has. We used to get along but now she wants to spend all her time in her room, unless I take her shopping or out to eat. She has been very unhappy since our divorce six months. Any advice or getting her to be less selfish?
If your daughter has been having a hard time since your divorce, it makes sense that she would turn to bright, shiny objects like new clothes or restaurant outings to distract her. Here are my thoughts:
• Create opportunities to be together. In the absence of closeness and connection, children lose themselves in substitutes--TV, video games, time spent in social media, shopping and so on. Don't be misled into thinking your daughter doesn't need time with you because she hangs out in her room. Look for things you two can do together--perhaps a pottery class, a concert, or a walk in the woods. For ideas, take your cues from her interests.
• Make yourself available to listen. Your daughter needs to know that it is safe to let you know what she's feeling, even if it's hard for you to hear. Turn off your cell phone, unplug the TV and ask, "Sweetheart, how are you doing...really? I want to know. I want to hear it all." If you can manage your reactions and resist the impulse to give her advice, she will slowly start revealing the hurts that have settled in her heart. Getting it out, as tough as it is, is far better than harboring anger, fear, confusion or sorrow.
• Brainstorm ways to spice up your lives. In the aftermath of divorce, everyone is left hurt and licking their wounds in one way or another. It is important that your daughter feel some degree of happiness when she is home with you. Create an art project together. Whip up a special meal, and set the table and lighting like a fancy restaurant. Play darts. Have a pillow fight. You and your daughter need to have some fun, even if you're still grieving.
• Let her complain. If your former husband is indulging your daughter by buying her whatever she wants, it's natural that she will fuss about your unwillingness to match his standares. Allow her to complain without defending yourself--or criticizing him. "I know it doesn't seem fair that Dad takes you out for dinner, and we eat at home. I get it. It's a lot of fun to get to order from a yummy menu--and not have to clear your plate or load the dishwasher! I'm sorry you're disappointed, honey."
Do make sure to get the support you need. It is important that you feel secure in your decisions and comfortable providing what you can for your daughter without feeling guilty. Remember, money cannot give your daughter what she needs. Provide her with your love, attention and empathy, and know that you are giving her what will most help her heal.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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