joint custody and money problems

Q: I have been divorced for over a year now, and share joint custody of my four teenagers. Aside from losing almost everything in the divorce because I could not afford a lawyer, I am having trouble with disrespectful kids.

My ex gets angry when things don't go his way. My children are beginning to treat me the same way. They get mad at me if I can't do what they want. It usually has to do with money. They never ask their dad for things they need or want, so they ask me, when I say I can't afford it they get mad and make me feel like I'm a bad mom.

Yet they tend to feel sorry for their dad, even though he has just about everything and makes double the amount of money that I do. I do try and give my kids everything I can even though I am having financial problems.

Am I doing something wrong? I need help dealing with this. Any suggestions?

A: There are a lot of layers to be addressed in this question, and I don't think my quick reply here will do it justice. But I'll tackle some of the issues, and hopefully that will help. Please let me know if you'd like to schedule a consultation. I will work with you on a sliding scale if necessary.

Okay, let's dive in. First and foremost, you'll need a lot of support to help you cope with this situation. I hope you have some friends or family members who can be good listeners, so you can unload some of the stress that you are feeling by talking about it. Joint custody alone can be a big challenge. Throw in money trouble, and the stress goes off the charts. They don't need to solve the problems for you -- just listening to you as you vent will help you lighten your load.

Kids don't need everything. They do need your love, attention, time, and energy, as well as food, shelter, and education, of course. But if you can't afford the latest video game or designer jeans, they are old enough to earn some money and acquire these things themselves. So please don't feel that part of being a good mom is working your fingers to the bone to give your kids everything they ask for! It's okay to say no as often as you need to.

I'd leave their dad out of this equation. If they ask for something that you cannot afford, just say, "I'm sorry, honey, that's not in the budget. Let me know if you want my help brainstorming a way to earn the money so you can buy it for yourself." They may get upset, but that's okay. You don't need to justify anything to them. All you need to do is let them know what you will and will not purchase for them. The rest is up to them.

When you are venting to your good listener, be sure talk about your fears that the kids are becoming like their father. Talk about how their reactions remind you of him, and how uncomfortable that is for you. Talk about how hard you are working, and how tired you are, and how great it would feel to have some appreciation for all that you do.

Keeping all that stuff inside is what makes you vulnerable to thinking you are not a good mom. Your kids don't need to hear it, but you do need to release those feelings. Let some of that out, and you will remember that you are doing your best in a hard situation. And when you remember that, you will feel solid again, which puts you in a much better position to help your kids find an alternative way to get what they want.

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