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How to avoid a race to the bottom – after separation

One of the things I find most frustrating about raising children as a separated family is not wanting to get sucked into a race to the bottom with my children’s mother, and balancing this with not wanting to be taken advantage of.


Let me give you some examples of the type of thing I mean.

I’m sure most separated parents can relate (gender isn’t important to this conversation, I think it works both ways).

I let my children take their toys, clothes, shoes, certificates and essentially anything they practically can and choose to their mum’s. They belong to them, they’re proud of them, why shouldn’t they? I feel it’s the right thing to do and never questioned this. However, a number of years later, and mum still won’t let any of these items come the other way.

I provide updates on what the children have done when with me, but don’t receive the same in response. I don’t get to find out, and children live in the moment so I never find out.

There are tens of similar types of behaviour, far more than are worth naming here. In all cases they are things where my moral compass knows what I think the right and nice thing to do is, but the lack of reciprocal behaviour makes that lizard part of the brain want to respond in turn. “Ok well if you won’t do the nice thing I won’t either!”

The problem of course with that is that this becomes a race to the bottom.

Who can offer the other the least, and in doing so it’s surely our children who suffer?

The contrasting viewpoint is that no one wants to be taken advantage of.

Sometimes “doing the right thing” costs me; financially or in my time. It can feel like you’re rewarding the other side’s behaviour by always trying to do the right thing. I sometimes worry that from her perspective the behaviour may as well continue as she gets all the upside of an ex who is sharing and none of the downside of having to share anything herself. I’ll be honest I don’t have the answer to this one and it’s a monthly struggle. So far I’ve always taken a deep breath and done what I would have wanted my parents to do.

I sometimes wonder whether the right response is to sometimes give what I get in the hope of nudging towards more positive interactions, or perhaps a more grown up response would be to call it out? Normally these thoughts end with me thinking “it’s not worth it, just do the right thing and find peace in the knowledge of doing that”. Sometimes I worry I will one day snap and start responding in turn, and that in doing so I will make myself miserable being someone I don’t want to be. I imagine there are separated parents across the world, who each wanted to do things in a nice way but found themselves in a race to the bottom.

What a sad thought.

I appreciate that being a separated parent this is just what life is, and I recognise this is just part of the process (or adventure if we want to be positive).

Nonetheless, if you can relate to this article, or have words of advice to share with me or any fellow readers of the site I’d love to hear them. For now I hope just getting these down on paper will be a cathartic exercise in itself. Contact 60:40 Dad on:

About the Author

60:40 Dad, has two boys (5 and 6yrs). He has been separated from the Mother of his children for three years now and his children live with him 40% of the time. 60:40 Dad works part time allowing him the flexibility to spend some weekdays with his children, to be there for school drop off and pick ups and try and make things balance. 60:40 Dad is keeping his real name private to avoid shining the internet’s spotlight on his children.

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