I was eating sushi when a friend at the table grabbed his phone, opened the Cash app and sent some money. He quickly explained over a tuna roll, "I had to send $90 to my daughter's mom--to pay for groceries. No big deal."
Ok, cool--pass me the soy sauce.
And then double-take on that NBD.
Let's dissect this seemingly innocent, kind and responsible action:
In this scenario there's an agreement that Mom will buy food for Baby, text a picture of the receipt, and Dad will reimburse Mom accordingly.
Once you have an agreement, you have loopholes. It's human nature to find the way out, or test the boundaries of staying within the agreement.
Let's assume that Mom is dishonest or has fallen on extremely hard times. It would be pretty easy to spend money on cases of baby food, send a picture of the receipt, and then return the cases for a full refund. While we don't expect our hypothetical Mom to do that, now it's the job of the Dad to not only pay, but to make sure he's not getting cheated.
Mom has the opportunity to spend however she wants. Rather than getting a financial reward for using a coupon, buying in bulk, or shopping at the store with deals--she loses out on the psychological incentives of being a savvy shopper. Dad is going to pay the bill regardless of the amount.
In "The Psychology of Rewards" Jeanette McMurtry explains, "When we get something cheaper than usual, more than what we paid for or something for free, as a rewards program often delivers — in our unconscious minds, we are stronger, better, richer, faster or have more resources than others, and so we are posed to survive. And it’s fun!"
While Mom is doing the shopping, Dad might be getting the Psychological Points for being the financial provider. Dad gets to feel stronger, better, richer, faster, while Mom is hoping Dad will follow through on his promise to pay. This puts her in a weak and needy position; a position we don't want our sons and daughters to think is normal or acceptable.
In the same way, because Dad has no control over the amount on the receipt, he also loses out on the psychological rewards of making better choices.
FOOD IS POWER
Consider Henry Kissinger's famous quote:
Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.
When we enter into an agreement that forces one person to be dependent on the other for food or money, we are agreeing to have control of the recipient. We are saying that a basic survival need can be held in the hands of the giver, and dangled over the other for fun, for power, or even sadistic control.
FOOD STARTS WARS
Since Mom is choosing the food which is shared at both homes, she has substantial control over the child. She is in control of the child's diet, as well as the food that comes into Dad's home. Depending on the difference in dietary values of Mom and Dad, this could be cause for a power struggle over time.
Eating together with your child is a great bonding opportunity. If Mom is buying special food just for Baby that Dad will cover, then she's probably not eating the same food. This is the start of poor eating habits. Likewise, if Baby is showing up at Dad's house with snacks, then Dad isn't eating the same food as Baby. Both parents lose out on the chance to bond and teach positive eating habits.
Terminating the agreement
As a mom who had child support dangled over her, I know the psychological weakness caused by dependence. As a mom who broke free, I also know the psychological strength that comes from terminating that agreement. When we can stop giving and receiving with people who are or have been toxic to us, we can heal and find our own innovation, strength and survival.
We become stronger.
We even become better parents.
So what are the options here? I mean, the kid still needs to eat.
1) Let the co-parent know that you want to simplify the food or child support situation.
2) If you have a 50/50 custody arrangement, explain that you'll each be buying the food that the child is eating when in your care. No more hassle with exchanging money or pictures of receipts.
3) Only see the kid on the weekend? Ok--you can still cover meals for half the week. Considering a 3-meal day, you've got 21 meals in the week. Half is 10.5.
MEAL RUNDOWN SCENARIO
Friday: Dinner with you (Meal 1)
Saturday: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner with you (2, 3, 4)
Sunday: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner with you (5, 6, 7)
As a fun weekend activity, make lunches with the kids (don't tell me you're letting your kids eat Government Lunches. Talk about neediness and dependency! Go back up to the top and re-read this article with Dad playing the role of the Federal Government):
Monday: Packed lunch for school (8)
Tuesday: Packed lunch for school (9)
Wednesday: Packed lunch for school (10)
Thursday: Half of a packed lunch for school (10.5)
By sending packed lunches for school, you're not influencing your co-parent's personal home life.
If your kid is eating Government-Controlled Lunches at school, then you only need to cover 8 meals each week. Pack a breakfast sandwich on Sunday night that the kid can eat Monday morning, and call it good.
4) Let your co-parent be the strong, capable person they were born to be. Allow them to prove to themselves and to your kids that they can survive and provide for the family 50% of the time.
5) Refuse to get into any agreement that will leave your co-parent and child in a worse situation, if you suddenly died or became paralyzed from the neck down. That's the basic test to see if an agreement is healthy or not. Just ask yourself, "Can I uphold my end of the agreement if I'm dead?" If not, then give your co-parent the opportunity NOW, while you're there as a back-up plan, to figure it out on his/her own.
Getting your power back is terrifying at first.
My personal financial picture catapulted into success when I walked away from child support payments. It was terrifying and it felt unfair at times, but it wasn't long and I was making 10 times more a month than he had ever paid me. The energy I had been spending on guessing if and when he would pay me was much more productive put into my career.
Just a few years after I took my power back, my daughter's father passed away. I was so thankful that the only thing I needed to worry about was supporting my daughter emotionally. I didn't need to worry about how we would eat, or pay rent. I wasn't afraid. I knew that we would survive the pain of loss. My psychological points gave me the confidence and security I needed, and that my daughter needed from me.
Instill strength in your child by letting your co-parent be strong. Instill strength in your child by allowing yourself to back away 50% of the time!
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