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Toddler Pageants Put Us $50K in Debt

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I have a real life Toddler and Tiara living in my house. My wife has turned my 5-year-old daughter into someone I don’t even recognize.

The worst part is that during my last two deployments, my wife has run up a rack of debt because she travels with my daughter all over the place to compete in the pageants. North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Georgia -- you name it and she will take my daughter.

Now if you add up the hotel bills, food, the outfits my daughter wears, the singing and dancing lessons, hair and make-up, then you see why I’m so angry and frustrated because I’m over $50,000 in debt! This is crazy and I don’t know how to stop her.

To add to this situation, I don’t even think my daughter wants to compete in these pageants. I think it’s more about my wife’s inability to get a life, so she lives her life through my daughter.

My wife doesn’t work, and she doesn’t have any friends either. In her mind, she thinks people are jealous of her and my daughter. She also said that traveling around with my daughter helps her cope with military life and deployments.

I know the last few years of my schedule have been difficult, but I don’t want to be in debt. I don’t want my wife to be unhappy. I don’t want my daughter looking like a mature 21-year-old. It’s just not right.

At this point, my daughter would have to win more than $200,000 to recoup money, not to mention the time that my wife has invested in pageants.

 My wife won’t listen. She keeps saying it’s none of my business, but this can’t continue because we will be penniless. I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, and I don’t know what to do.

Tiara Trouble

Dear Trouble,

This is a serious problem, but I don’t think this is all about the tiara. Deployments can put a strain on marital relationships in a way that you described perfectly.

You said that you are on the outside looking in. You may feel like your family has continued on without you while you were deployed. The pageants could very well be a way for your wife to cope with separations and deployments.

In her defense, maybe she felt lonely without you. She felt like she was left behind because she doesn’t have friends and she doesn’t work outside of the home. As a result, the pageants gave her a sense of belonging and something she could connect to.

Moreover, the access to credit cards or other income to fund the venture could also give her a sense of power and accomplishment.

I think this situation should be handled gently, with the help of a professional counselor or therapist. You need to become more assertive and communicate clearly with your wife.

Right now, you are sitting on the sideline, but it’s time for you to be on the playing field. You admitted that you have forgotten how to do this because deployments have kept you out of the family circle (making decisions). Your connection and communication with your wife has to increase.

I sense that you don’t know how to insert your opinion and you may not feel that you have a right to do so. However, you have to start somewhere.

Therapy is not a bad word because the therapist can provide couples communication, and help strategize ways to improve intimacy and strong bonds between you and your spouse. It will be a great time for your wife to explore what the pageants mean to her because I think they are more about your wife and not your daughter.

Check on base for the availability of marital counseling. If none is available, contact Military OneSource and they will connect you with a provider in your local community. The services are free.

In the meantime, I would start managing the household finances to avoid more debt. Deny her access to your credit cards and other banking access until she agrees that she will not spend frivolously for your daughter to participate in pageants.

Lastly, it would be a good idea for you to get a copy of your credit report to check if your wife has established more credit in your name that could be delinquent. This sounds like a tough situation but one that you can overcome. Keep in touch!

Ms. Vicki

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Ms. Vicki, a native of Dallas, has been the ‘Dear Abby’ for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her column has appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Ms. Vicki has retired from writing new columns for Although Ms. Vicki is no longer offering new advice on, you can still email military benefits questions to our Questions and Benefits team. Need military spouse career help? Email our Dear Career writers.