Your child might do this - maybe unconsciously - to encourage you and your ex-spouse to be in contact with one another in the hope that the two of you might get back together.
However, your child can also become mercenary at times, demanding things from each of you. By saying things such as "Dad will buy me that computer if I spend more time with him" or "Mom will let me go to the dance even if my homework isn't done," your child is, in essence, blackmailing you. While children of non-divorced parents may do this by saying things such as, "Sally's mother is letting her go to the dance" it is easier for children of divorced parents to pit one parent against the other because these parents tend to be competitive with each other.
It's easy to worry that your child will love the other parent more than you. You might worry even more when you set limits and your child pushes those limits. Remember, if your limits are reasonable and consistent, your child's love and respect for you, and her sense of safety and security, will grow. Keep in mind dig limit-testing behavior is to be expected and may not be related to anything that the other parent is doing. Your child may try different ways to get what she wants and, just as she might use her friend's parents ass an ally she may use the other parent in the same manner.
As a divorced parent, however, you shouldn't respond differently to blackmail associated with the other parent than you would with the parent of a friend. If you do, your child is more likely to use such blackmail in the future. Be firm, maintain your limits and listen to your child. Just as you'd deal with criticism from the other parent the best solution is to ignore your child's blackmail, while still paying attention to his feelings.
For example, if your son wants to go to the school dance, and you've set a rule that he can't go to the dance until his homework is done, it is important to stick to your rule. Since a school dance is a reward for responsible behavior, it makes sense that a natural consequence of not doing one's homework would be to miss the dance. At the same time, comments such as "If you like it better at your fathers, you can go live with him," may cause the child to feel abandoned, and does nothing to enhance your authority. Don't even consider the other parent's rules and limits.
If you've made a rule and set a limit, stick with it If you're willing to negotiate with your child or restructure the rule, talk with him about it. Make sure your child understands why you've made this rule, encourage and support responsible behavior on Ins part, and work toward resolving your differences. You might ultimately allow your son to go to the dance if enough schoolwork is done, and he's promised to finish it in a timely manner. Ultimately, don't fall victim to blackmail just because it involves the other parent. Instead, if you try and work out consistent rules with your ex-spouse, blackmail can be eliminated.
It is important for you to be flexible. If you set up rigid rules for your child, you increase the possibility of a power struggle where there are no winners. By having a basic structure, in which the rules are clear and the expectations are understood, consequences will make sense. If your child tries to change the rules, negotiate (depending upon the age of the child) and see if it makes sense to be more flexible in your approach. If your child is willing to compromise, and you can be more flexible, it is possible to accomplish what you both want. This teaches your child that you're willing to talk out differences, attempt to resolve them and find solutions that work for both of you.
Ultimately, it is best if you have an initial structure and reasonable rules in your house, along with a willingness to be flexible. These standards will allow you to teach responsibility to your children while maintaining self-responsibility as parents.
Adapted from Parenting After Divorce A Guide to Resolving Conflicts and Meeting Your Children's Needs, by Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers Inc,, PO Box 6016, Atascadero, CA 93423M16. Phone 1-800-246-7228.