Let’s look at the obvious here, and then slap ourselves in the face with the obvious-stick:
1.) Your child is not a tool, bargaining chip or other mechanism for personal or financial gain.
If you choose to use your child for gain your child will learn to use you, and others, for gain as well.
2.) Your child loves both of their parents, even if you hate the other parent.
Keep it to yourself, for the sake of your child’s emotional well-being.
3.) When you speak, your child listens, albeit selectively at times.
When they hear you speak negatively about their other parent you’re hurting your child.
It hurts their feelings when one person they love speaks negatively about another person they love. It places them into a situation where there are sides and a child cannot choose sides – they should not have to either.
When a child is persuaded to believe one parent over the other it might look like a win for that parent. However, the child will grow up and develop the ability to think on their own. Then the child will realize the truths about both parents and then make their own judgements. Your job is to teach your children to choose Right over Wrong, be that example and raise a responsible individual who can think critically on their own. It is Wrong to teach them to judge by being the judge yourself.
Furthermore, a child does not have the mental capacity or experience to deal with your relationship problems. You’re an adult and you can’t do it so there is no reason to believe that any child is the right person to talk to. No one in their right mind would ever agree that a child can give good relationship advice. Adult problems are for adults – talk to another adult and do it such that the child does not hear what you’re saying.
Sometimes the children bring these situations to the adult in the form of tattling or recounting their time spent with the other parent. Children are wonderful little creatures – you can explain things to them and they can demonstrate understanding, but when it comes time to re-tell that same idea to someone else… It’s not the same. The child can only re-tell the bits that they comprehended AND that stayed in memory. Useless information gets lost and/or twisted. That’s why kids say the cutest things – because they just don’t process things like adults.
So when you’re listening to a child tell you about their other parent, keep in mind that you’re not hearing half the story – you’re hearing what the child understood to be the story. Your job is to address their feelings about it, and if necessary correct the facts that are 100% known.
What happens when your child tells parent B about parent A is that the child is trying to make sense of things. They collect information from both parties until their satisfied or shut down by someone. Don’t play that game and don’t be the one to shut them down. They’re just kids!
If you don’t know, say so. “I’m sorry sweetie, I don’t know why they said/did that.” If you think the other parent needs to be corrected, then talk to the other parent. Don’t send messages back and forth with the child. Don’t tell the child their parent is wrong or stupid. Instead say something non-judgmental like, “Maybe they’re confused about something. I’ll talk to them and find out.”
Deal with their feelings first. If they’re upset, get them talking about it and just listen. Take all that information – with the understanding that it has been child-modified – and go talk to the other parent. Only then will you have enough information to form a workable picture.