My kids are lucky (although I doubt if they would agree with me). Their dad and I have, since we divorced, communicated and backed up each others' discipline choices. If one kid is grounded at my house, he's also grounded at his dad's. And they know better than to ever try to play one of us against the other (as in, "Dad said it's okay with him.") I just pick up the phone and call dad to check, so they know they're busted if they're not being totally honest with me (and vise-versa).
It hasn't always been easy for us to have this level of communication and it was definitely harder when we were first going through our divorce. And I know that it's hard to get mad at your kids when you feel guilty for dragging them through a divorce. Plus, bad behavior (from all age groups) can get a jump-start from those tough times when Mommy and Daddy aren't getting along. What I'm saying, though, is that if you work as a team and compromise on discipline, you can head off tantrums, hissy fits, and backtalk. Here are some tips we've learned over the years (and I realize not everyone has the luxury of a great relationship with their ex, so these tips address that situation as well).
Understand where your kids are coming from…
You try your best to understand your child's feelings about the divorce, we all know that. There are always insecurities that come with a divorce that a child experiences. The thought, "They don't love each other anymore, so they won't love me" might cross his/her mind. It's also common for younger children to blame themselves for their parents splitting up. Your child may fear that they will have to choose a parent to side with, and/or feel abandoned by the parent who moves out. Bad behavior is often a cry for attention because he/she doesn't want to be forgotten or left behind.
…but don't excuse the bad behavior.
Don't excuse your kids’ bad behavior because you feel guilty. Giving in will chip away at your authority and may turn a minor discipline dilemma into a major discipline disaster.
Stick to your rules.
Discipline consistently in any situation. This is key. Make firm statements such as, "It's okay if you don't clean your room at your dad's/mom's, but in this house, we pick up the mess we've made." You might be called names, such as the Mean One, but remember that kids will test their limits (and yours). And keep in mind that your child will benefit in the long run form the rules you provide.
Keep the penalties housebound.
If you don't have the luxury of a strong co-parenting relationship with your ex, you can't expect them to enforce a punishment that you've handed out. Plus, the enforcement of a rule is way more important than the length of a punishment. If your child exhibits bad behavior before a visit with your ex, execute an immediate consequence, such as a time-out, will do the trick for kids under the age of six. For the older ones, the discipline can wait. Just because it doesn't happen right then and there, doesn't mean it can't happen at all.
It's hard not to feel guilty about your kids situation after a divorce; it's only natural. You have to remember, however, that bad behavior is usually a cry for attention and it can't be rewarded or bad habits will form. Keep in mind that being a parent doesn't always mean you'll be the favorite, but you're giving your kids structure to live by later in life, and believe it or not, that's really what they want from you.