What to do when your ex is spoiling your child

Tom Cruise jetted into New York yesterday and whisked his daughter Suri away for a morning helicopter ride, leaving Katie Holmes to ponder a question all too familiar to many mums: How do you deal with a good time dad?

It's a scenario millions of mothers — and some fathers — can relate to.

One parent shoulders the burden of discipline, care and all the mundane aspects of daily life while the other charges in every second weekend with presents, trips to the zoo and ice cream for dinner.

Before long, the kids are uttering the heartbreaking words every separated mother dreads, "But daddy lets me…"

Parenting expert Janet Cater, author of Why won't my child listen?, says mums need to react calmly and avoid criticising their former partner at all costs.

"It can be awful to hear those words and tempting to retaliate by bagging out your former partner but that will only hurt your child," Janet says.

"You need to be calm and say, 'In this house we do it this way. Everybody is different. Mum and dad are different, but we both love you.'

"Snapping and saying something nasty about your ex won't help. You need to accept that your child will love their other parent no matter what, and trying to undermine that love will just confuse and upset your child."

Janet says it can be "soul-destroying" to watch your ex try to buy your child's love with pricey gifts, but insists that kids eventually see through these tactics.

Instead of trying to compete, mothers should focus on spending quality time with their children and building bonds that have nothing to do with money.

"What we want the kids to understand is, presents and sweets and helicopter rides do not equate to love," Janet says. "A child will grow up and appreciate that in the long run.

"What the father is trying to do is buy affection and you can't. The mother needs to do those things where you bond, the talking, laughing, listening, cuddling, going to the beach, hanging out, reading stories. They are things that you can't buy, but they are priceless to the child."

It is also important to give children time to adjust to their new situation.

It can be tempting to interrogate your child when they return from a weekend with the other parent, but giving them space will make the transition easier for them.

"Mums have to imagine that their house is Mars and the father's house is Jupiter and that Mars and Jupiter are completely different to each other," Janet says.

"You need to understand that your child is going to feel quite disorientated when they come home to you. It can be tempting to give the child the Spanish Inquisition, 'What did you do, where did you go, what did your dad say.'

"The child needs time to land back on Mars and be given space to deal with the change. The child will tell you what they did in their own time."

Your say: Have you dealt with a good time parent? How did you handle it?

Video: Do you love one child more than another?