Parenting after divorce might seem difficult, but it doesn’t have to be…
As difficult as divorce is, co-parenting with a difficult ex could make you want to hitch a ride with Thelma and Louise.
The drama, the crazy-making, the accusations and bad-mouthing, the manipulation, the constant pushing of limits – co-parenting with a toxic person can be incredibly frustrating.
How can you be a good parent, maintain your sanity, and ensure that your children have access to at least one ‘adult’ parent when you’re divorced?
Good co-parenting means putting the children first…
But, you can do only so much raising them with a difficult ex.
For one, you and your ex may have different parenting styles and you disagree on certain ways to raise your kids. You may even have different levels of parenting skills.
If your ex is a narcissist or toxic person, how do you pull off a shared effort with someone who is incapable of putting anyone else first?
Tips for co-parenting with a difficult ex have two non-negotiables at their core: the highest good of your children and the maintenance of your personal integrity and sanity. If you can keep those commitments in focus at all times, you will more easily navigate your ex’s efforts to throw you off-course.
Power struggles are often at the heart of why couples divorce
When it comes to co-parenting, however, there is no room for pulling rank.
If your ex thrives on control, you will have to decide if you can co-parent without power struggles.
In fact, most parenting advice for when you have a difficult co-parent is the same for co-parenting parents without the power struggles.
The effects of divorce in children can be devastating but, sometimes, learning how to be a good parent means putting up with the ex you don’t get along with.
In an ideal divorce, both parents would rise to the task of parenting the children they love with dependability and maturity
Here are nine co-parenting tips you need to know after your divorce with a toxic person:
1. Accept what you can’t change and control what you can
You will never be able to change your co-parent. No matter how much they need to change (in your opinion), that work belongs to your ex.
What you can and must control are your own life and responses.
If you are co-parenting with a difficult ex, you know your buttons are going to get pushed. You will need a steady temperament and resolved composure in order to maintain your commitment to great parenting.
2. Recognise the dynamic and how it plays out
How does the interaction with your ex go from 0 to 90 in the course of a breath? Are there recognisable patterns to your communication? Do you have fears that get triggered? Are those fears based on reality and logic?
What can you do to interrupt an unhealthy dynamic and steer it in a direction that empowers and protects you?
Remember, the children and your integrity and sanity are non-negotiables. And the only person you can control is yourself.
3. Set new boundaries
Again, this is really about you and how you are going to engage (or not) with your ex.
Don’t allow yourself to be baited. Take defensiveness and emotional reactions off the table. Set time parameters for communication, and stand by them. Limit the means of communication. You may also want to consider blocking your ex from your social media.
It will be up to you to stand by your boundaries when your ex challenges your resolve.
4. Don’t respond immediately
So much of co-parenting with a difficult ex is about not engaging. Of course, you will have to engage on behalf of your children. But you do have the power and right to choose when and how you engage.
If your ex says or writes something that causes an immediate dump of adrenaline into your system, take a breath and step back. Do your “reacting” in your own mind or when you’re venting with a friend. Do your “responding” once you are calm.
And sleep on your response. Choose a doable ‘delay time’ for responding to anything other than emergencies. You’re not on-call for your ex.
5. Don’t respond to everything
Just because your co-parent pushes your buttons in order to bait you into engaging doesn’t mean you have to engage.
Stay focused on what co-parenting is about: parenting. It’s not about hashing out your unfinished marital discord or diminishing one another.
Respond to communication about the children. Let the rest go or add it to a happy hour vent session with a trusted friend.
6. Business is business
Co-parenting with a difficult ex may require you to keep your communication business-like, factual, and pragmatic.
Focus on the children and their needs. The fantasy of co-vacations with exes is best left to Hollywood and the rare exception to the rule.
Stay focused on what co-parenting is about: parenting. It’s not about hashing out your unfinished marital discord or diminishing one another
You don’t have to announce it. Just quietly and consistently do it. Keep a dedicated journal for documenting dates, times, communication, breaches of agreements, support payments, etc.
The information is for your eyes only – until if and when you may need it in a legal setting. Having proof can save a lot of mud-slinging when things turn into “He said, she said.”
8. Consider a court order
If your ex consistently barges through agreements and boundaries, you may need to consider filing a court order.
You can talk with your attorney about your options for modifying your parenting plan so that co-parenting works better.
9. Evaluate if co-parenting is possible
If your efforts to co-parent in a healthy way consistently end up in chaos and distress, you may need to consider parallel parenting, especially if your ex is a narcissist or is alienating you from your children through power plays. This may be the only choice.
How is your co-parenting arrangement affecting your children? Your sanity? Your ability to stay in integrity without feeling crazed by your ex.
If you are holding up your end of the deal but are continually undermined or thrown off-course by your ex, it may be time to consider a new arrangement in the best interest of your children and your own sanity.
Co-parenting with a difficult ex makes an already painful journey that much more painful
In an ideal divorce, both parents would rise to the task of parenting the children they love with dependability and maturity.
But life doesn’t play out on balanced scales. Couples divorce and people disappoint. In the long run, you still have to live your own life.
If you are the one concerned enough to read this article, you have the ability to influence your children’s lives in a sustainably positive way. You may even be able to influence a shift in your co-parent’s behaviour.
You can also protect your own happiness in the process.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo! & eHarmony among others. You can learn more about Karen and her work on her website.