How to Co-Parent with a Toxic Ex

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In an ideal world, divorced parents would put aside their negative feelings about one another to peacefully co-parent.  The best situation for the children is for both parents to keep open communication and work together to make decisions about the children and maintain consistency between both homes.  However, with some difficult personality types, this unfortunately is impossible.  Some divorced parents have extreme difficulty accepting the lack of control they have post-divorce in the other parent’s home, might feel extremely threatened after the other parent introduces a significant other to the children, or they suffer from a personality disorder that makes peaceful parenting impossible.  These types of individuals will call, text, or email long rants about insignificant topics, such as what the kids were fed for dinner or their dislike of your wardrobe choices for the children.  They may make unfounded accusations about your parenting or your new partner.  These heated attacks will seem so void of logic that you are left scratching your head.  Co-parenting in this situation can be highly stressful, but following the tips below can help you stay sane.

  1. Refuse to communicate in person or by phone.

Limiting communication to email is best.  This way you are able to carefully think about your responses, keep a record in case litigation is ever needed, and limit in person drama.  You are not obligated to respond to text messages or answer phone calls.  Ignore them and respond only by email.  If your ex doesn’t get the hint, then tell them in an email that you are choosing to communicate only by email and will not respond to texts or call after listening to a voice mail unless it is an emergency.

  1. Use a separate email address.

Communicate about the children from a different account than your other emails, and limit checking that account to once a day, at a maximum.  This way your day is not interrupted by an upsetting email at inopportune times.

  1. Give a BIFF Response (SM) in your communication.

Keep it Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm.   Don’t engage in back and forth arguing and don’t vent about your feelings or frustrations over their difficult behavior.  This just fuels the drama.  For more information on the BIFF Response, visit www.biffresponse.com.

  1. Don’t always respond.

If a communication from the other parent is argumentative and there is nothing in the email that is for the purpose of information sharing or making a decision regarding the children, then it’s usually best to not respond at all.  You may also choose to give a very brief response, such as, “I deny everything in this email but choose to not engage in argument” or simply, “Noted.”

  1. Never speak negatively about the other parent to the children.

This is such a common problem post-divorce, and one of the most damaging things a parent can do to their children.  In fact, many therapists believe it is a form of emotional abuse.  No matter how terrible a person the other parent is, the children still dearly love that parent.  Hearing negative statements about the other parent, even if they are true, causes extreme confusion and hurt to a child.  Refraining from negative comments is especially hard to do when the children repeat to you the negative things said by the other parent, but it is very important to not respond in kind.  Give the children reassurance without any negativity.  For example, if a child states that Mommy says you hate her and are always mean to her, you can respond and say, “I’m really sorry to hear your Mommy feels that way, but I don’t hate your mom.  Even though your mom and I got divorced, I will always care about her because she is your Mommy.  Your Mommy and I both love you very much.”

  1. Keep firm boundaries.

Toxic people are often master manipulators, and know exactly how to make you feel guilty about your parenting or make you sympathetic to them to get the response they want.  Don’t fall for it!  Put boundaries in place and refuse to budge.  Eventually, your ex will realize that you are serious about your boundaries and will quit trying so hard to test them.

  1. Seek co-parenting counseling.

Many toxic people are unable to see their own fault or contribution to negative situations, so are not open to counseling, or counseling sessions are unproductive if they do go.  However, if the other parent is willing to try co-parenting counseling, it’s definitely worth a try and see if a therapist can help the two of you improve communication and co-parenting skills for the sake of the children.

  1. Seek legal intervention

If the drama continues in a way that harms the children after sticking with the above guidelines, then consult with a lawyer.  While this toxic person will likely never realize the mistake of their ways, often the possibility of losing custody and spending a significant amount of money on lawyers will get the other parent to back off.  If they continue their harmful behavior even when faced with court intervention, then they may need their time with the children limited or even a court ordered psychological intervention.


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Sara Khaki
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