Parenting after divorce is rarely an easy task, especially when co-parenting with a difficult ex.
As difficult as divorce is, co-parenting may be even more difficult.
And 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 difficult ex can be incredibly frustrating.
How can you maintain your sanity and ensure that your children have access to at least one ‘adult’ parent?
You know that good co-parenting means you put the children first. But you can do only so much if you are co-parenting with a difficult ex.
How do you pull off a shared effort with someone who is incapable of putting anyone else first?
Strategies for co-parenting with a difficult ex all have two non-negotiables at their core.
The first is the highest good of your children.
The second is 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.
Many of the strategies for co-parenting with a difficult ex are the same as those for co-parenting without power struggles.
Here are 9 tips for co-parenting with a difficult ex.
1. Accept what you can’t change. Control what you can.
You will never be able to change your co-parent. No matter how much s/he needs 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. Recognize 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 recognizable patterns to your communication? Do you have fears that get triggered? Are those fears based in 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 — for example, no texting, but email and parenting portal only. (Talking Parents is a free option for both avoiding disputes and documenting communication between co-parents.)
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 in venting with a friend. Do your “responding” once you are calm.
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: 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.