Co-parenting is rarely easy or straightforward, whether divorce has made your ex behave like a pig or they’ve always been a narcissist.
Sometimes it seems like he was created for the sole purpose of pushing all your buttons. Despite all that, you want to do what’s best for your kids and offer them stability, no matter how much your toxic ex gets under your nerves.
Co-Parenting With Your Toxic Ex
You only need to worry about your interactions with him as long as he’s still being a good father. The best thing you can do is to keep them to a minimum where possible, even getting friends or family to help you exchange the kids. When you have to be in the same room together, use these tips to facilitate the best possible outcome.
Remove the Guesswork
You should both work to create a co-parenting plan you can agree on. Amicable discussions might not always be possible with a toxic ex. If they’re not willing to find compromises or work with you, try meeting with a couples therapist specializing in co-parenting.
You can involve lawyers and go to court if nothing else works, but that really should be a last resort. A judge can help make final decisions, but they ultimately don’t know you, your ex, or your kids personally.
Wait 24 Hours
Almost any issues you have with your ex can wait 24 hours. Holding off will give you time to take some breaths and get much-needed distance from the situation. If you respond in anger, he’ll see he was able to ruffle your feathers and count it as a win. He’s also more likely to use whatever the situation was as a trigger again.
Take a whole day to sit with your feelings and decide if the interaction truly needs a response. Ask for advice from a close friend or family member. Perhaps there’s a better way to handle the situation that’ll spare your feelings and your kids.
Be Intentional With Communication
The best tip for dealing with a toxic ex is to get all important communication in writing. Email is a good method since nobody can change what’s written. This way, you have physical proof to use in the future if necessary. Keep track of anything that could be labeled abusive.
Hopefully, things won’t get that far. You want to be able to move on with your life and co-parent with as little contact as possible. However, having any interactions documented in writing will be extremely helpful if you need to present a case.
Focus On What’s in Your Control
You can’t control how your ex chooses to parent. As long as he’s keeping your kids safe and meeting their basic needs, he can call the shots at his house. If your co-parenting relationship is particularly toxic, your ex may try to get under your skin by intentionally letting the children do or eat things you wouldn’t have approved of when you were together.
Refrain from reacting right away. His intention might just be to get a rise out of you, so don’t give him the satisfaction. Even though it’s difficult, you must remember that you each get to choose how you parent as long as you keep the kids safe and obey any court orders.
Lean On Your Support System
Establish a strong group of supportive friends and family. You’ll want to have people to vent to when things get especially frustrating. You may also need their help facilitating pick-up or drop-off with your ex. Call on your clan to get you out of the house and distract you on the rough days when your kids aren’t with you.
Despite your negative feelings, it is best to keep any discussion of your ex-positive while around your kids. Having adult loved ones to lean on will give you a separate outlet for your emotions rather than letting them loose on your children. The environment you offer your kids significantly impacts their development, so make sure it’s a positive one.
Become a Self-Care Pro
Trying to wait before reacting, making concrete co-parenting plans, and leaning on your support system will significantly improve your ability to deal with your toxic ex.
The next step is to spend some time reducing your stress levels. Dealing with your ex regularly isn’t easy on any divorced mom, and suddenly having time without your kids is a difficult adjustment. Use your newfound time away to its fullest extent. The possibilities are endless: pick up old hobbies, read a good book or invest in your education. Whatever you choose to do, the focus should be entirely on you and what brings you joy.
Talk to a Therapist
Your friends and family can be a great support system, and you should definitely talk to them about how you’re feeling. However, they can’t possibly see the situation from a completely neutral viewpoint.
Seeing a therapist will help you get the clarity you need. You’ll probably even learn some new coping skills and strategies. Your counselor will also be able to treat you appropriately if it turns out you have any mental health issues because of everything you’ve been through.
It’s relatively common for women who’ve experienced an ugly divorce to have PTSD, anxiety, or depression. A therapist or doctor can get you the treatment you need if you’re experiencing any of these conditions.
Gauge the Level of Toxic Behavior
These tips will help you get through co-parenting encounters with your dignity intact and stay stable for your kids. If your ex only exhibits toxic behavior in his interactions with you, this should be enough.
However, if his actions hurt your kids or you know or suspect any form of abuse, get help immediately. Involving yourself could only lead to more trouble for you or your children. Instead, reach out to the proper authorities like the police or children and youth services. In an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911.
Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When Ava is not writing, you’ll find her in a yoga class, advocating for her children, or doing her part to save the planet.