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Nov 6, 2020

Co-Parenting With an Ex-Spouse You Hate

Children and Divorce, Future Post-Divorce

Okay, so “hate” is a strong word. But I know there are some of you out there that feel this way about your ex-spouse (and probably for good reason). For some of you, this is not a problem because you do not have children and can move on with your life. This article is not for you, but read on in the event you have a loved one experiencing this. However, for the rest of us, there are the children, so co-parenting is a must. Here are some suggestions for dealing with a stressful co-parenting situation.

Take a co-parenting course.

If you go into a co-parenting class with an open mind and learn one thing, it should be considered successful. Other couples may decide to to co-parent on their own. A good number of them make it work. There is no right answer in good or effective parenting. And, for those who are struggling with a difficult co-parent, there is no one-size-fits-all suggestion.

First, as Dr. Sharie Stines writes, “realize you are in a battle”. That sounds a bit harsh, but if you have this mentality, you will be more alert to the tricks and traps the other parent can bring on, especially if they exhibit narcissistic personality traits. (2018, Stines)

Keep everything legal if you can.

Even if you do not go into a courtroom, you can use mediators to help to develop a parenting plan. By having a written document outlining who has the children, and at what times, and how the holidays are spent can be very helpful. I call it the playbook. The parents have the same document and the rules of engagement are in black and white. The bonus is, that if one parent violates, there is legal recourse to enforce the agreement and hold the violating parent accountable.

Some specialists suggest showering the children with reassuring statements of unconditional love and acceptance. Mike Jeffries, author of A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation, wrote, that this demonstration to your children could potentially backfire on you if you are a victim of parental alienation. It makes sense. The children could turn on the alienated parent by thinking that because the alienated parent keeps reminding them of their unconditional love, the child can continue to mistreat the alienated parent knowing they will always be there for them. Even if there is no alienation, make note of this potential trap. (2020, Jeffries)

Treat the Children as a Parent Consistently.

I have one parent who does not see the children as much as he wants, but when he does, he focuses on being 100% present with the children. He does not dote on the kids. He maintains the same rules he did when he lived in the marital home. This is challenging when the alienating or other parent is being “easy” with the rules, or is giving the children everything they want. He is staying true to who he is. Some of these values, although intangible, might stick with the children as they grow into adulthood and are more valuable than a PlayStation or a new iPhone. Dr. Stines listed a few: Love, security, kindness, strength, presence, healthy attachment, stability, and an abuse-free environment. (2018, Stines)

Lead by example.

One of my clients told me that her daughter would not visit her for the first few months after the divorce, because the child felt that her mom’s new residence reminded her of the divorce. Eventually, the child needed a respite from the abusive father, and the mother allowed the child to stay with her. The child told her she really liked the “vibe” of her mom’s new residence. The simple peacefulness of not being in a hostile environment broke down a barrier for the mother and her child, thus allowing them to begin healing. The mother said nothing. She just lived as she wanted to live and the child felt that.

Put it in writing!

If you cannot communicate with the other parent verbally, then do so in writing and keep the writing to a minimum. Do not waste your time getting into written battles via text messages to “make your point”. You will not win with this co-parent (another reason why you are divorced). The written communication should reference only the children and issues regarding their care. There are apps out there where it captures the conversation for parents and can be used as evidence in a court if needed. The fees for this are nominal and are well worth the cost. According to Parents magazine the top 8 co-parenting apps are:

• Cozi
• WeParent
• FamCal
• OurFamilyWizard
• Coparently
• Custody Connection
• Parentship
• 2Houses

Co-parenting does not and should not include the kids. This means do not let the children see your written communications and do not discuss any of this with them. They do not deserve to be subjected to this. Ever.

Self-care is healthy.

Finally, I will always suggest proper self-care as a coping technique for dealing with the stresses of divorce, custody, and co-parenting. If you are not taking care of yourself, you will not feel good about yourself, and if you do not feel good about yourself, this will project onto others – especially your children. Others will feed off of your energy – good or bad. So make it good. Make your energy healthy. Your children will appreciate it especially if the other parent is miserable (you will be their safe haven) and others will appreciate it as well. Most people want to be around those who are confident, happy, and optimistic.

If you follow these tips (or do your best), you will increase the chances of making your co-parenting life a little easier.

©2020 Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation