Top 3 Tips For Coparenting With A Jerk

Co-parenting is never easy. For most parents, the very idea of having to share ‘your baby’ with another immediately evokes a biological sense of loss that just can’t be soothed. And for those in high-conflict coparenting situations who are forced to coparent with an ineffective or abusive coparent, the hardship can be overwhelming. After 10 years of coparenting with a jerk, here are the top 3 things I’ve learned that can help ease the stress. 

1) Relinquish The Things You Cannot Control

As an overly concerned parent, this was the hardest lesson I had to learn. I will admit that some days it still remains a struggle. After all, we are internally hard-wired to protect our children, so going against this is, in many ways, going against our very nature. Unfortunately, in perpetually high-conflict coparenting situations, it is the only way to minimize drama. After a decade of coparenting with a combative coparent, I’ve learned that the more I work with him to try to peacefully change the aspects of his household that I find unacceptable (i.e. cigarette smoke, marijuana use, etc), the more obstinate and abusive he becomes. If the Family Court system, Social Services, Parent Coordinators and Play Therapists weren’t able to enact appropriate safety measures for my child, my efforts to collaborate with the combative coparent won’t prove successful either. I don’t want, in any way to imply that you shouldn’t go through the aforementioned channels in order to protect your child. But when our ‘justice’ system fails – the only choice you have is to acknowledge the efforts you have made to protect your child and ultimately relinquish your efforts to try to control how your child’s other parent handles their parenting time. Whether you like it or not, when your child spends time with the other parent – it is their home now, not yours. Treating it as a separate entity with its own dynamics that you cannot govern is a necessary step in keeping your sanity and mitigating additional drama. The good news here is that although there are many aspects that you cannot control when sharing custody of your children, you now have complete control over the parenting aspects and loving home dynamic you can establish when your child is with you.

2) Set Boundaries When Communication Becomes Abusive

One of the most prevalent day-to-day struggles in high-conflict coparenting is the aspect of effective communication between each parent. If your coparenting situation doesn’t require contact or communication of any kind, I applaud you! However for most parents, there is often a need to communicate pertinent parenting time information such as schedule conflicts, exchange locations, pick-up/drop-off times, etc. When this occurs, my experience is that communication via email is the best way to ensure that each coparent remain ‘respectable’ when communicating. This is in part due to the fact that emails can easily be documented - certainly more than say an abusive phone call or text message. The ‘documentable’ aspect alone of email communication really works in your favor and is a communication method that I would advise for high-conflict coparenting situations. There are times however, when emailing is not effective for last-minute or urgent communication. When there is an urgent question or scheduling issue that needs to be remedied immediately, I suggest text messaging the other coparent rather than a phone call. While it is the lesser of two evils, text messages can still create conflict if the other coparent becomes combative or abusive in their texts. When that occurs I have found that the less you engage with them in the drama, the better. Simply don’t respond to anything other than the facts that need to be urgently addressed. When urgent communication via text message needs to take place, do your part to only state the facts, keep it simple, and don’t engage in any negative discussion. If the other party becomes combative or abusive in any way, I have found that a simple text saying “If you continue to threaten me I will have to block your number” does the trick. When that happens, maintain your boundary by blocking their number and continue the necessary urgent communication via email. Although I know it can be stressful to establish those boundaries with the abusive coparent, it is absolutely necessary in shielding you from further trauma and being continually inundated with hurtful communication. Be easy on yourself and know that you are making a great stride in protecting yourself from abuse. Will it be scary to set boundaries? Yes. However, finally freeing yourself from the stress and mental anguish that such abusive communication causes will prove worth it! You will notice that keeping all communication to the point, and drama-free will be good for you and will ultimately help shield your child from heightened drama. You are too good of a parent to allow yourself to be traumatized. Set boundaries for yourself - you will be glad you did! 

3) Create A Safe, Loving, And Peaceful Dynamic For Your Child When They're With You

This is without a doubt my favorite aspect of coparenting with a jerk! Although the combative coparent will always be in your life, you two are no longer cohabiting so now you have the glorious freedom to create a safe, loving, healthy, and happy home for your child! Since high-conflict coparenting is extremely damaging to both you and your child, the importance of providing a peaceful parenting dynamic when your child is with you is critical. You guys have been through a lot! The best cure for coparenting trauma is to create a safe, stress-free, loving home dynamic that your child can rest and recover in. If your coparent has been abusive to either you or your child, providing a safe home dynamic when your child is with you is the greatest way to teach them that there are alternatives to violence and dysfunction. I know that in a perfect world you would want your child to be in a peaceful home situation all the time, but it will help you immensely to realize the tremendous value and the difference you are making in your child’s life by providing them a happy home when they’re with you. I promise you, there is great power in that – in showing your child that there is another way to live, another way to love – and they will take such comfort in that and it will ultimately help them get through the stressful times. Not only can your home be a peaceful refuge, but you can also use your parenting time to help soothe the anxiety and trauma that they’ve experienced. Every child is different, so have fun trying different stress-relief methods and soon you’ll find sweet traditions and calming rituals that you both enjoy! For my son, he really loved calming music, soothing bedtime stories, and children’s guided meditation cd’s. Although you guys have been through a lot, there is a lot of security in knowing that the time you do have together is sacred and special – so enjoy it! I know it’s hard to always remain present and calm during times of stress, but what helped me was that I always reminded myself that it was my job as a coparenting Mom to fill my child’s cup with so much Momma love that it would last through the week until I would see him again. After 10 years of this, it is still my #1 priority each weekend that I make sure I love him up so much when he’s with me that my love will carry him through the parenting time with his other parent.

I know it’s tough, and my hope is that you find bits of information and tips along the way to help ease your struggle. You will get through this. And your child will be okay. One day your children will look back and remember the happiness and security that they felt when they were with you. And you will both thrive. Peacefully.

- Enlightened Littles

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