If you're divorced or separated from your child's other parent, then you know how tricky co-parenting can be even if you get along with your ex. But what if you don't get along? Co-parenting with an ex you hate can create a logistical, emotional nightmare. But experts promise that you can still find a way to parent successfully.
To get the details on making a co-parenting relationship happen with a less-than-great partnership with your ex, I spoke to three different experts: divorce and co-parenting coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network Rosalind Sedacca; marriage and family therapist and author of the book Fix It Jesus: For Single Moms Only. The Straightforward No-Nonsense Guide To Passion Purpose and Prayer, Dr. Sophia Reed; and licensed marriage and family therapist in California Lauren Consul. Each of them have a unique perspective on how to make co-parenting happen with a toxic relationship.
Co-parenting can always be tricky, but if you don't get along with your ex, then sharing children can be downright frustrating. But there's a really simple solution, according to Sedacca. "It is possible to co-parent with a difficult ex only if you both love your kids more than you hate each other."
Reed agrees: "You do have a right to not like your ex, but as the adults in the situation, you owe it to your kids to have a successful co-parenting relationship and not allow the drama of adults to spill over onto the kids." Which means clear and effective communication, setting rules and boundaries, and no trash talking your ex in front of the kids.
The first step to making co-parenting work is figuring out why you hate your ex. If it's because of how your relationship played out, that's something you have to work on to keep from spilling into your co-parenting relationship and onto your kids. But if you hate your ex because of how they are with your children, like not showing up for visits when your child is excited, or missing out on important events, that's another situation. For some single parents, they wind up seeing their child disappointed over and over, which can create all kinds of arguments and resentment. Consul says, "If your ex does something disappointing, validate your child's feelings, but do not use it as an opportunity to talk poorly about their parent."
Moms who need some extra support should seek out a lawyer, mediator, and/or therapist to help navigate co-parenting. And definitely take notice if your child is having difficulty coping. Sedacca says, "Don't overlook your kids' reactions, requests, and fears." But you do have to "pick your battles." Micromanaging and fighting over every little thing isn't good for you or your child, but Sedacca says to make sure you "watch your kids attentively for their reactions or behavior changes." It's important to "create accountability" if your ex doesn't do as they promised, and stand your ground when it's important. This is where legal advice can come in handy.
Does your hatred for your ex come from the way they treat you as the mother? It's time to create firm boundaries. Reed says, "as a mother, you have the right to be respected." She also adds that if you don't get along with your ex, you can make it so that you don't have to deal with them by assigning all communication through a third party. Reed also recommends that if your child is old enough, give them access to a cell phone, even a pre-paid one, so they can get in touch with you if they need to during visitation.
And sometimes, unfortunately, there can be abuse present, causing you to have a difficult relationship. If you're in a situation where there's abuse of any kind, you have the right to protect yourself and your child, even if it means limiting co-parenting access. Reed says it's important to draw the line if "one parent has shown themselves to be neglectful, violent, or you fear that when the ex takes the child for visits he may not keep your child safe." You may even need to file a restraining order if necessary.
"If the ex is abusive mentally, emotionally, or physically, there needs to be a line drawn, but you have to be careful with remaining in compliance with your custody arrangement," Consul says. "Be sure to report any abuse you suspect or observe immediately."
But if your negative feelings towards your ex stem form the fact that they simply aren't there for your child, Consul says it's a fuzzier line. "Of course you don't want to see your child in emotional pain, but you also want them to form their own opinions about their parent, rather than thinking you kept them from them, which may be how they interpret now or later on in life."
Bottom line? Figure out what it is about your ex that you hate. Is it the way they speak to you? Demand respect. Is it the way they hurt your child? Try to be neutral and simply be there for your kid. Are they dangerous or abusive? Seek legal help. You can co-parent if you don't get along, but you can't co-parent if there are things in place, like an ex's abusive behavior, that keep you from doing so. Take a deep breath, figure out what's really happening, and make a game plan.