Co-Parenting With An Abuser

All of us survivors know that our ex will at least verbally and emotionally abuse our children. We survivors also know how hard that type of abuse is to prove, and even proving it doesn’t mean your ex will have less time with our children. Proving non-sexual or non-physical abuse typically results in therapy if it results in anything at all. Therapy doesn’t work unless the abuser wants to change. They don’t want to change which is the reason you left them in the first place.

If you are in this position, then you have to fight back through education and love. That is easier said than done, but it is very important to “do it” more often than you don’t.

  • Educate your kids about bullies, sexual predators, and dating violence.
  • Empathize with them when their other parent hurts them, remind them how great they are, and have faith that your children are smart cookies who will continue to talk to you about their problems.
  • Introduce your children to therapy, keep your eyes open for signs and symptoms of abuse, and report any allegations or proof of sexual or physical violence as soon as you see it.
  • Create a new safety plan with your children. Make sure they know what they can do if they feel afraid while at your ex’s house. You may have to be very careful about this because focusing on “what to do if you’re at mom’s house and she starts hitting you” could have negative effects. Instead, create a safety plan for your home, the babysitter’s, grandma’s, their friend’s and your ex’s. Make it a general “what to do if I am scared” plan without singling anyone out, then practice it with them.

Yes, it feels horrible to know that your kids cannot escape the emotional manipulation and pain like you did through separation or divorce. It is very difficult to cope with your kids’ visits to your ex when you truly believe it is but a matter of time before your children are injured on the outside too. It is a helpless feeling to watch them go off to your ex’s home, knowing “something bad” is waiting for them there. However, you cannot allow yourself to remain attached to your abuser through the children. So long as you feel like a victim (out of powerlessness to help your kids like you want to) you will remain a victim.

Remind yourself that now you are free of your ex’s daily abuse, much stronger and smarter, and therefore in a better position to support your children in helpful ways. When you lived with abuse, you did not have the freedom to combat it that you do today. Remember to be grateful that you set an example for your children and try to stop beating yourself up every time they visit their other parent. Your kids visit your abuser because the court says they have to do so, not because you want it that way.

Forgive yourself for being unable to protect them 100% from their abusive parent. You can’t protect them all of the time anyway. Children must learn hard lessons about all kinds of things on their own. They will be grateful that you were there for them, their safe place, if the other parent abuses them. They’ll see the difference in the two of you in time. Let that awareness be as natural for them as possible (meaning don’t habitually point out the other parent’s flaws even if they talk badly about you).

Protect Yourself

You are no good to your children if you allow yourself to be abused by your ex.

  • If you stay on the phone while your ex admonishes you for your poor parenting skills so you can eventually talk to them about the kids, you’re allowing the abuse to continue. Hang up the phone at the first insult and send an email instead. Write only about the children.
  • Don’t allow your ex to enter your house without knocking and respect their home in the same way.
  • Keep your personal boundaries strong. Let your children see that your ex can’t get to you (at least not for long). They need to see you as separate from your ex; they need to know they have two homes, two parents, two different families to love. (They do love their other parent, always will – let them, and be there without “I told you so” if your ex lets them down.)

Your way of parenting will not affect your ex’s ideas about parenting. Don’t let their way of parenting affect yours. The idea is to work with your ex when it is reasonable to do so, but remember that you have separate homes and separate lives. You get to set the rules at your house.

  • Don’t let them talk you into spanking when you prefer time-outs, not even “for consistency between households”.
  • If your ex grounds your daughter from her cell phone (for good reasons) but you feel more comfortable if she has it on her at school, then take it from her as soon as she gets home.
  • Drop any expectation that your ex will enforce a punishment you set for your child while the child visits them.

Realize that your children will play you against your ex sometimes. Your kids are smart; they know both of their parent’s well. Our kids do not label us “bad” and “good” people. We’re “mom” and “dad”. If you think you’re being played and that your child is doing something dangerous, email your ex to tell them about it.

  • You may get no response or your ex could degrade you for your thoughts, but keep in mind that, most likely, your ex wants your children alive and well too (If they don’t, you probably have proof of that and already took it to the authorities).
  • If you receive a nasty reply, read it (I know you will), then archive it. I add my ex’s emails to a folder labeled ”Jerk” – it feels really good to hit the button sending it to that folder! I save them just in case I need proof of something in the future. I don’t reread them, and I don’t give them a second thought. I did what I needed to do when I informed him about our child.

Remember that you cannot see the future. Your gut instincts and intuition do not determine destiny. Your fears may never come true. Trust that if they do, you will have the presence of mind to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

Do the best you can today. Take a deep breath, hug and kiss your kids, and talk to them. Parent the best way you know how, keep educating yourself so you can teach your kids how to live free of abuse, and keep your ex abuser’s voice out of your decisions.

Keep your focus on your relationship with your child. How your ex fixes or screws up their relationship with your child is beyond your control.

You can do this. It isn’t easy, but you can do it.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

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104 Responses to Co-Parenting With An Abuser

  1. Jenn says:

    I am so glad I found this site. I’m headed back to court for the THIRD time in 8 years. My ex abused lies and lies and lies to the courts. 5 years ago he filed for custody because I had breast cancer. He lost after I spent thousands, and we won a contempt on child support for $18000. Now we’re going back. He’s accusing ME of parent alienation,SERIOUSLY. OH,and I am fighting Bone Mets, my cancer bus back. He manipulates my daughters. Verbally abused them,threatens to call cops,refuses to brake them doctors, we won’t hear or see him for months,then makes them miss games or events. My oldest daughter was being recruited for volleyball, she’s had to quit her select team because now I’m paying thousands to my lawyer again. He knows I’m sick, he knows I have chemo weekly, but doesn’t care. He put in his papers he filed, “upon the death of”, then sent these papers to my 16 year old. She called me frantic, “Daddy wants you to die”. I’m so tired of the abuse. I’m hoping I can get supervised visitation. He’s put me in contempt with bogus dates that I haven’t made my 16 year old and 13 year old “accessible”. Complete bs why is it parents can just lie to the courts and we,the good parents, have to defend ourselves like we’re felons? I’ve always encouraged our daughters to love him and see him even though he’s never shown up for events,not sent Christmas gifts,birthday gifts or cards, never called them in 4 years or emailed or texted them. My oldest daughter wants to emancipate herself from him and change her name. He’s costing her athletic scholarships. My youngest daughter has wanted to see him when her big sister couldn’t, and he DENIES HER access to him. I’m at my wits end. I truly think he wants me dead. His wife deffamates my character on social media, calling me a child abuser. The other night a woman called my work saying my kids would be in danger of I didn’t get home immediately because he’s trying to serve me with papers. I can’t file charges because I can’t prove it was his wife. I don’t now what else to do. My daughters old counselor told me once if HE lived here she’d report them to cps because they abused my daughters. My daughters haven’t seen her in a couple years because I couldn’t afford the copay….no child support. Maybe I should contact her? God I need help.

  2. I’m a little confused, but I think the woman you’re considering contacting is a therapist. If that’s correct, it’s a good idea to contact her. If you cannot afford the copay, just contact her and ask where you can get help for you and your children. I doubt that she will see you out of the goodness of her heart (she has to eat, too), but she will hopefully point you in the right direction.

    And when you wrote, “God, I need help,” I see that you must ask for help. Ask God to help. Ask people to help. You need a support network outside of therapy. Try domestic violence group meetings. You’ll find understanding people there, and your experience can foretell the future to other victims of abuse. You can save some while the others save you.

  3. martina says:

    I am going through the same thing.I have three children with my ex.He has not seen them for almost thirteen years..yes thirteen years.He was married to someone else,had a new daughter and simply was not interested.I would email him with how kids are doing,their pictures..The last time I contacted him was when I sen a picture of our daughter and his response was quote” They are your kids, I have my own” with attachement of his new daughter picture.
    About a year ago he wanted to get to know the children and stupid me said..ok.His wife you see divorced him and stated a new he needed a purpose in life(his words).

    Well, it did not go well.We have two sons( one will be 18 in few weeks, one will be 17 and our daughter will be 16 in three months).From the start he was interested only in our daughter..not the boys. His explanation..I don’t know how to deal with sons.
    His interest with our daughter became obsession..he would stalk her( she would go many times somewhere with her friends and he would simply show up)..still have no idea how he would know where she went.He bought her a phone,however if she did not hug him or tell him she loves him..he would have the phone turned of.He would offer her money to go to places with him..when she refused he would call her b..word,c.. her ugly and that her half sister is way prettier..and so on.Our daughter once a very happy girl..A student became withdrawn..her grades went down.I have to mention also..he would constantly mention if he “goes down” if she will not talk to him..he will quit his no child support..and he would say this to the children.
    Our son..who will turn 18 soon has sent him a letter about how he feels about him,for him to get out of our lives..that he had enough of his abuse towards me..and his brother and sister.(Did I mention he would call me in front of the children and ugly..old hag..and how he hopes I just die. He has also hit the ’18″ year old..all reported at school.

    This man now wants custody of his daughter. Claiming I have not allowed him to be her parent..she wants nothing to do with him because of me..he makes good money so can take better care of her..and so on.
    As I am typing this I have received another text from him( number 38 from yesterday)..asking if our girl and this time her 17 year old brother can go to movies with him.Same thing as yesterday..when I asked them..response was no..somehow he does not want to hear it.He also stated he will pay me if I convince them..and he will pay them if they go.This is madness..We daughter’s friends still live where we live.Well, one of her friends called her to tell her he was seen at the place. So now ,she refuses to leave the house..this is her summer time.

  4. Beth says:

    Could he be tracking her moverments on that phone he has given her ?
    Switch the location of take to the phone shop or get ride of it.

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