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Tips for Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex

Co-parenting with a toxic ex is challenging or impossible. Learn tips for dealing with your toxic ex and alternatives to co-parenting, on HealthyPlace.

Co-parenting with a toxic ex is challenging and frustrating at best and impossible at worst. A toxic ex-wife or toxic ex-husband purposely sets out to upset you and make you perpetually miserable. They also use your children as pawns in their twisted game. (An important note: A toxic ex-spouse targets you rather than the kids even though they put the kids in the middle of the noxious behavior. If your ex is abusing the kids, legal action is required. This article deals with co-parenting with a toxic ex rather than a child abuser.)

Toxic co-parents are driven by their emotions. These mothers or fathers are fueled by anger, resentment, bitterness, and a desire for revenge. In some cases, the ex may be a narcissist—driven by an inflated ego, loving only themselves, driven by an uncompromising sense of entitlement.

Your toxic ex-wife or ex-husband is driven to act on these emotions; as a result, you must try to parent with someone:

Because a toxic parent is resentful of you and opposed to co-parenting, they often use a tactic called parental alienation. They do and say things to make the other parent look bad because they want to turn the kids against the other parent in order to damage that relationship and prevent closeness and bonding.

Given the destructive situation, how are you supposed to co-parent with someone like this? Consider the following ideas.

Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex: Is It Even Possible?

Co-parenting is an official arrangement, developed by both parents working together, to create a loving, positive childhood for their kids. Co-parenting isn’t always easy for parents who no longer have a personal relationship, but together, they make it work for their children.

Therein lies the problem. Toxic people can’t or won’t think in terms of “together.” You likely already know from parenting with a narcissist that they can’t put the needs of others—including their kids— above their own. True co-parenting with this type of person doesn’t exist. It’s impossible.

Of course, you both still have a role in parenting your kids, and your kids need a relationship with each of you. Instead of a co-parenting arrangement, you might try parallel parenting. In this arrangement, you both parent your own ways apart from each other rather than having an integrated and overlapping parenting experience.

Parallel parenting looks like this:

  • Limited contact and interaction between parents
  • Impersonal, brief communication
  • No exchange of personal information

Whether you opt for co-parenting or parallel parenting, there are strategies to make parenting with a toxic ex easier.

Tips and Strategies for Co-Parenting or Parallel-Parenting with a Toxic or Narcissistic Ex

Consider each of the tips individually, and pick and choose what will work for you, your kids, and your co- or parallel parent.

  • Determine what’s important to you, your parenting goals and values.
  • You are the parent when your kids are with you. Focus on them and your goals. Make it positive and keep your ex away from your time.
  • Know what triggers your ex. Avoid those topics and situations or prepare for a tirade, minimizing the negative impact.
  • Allow your kids to have a relationship, guilt-free, with their other parent.
  • Regardless of what your ex does, don’t run them down in front of the kids. That can contribute to kids’ mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and it doesn’t model healthy relationship behavior.
  • Don’t react when your kids tell you something irksome their other parent said or did. Avoid showing anger or playing to your ex’s level. (Remember the adage, “Don’t kill the messenger.”
  • You can calmly clarify misinformation. Do it at a neutral, non-emotional time.
  • Make your home a safe, welcoming place where kids don’t have to hear about their other parent. They can relax and enjoy being with you.
  • Avoid turning your kids into confidants, friends, or support groups. To vent about your ex, do it with a friend or real support group,
  • Create and maintain firm boundaries with your ex: when you will and won’t communicate and what interactions are acceptable.
  • Feeling sorry for your kids and showing it creates a victim mentality. Establish a mentally healthy home for them to enjoy when they’re with you.

The herculean task of remaining calm and positive despite your toxic co-parent is often easier said than done; however, with determination and love for your kids, it is possible. Rather than concentrating on your ex and wishing for them to change, focus on yourself and creating the life you want for you and your kids.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 7). Tips for Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/co-parenting/tips-for-co-parenting-with-a-toxic-ex

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD