15 Things to Remember When Co-Parenting With a Toxic Ex-Spouse

You would think that after spending months and thousands of dollars trying to divorce your spouse that you would be able to move on with your life, right?

Well, this is not always the case in high-conflict divorces. After going through a process that was time-, money- and mind-consuming, I found myself co-parenting with a toxic parent. I want to move on with my life and help my children safely, securely and smoothly adjust to a two-parent household — but I can’t. My ex-spouse won’t let things run smoothly and is now turning my children against me.

High-conflict divorces are difficult enough for all parties involved. So when one parent tries to turn the children against the other parent, they are often just perpetuating the hardship for everyone through parental alienation.

Parental alienation refers to the “brain-washing” of a child to vilify the other parent. The parent who alienates the children often looks to undermine and interfere with the child’s ability to build and maintain a healthy relationship and bond with the other parent.

Most high-conflict divorces have language in the judgment stipulating out how each parent should behave post-divorce. This is done for the best interest of the child. This language generally states that neither parent shall do anything that would hamper the natural development of the child’s love and respect for the other parent.

Unfortunately, not all parents follow, respect or abide by these words written in court documents, and child alienation can occur, with children being the ones affected the most.

So what can you do if your co-parent is unable to move forward due to anger, bitterness, resentment or a desire to “make you pay?” All you can do is be the grown up who puts your child’s well-being first.

Please remember that your children are the innocent victims of your divorce. If you hear distorted accusations and statements of your bitter co-parent from your child’s mouth, gather strength and try following these guidelines:

  1. At all costs, refrain yourself from giving your child a retaliatory response.
  2. Don’t strike back against your former spouse or the children, as this often only serves to increase hostility between all parties involved.
  3. Remind yourself that your child inflicting pain on you is simply a result of the other parent’s hostility and resentment toward you.
  4. Offer a calm, empathic response that clarifies misinformation without the need to denigrate the other parent.
  5. Don’t argue with your children about the statements they heard or their criticism of you. Keep in mind that they are quoting your ex.
  6. Explain to your child that they can have their own feelings, and they don’t have to be angry with you just because of your co-parents hate toward you.
  7. Try not to give your children weak responses that neither clarify the fabrication nor reassure them of your love for them.
  8. Address your ex’s fabricated information about you as soon as possible. Recurrence of deceits can create false memories that can be difficult for your child to erase.
  9. Depending on the level of damaging misinformation your children are being told, always use protective statements to clarify.
  10. If your child is upset, crying or throwing a temper tantrum because of the hurtful verbal sentiments against you, just comfort them and wait to address the matter at a time when they are calm and your clarification will be better received.
  11. Once your child is relaxed and happy, try using playtime to calmly address the denigrating statements against you.
  12. Be sure to tell your children that it is not their job to deal with blaming and confusing adult matters.
  13. Acknowledge that you understand how scary, confusing and/or upsetting it must be to hear these statements about you.
  14. Recognize the long-term effects alienation could have on your children.
  15. Provide a safe emotional environment by letting your children know that they can always talk to you about anything by not making them feel that they are in the middle of a war zone.

By sticking to a caring form of response when addressing negative statements from an ex-spouse, you can help your child sail through stormy waters that are out of you and your child’s control. You may also be teaching your children valuable skills needed to form secure attachments for future relationships.

Written by Diana Giorgetti


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