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Forget Co-Parenting With a Narcissist, Round 4

Counter your ex's attacks to protect yourself and your kids from alienation.

Xuan Nguyen/Unsplash
Source: Xuan Nguyen/Unsplash

Welcome back to the co-parenting ring! If you’re a newcomer, please check out "Forget Co-parenting With a Narcissist. Do This Instead," in addition to its "Round 2" and "Round 3" counterparts.

Just as there are four basic punches in boxing, going the distance means learning to jab, cross, hook, and uppercut your way out of sucker punches. And there’s nothing like dealing with a toxic co-parent to take your breath away.

This article covers four common traps I see well-intentioned, targeted co-parents make time and again. While your actions may be perfectly reasonable and your attempts at change formidable, the frustration continues to grow, because nothing is working. Your ex has a Ph.D. in making you feel like you’re going crazy, and it’s not like you inherited the healthy relationships gene from Mom and Dad. The good news is, once you make the proper adjustments, you’ll no longer get boxed into a corner.

But first, kindly take note of the tenets below, as your ability to mindfully respond to your ex’s ways is predicated on internalizing the following:

  • You cannot apply an amicable divorce model and cooperative co-parenting relationship to your situation. The general rule is, if it doesn't make sense, it makes perfect sense.
  • You must do differently when interacting with your ex; not because your actions are wrong, but because you cannot reason a person into behaving rationally. Self-restraint is your best friend.
  • Take responsibility for choosing to have children with your ex. Adults are willing participants in relationships. When you criticize your ex-spouse, your kids feel like one half of themselves is defective.

Here are four co-parenting misses which keep the most diligent person swatting at air, along with the counterpunches to set the record straight:

1. Reacting to every slight or rude behavior

I get how abominably difficult it is to swallow all the bitter pills. Alas, as I say in sessions—if his or her behavior doesn’t warrant a call to Child Protective Services or law enforcement, color it "bad parenting" and let it go. Taunting exes wait for you to lose it so they can prove to the family court judge that you possess the incorrigible traits they’re accusing you of. Don’t give them the chance.

Counterpunch: Keep your hands up and your mouth shut, no matter how loud, bombastic and lengthy, or quiet, composed, and subtle their actions against you. Learn to work your calm plan, your relaxation routine, and your mindfulness practices daily. When your ex-husband and his new wife sneer as you high-five your kid at the end of the soccer game, walk away. This article can help.

2. Allowing your ex to manipulate the kids into bringing sentimental items to your home

Talk about the classic rope-a-dope. The intended message is your home "isn’t safe so here’s something to remember me by until we see each other again. Call me immediately if you’re not okay, okay?"

Counterpunch: Politely and firmly email your co-parent and let them know you do not want items from their home making their way to yours. Communicate with your kids that it’s easier to keep belongings from each home separate. If it’s a comfort object, such as a stuffed animal, take your child to the toy store and choose a new one together.

3. Attempting to alter the custody order for special dates or events

Wouldn't it be great to take the redeye to Denver in order to say goodbye to your ailing father and their grandfather, respectively? Of course. But don’t count on compassion now. Life (and death) cycles be damned.

Counterpunch: A specific court order is your ally, and hopefully holidays, birthdays, and unexpected events are outlined. If not, your choices are a return to family court or celebrate/commiserate on different dates. After all, kids remember special experiences, not that it happened on December 25th. Regarding a loved one's death, I’m coming up empty. Tragically, I’ve learned to suspend disbelief at how low a spiteful ex can go.

4. Contacting your attorney for non-emergency matters

Co-parents, please think before you react to the $400.00 hourly rate. I get that the toxicity of family court and dealing with the system is brutal, but the “I’ll show him/her” tantrum only serves to put your lawyer’s kids through law school. Every time a client tells me how much s/he has spent on legal fees, I close my eyes and vow to keep my eyebrows off the ceiling.

Counterpunch: Picture your retirement account and your kid’s college fund slowly bleeding out and then read #7 and #8 from this article.

Co-parenting with a toxic ex is nearly impossible, but while you may be down, you’re not out. Just as the world’s best boxers are calm, methodical, and relaxed in the ring, you can cultivate the same skills to guard against the incessant below-the-belt blows. Studies show children of divorce can thrive emotionally with the support of one stable, loving adult. Overcoming co-parenting drama is less about throwing in the towel and more about fighting the good fight.

To join Co-Parenting Without Chaos: Lose the Drama, Drop Your Toxic Ex, Keep Your Kids Safe, check out my bio page.


Copyright 2019 Linda Esposito, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author.