Separating or divorcing from a partner when you share children is an incredibly challenging process. It is made more so when your child's other parent is difficult or toxic. Unfortunately, dealing with a toxic parent is all too common. After a divorce, emotions and tempers are running high, and there are people who use their children as weapons to try to make their former spouse's life difficult.
In these situations, parents report feeling like they do not know where to turn for answers. Keep reading for some helpful tips on coparenting with a toxic parent.
One of the most difficult aspects of coparenting is setting appropriate boundaries with your coparent. This is made especially challenging when the other parent is difficult or toxic. However, it is in these situations where boundaries become even more important.
For example, keeping all communication focused on the children and identifying off-limits topics can help keep discussions with your former partner centered on what matters and reduce animosity. You may also find it helpful to set boundaries about how and when your child's other parent can contact you. Limiting communication to written only
Try Different Parenting Methods
Coparenting is often presented as the ideal for divorced and separated parents. However, this method is not right for everyone. Traditional coparenting requires a lot of open communication between parents and tends to be collaborative in nature. When dealing with a toxic parent, this may not be possible or beneficial. Do not force yourself to keep using traditional coparenting methods when they are not working.
Alternative methods, like parallel parenting, may work better for you and your family. Parallel parenting is a parenting method in which parents establish their own parenting styles and methods when the children are with them and do not consult each other on day-to-day issues. Though some worry that this creates inconsistency for children, it can actually promote stability and reduce conflict in the family. Children know what to expect when with each parent, there is less fighting, and parents can get the distance they need.
Try to Stay Focused on the Children & Seek Professional Help
When you are dealing with a toxic coparent, it can feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall. In these situations, parents report feeling frustrated and as if there is nothing they can do to remedy or deal with the situation. When this happens, you can try refocusing your energy on your children and their needs. Though it is much easier said than done, the act of refocusing may help you feel like you have more control over the situation. It can also help you identify areas in which you have agency and autonomy as a parent.
Staying focused on your children and their needs can also help you in situations where you are worried that their other parent's toxic attitude is negatively affecting your children. It can be very difficult for children to speak out against a parent, but they may provide you with clues about what's going on with them mentally and emotionally. Spend time listening to your kids, and give them the opportunity to talk with you, free of judgment.
In these situations, it might also be beneficial to work with a family counselor or to have your kids work directly with their own therapist. Some children have an easier time being open with a neutral third party, like a therapist or counselor. And a mental health professional may also be able to provide you with guidance on supporting your children through this difficult time.
Though you cannot control the other parent or correct their toxic behavior, you can take steps to protect your own and your children's mental health.
Speak with Your Lawyer
If you are struggling with a toxic coparent, it is easy to feel isolated and as if there is nowhere to turn. However, it might be worth speaking with your lawyer. Though this is often the last thing that parents think of, you may be surprised by how much help your attorney can be. If your coparent is disregarding your established custody arrangement or parenting plan, or if they are actively trying to alienate you from your children, you may be able to seek support from the courts. Additionally, if your custody arrangement is no longer adequate for the family's needs, or you've experienced a change in circumstances, you may have grounds to seek a modification to your original order.
Reach out to The Virga Law Firm, P.A. to discuss your situation and to find out how one of our skilled attorneys can help you.