What to Do When Co-parenting Isn’t an Option

Co-Parenting from High Ground

For Justine, a fellow parent with limited co-parenting options.

I had big plans for this article. It was going to be didactic and helpful – a foundational resource article for parents trying to co-parent amicably.

Then I read a story about a parent trying to better her life – setting life goals, eating right, prioritizing family – but stuck in a toxic co-parenting relationship. And now I’m just all kinds of mad for her. Why? Because I can relate.

Her latest incident included being berated by her would-be co-parent over a pair of underwear that didn’t fit her son properly. Underwear. There were a lot of expletives.

Here’s what she had to say about the aftermath:

Even now, those words sting me. They make me sad and depressed. I know I shouldn’t give them power. I know they are not true. I know that I could have said a hundred million things to refute it, but I said nothing. Part of me is proud I didn’t engage. The other part feels like I rubbed a healing wound raw once again. It makes me feel weak.

She wondered if her lack of reaction was the best reaction. (More on that in a second.)

The muck my hands built – and the muck it didn’t.

I own my life choices – I chose my ex-husband and had a child with him knowing, at least in part, something was “off.”

My co-parenting situation is muck, and it’s the muck of my own hands – to a point{Tweet}

And that’s the key – it’s my muck to a point. Then it’s just muck. Not my muck. Not his muck. Just straight nasty, good-for-nothing muck.

I am regularly grieved by the fact that all my past-life muck impacts my beautiful, blended family today. But I’ve learned something truly valuable courtesy of my 12 years of co-parenting.

A lot of the muck in co-parenting relationships is *new* muck. {Tweet}

And I’ve learned by staying out of the new muck created by a toxic, co-parenting relationship, I only have to support my family in healing from the old muck our broken family left behind.

Get out of the muck!

It is so easy to stay in the muck or get sucked back into the muck. (See my piece about losing the fight to win the war.) My husband and I regularly find ourselves navigating muck of one kind or another when trying to co-parent with my ex-husband.

Finally, after several really terrible experiences, some more minor ones (including repeated accusations that I am an unfit parent because my child’s clothes don’t fit or match or were dirty) and a number of efforts above and beyond necessary, we decided 98 percent of our interactions with my ex-husband were muck. Muck, muck, muck, muck.

My husband and I were exhausted, expended and feeling completely violated.

After a careful self-examination and of the situation, there didn’t appear to be any more efforts to make. Muck was muck.

And you cannot co-parent effectively in the muck. {Tweet}

Most devastating was, despite my husband’s and my efforts to keep our family out of the muck, our child was suffering. Really, we were all suffering.

The final result? We gave up on what most people call co-parenting – at least for now. (That’s a longer story, but again my piece about losing the fight to win the war touches on it.)

How to co-parent from high ground

Once you’re out of the muck and not involved in creating any new muck, avoid malice, deceit, hypocrisy and envy of all kinds both from your ex-spouse and from your own heart.

And also…

  1. Don’t react. (Good job, Justine!) It’s not worth it – and if you think you feel bad biting your tongue…
  2. Recognize what’s within your control, and let go of all the rest. No really, let go. LET GO.
  3. Walk alongside your child. Their relationship with “the other parent” is their’s. You’re just facilitating it.
  4. Pat yourself on the back. If you are co-parenting from high ground, you are doing the best you can in a toxic situation.
  5. Know that victory will come. It may not come for your co-parenting situation – I don’t have much hope for mine – but it will come for your child, and that’s who matters.

If you have success getting out of the muck and co-parenting from high ground, will you share it with the rest of us in the comments below? We all need a little encouragement sometimes

4 thoughts on “What to Do When Co-parenting Isn’t an Option

  1. memoirsofdivorcemen says:

    Excellent advice! It’s not about winning against the ex-spouse, it’s all about just being a good parent for your kids. Just keep doing what you can as a parent to the best of your ability, because you owe that to your child. If fighting with an ex-spouse over your children is impacting on your relationship with your children, then obviously co-parenting isn’t working out as it should. Taking the moral high ground is the way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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