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[Solved] You Can’t Co-Parent With A Toxic Ex

Illustrious Member

interesting article I came across:

You Can’t Co-Parent With A Toxic Ex, But You Can Do This Instead

If you’ve stumbled upon this article after Googling some version of, “How can I co-parent with my toxic ex?” and that ex truly happens to be psychopathic, narcissistic, highly contentious or all of the above, allow me to draw on the words of Drake, and provide the Cliff Notes version:

If you’re reading this, it’s too late.

You cannot co-parent with a narcissist. I repeat, YOU. CANNOT. CO-PARENT. WITH. A. NARCISSIST.

No matter how flexible or firm you are. No matter how hard you try, every attempt to “be the bigger person” or “kill ‘em with kindness” will ultimately fail. You cannot co-parent with a toxic person. The reason why is very simple –

Co-parenting requires shared effort and shared intent.

Consider the prefix “co” – it means, “together, mutual, in common.” Narcissists do not share the same goals as you. Narcissists cannot and do not put the child’s best interest before their own. Trying to co-parent with a narcissist is akin to rowing a boat with one oar, while the other person uses theirs to slowly add water. Your boat cannot go straight when you’re only paddling on one side. Try best as you can, your boat will go in circles, stopping only when it sinks.

To be clear, break-ups are hard on everyone. Co-parenting is harder. And very nice, well-intended people can be ******** sometimes, too. When I say “narcissist,” I’m not speaking in hyperbole, so it’s important that you pause for a moment, and really consider a few things:

Is your ex controlling? Emotionally abusive? Insensibly difficult? Does s/he minimize, deny or shift the blame? Does s/he try to intimidate or isolate you or the children? And do they exhibit any signs of parental alienation?

If the answer is no, great news! Your ex probably isn’t a narcissist and you probably can find a path to peaceful co-parenting. But if you answered yes to a few of those indicators, it’s likely time to give up the ship.

Sans children, the obvious decision would be to cut all ties and never look back. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option. And in the vast majority of cases, kids are better off having a relationship with both biological parents. So when your ex happens to be toxic or narcissistic, parallel parenting is your only choice.

This isn’t just semantics – this is a total philosophy change. Parallel parenting requires any healthy, cooperative person to consciously unlearn and rewire:

1. Recognize the dynamic and recognize the cycle.

Is there a pattern to your communication? How frequent is the back-and-forth? How reactive are you? What’s making things worse? Do you have anxiety? If so, when and what heightens it? What are you afraid of? That isn’t a rhetorical question: What are you afraid of? Failing as a parent? Losing your children? How has your ex manipulated you into believing you must engage to protect yourself or your kids? And are those fears logical, whatsoever? Cry it out and write it down, and then reduce it to facts. Where are you at, and what must change?

2. Establish new boundaries.

Only communicate via email or a parenting portal. Sites such as Talking Parents are admissible in court and have read receipts, which prevent your ex from claiming that s/he “didn’t get the message.” Block him/her on social media, increase your privacy settings, and do not text. Establish a set of rules for yourself: How often you will check the messages and how long you will wait to respond? Do not give in to triangulation. Make rules for when you will answer calls to the child.

Be reasonable and be tactful, but do not share these rules with your ex. This is you creating boundaries for you – not creating more ways for him/her to permeate your psyche. Example: Let’s say you decide (and tell your ex) that any calls after 8:00 p.m. will not be answered. Ex intentionally starts calling at 8:01. You answer and that inch turns back into a mile. You don’t, and you get emails saying how unreasonable you’re being. Very few things are truly pressing. Silently set your rules and communicate/facilitate communication when it becomes appropriate. Do not give your ex an opening for engagement or manipulation.

3. If you don’t have a court order, file for one.

Take the time to plan out what you want. If you go before a judge without a plan, you will get a standardized agreement, and those are for parents who can co-parent, not for you two. Look at your state’s typical parenting plan, and modify it to the best interest of your children. At first glance, you may think it “sounds fair” – but that’s because you intend on following it, and are expecting reciprocity. Do not be jaded by false hope.

Go line by line, and consider how your ex could use stipulations to further his/her control. How will he/she communicate with the children when they are in your house? How are the children exchanged, and where? What happens if you’re running late or get sick or have car trouble? What information are you required to communicate about and what is the timeline for turn-around? What decisions, if any, can you reasonably be expected to make together? And remember: you need an order that doesn’t provide your ex with room for interpretation. Gray area is a license to be difficult and a recipe for disaster.

4. If you already have a court order, expect your ex to break it.

Be grateful: s/he’s showing his/her spots in a documentable way. Do not address it with your ex, just quietly take notes. After you’ve built up a case, take your ex back to court. Push for sanctions and fight for sole decision-making rights or custody. Maybe you need a third party to facilitate the exchanges. Maybe it’s not appropriate for your ex to communicate with the children through you. Counseling. Monitored Visits. Psychosocial evaluations. Whatever it takes! Always put their needs first, but remember that kids desperately need to see their parents’ model healthy boundaries. Inter-generational abuse is a very real thing, and should be your primary concern. Do everything you can to break this cycle.

5. Your ex will try to compete with you. Do not engage.
If you haven’t noticed yet, the name of the game is “Do not engage.” If you remember and follow only three words from this Magna Carta: Pick. Those. Three. If you have majority time-sharing, you probably also have the burden of majority disciplining, majority chores, and majority schoolwork. The deck is stacked against you in the fun-parent department. Let it go. Allow your kids to be excited to see your ex. Encourage and support them. Be happy for them. That’s what you ultimately want, after all – for your children to be happy.

Children wish to believe their parents (plural) hung the moon. Let them believe it for as long as they can. Don’t probe your children, or pull the veil from their eyes. You’ll watch it slip down, only for your kids to slide it back up, over and over again. Don’t take offense to this. Consider how long you stayed with that person, or how long you held onto the idea of co-parenting. Learning you were wrong about a loved one is a hard truth to swallow, especially for a child. Comfort them when they’re hurting, but don’t dwell or drag it out. Allow them to recover. The road is long and they need all the help they can get navigating it. Be their compass.

6. Expect to be dragged through the mud.

Calling in abuse reports. Making false allegations. Spreading rumors about you to his/her circle (and yours). And most of these lies will be in the form of accusations directly at you. You’re a bad mother! You’re selfish! You’re insecure! This. Is. Called. Gaslighting. Stand firm in your truth. You do not have to defend yourself or explain your choices. Do not worry about being the “bad guy” and do not make decisions out of fear. Frequently ask yourself, “If my ex wasn’t in the picture, what would be the best way to handle (given situation) for myself and for my children?” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that same decision is still the right decision.

7. And last but not least, just live your life.

You are an autonomous human being who deserves happiness, pleasure and fun. You’re allowed to make mistakes along the way. You’re allowed room to grow. And you do not have to be a perfect parent or person. Do not be stifled by the box your ex paints you into, or the version of “you” that you were way back when. You’re permitted to change and, frankly, changing is the whole point. You can’t fix your ex, so stop trying. Instead, shift the focus inward. Take the job, make the move, write the article. Nothing will upset your ex more than you living life on your own terms. So be authentically you, and do it with a smile.

As they say, “Happiness is the best revenge.”

Topic starter Posted : 24/06/2019 12:40 am
Trusted Member Registered

The last few sentences for me are the most important.

**You can’t fix your ex, so stop trying**
Instead, shift the focus inward. Take the job, make the move, write the article. Nothing will upset your ex more than you living life on your own terms. So be authentically you, and do it with a smile.

**As they say, “Happiness is the best revenge.”**

Posted : 24/06/2019 2:06 pm
Illustrious Member

The talking parents is a new one on me, that sounds like an excellent idea.

Posted : 26/06/2019 1:34 am
Honorable Member Registered

Hello Bill337,

I am impressed with your post!

I can understand the courts wanting parents to co-parent that is the ideal but unfortunately they seem, at times particularly with stipulating mandatory mediation pre court, totally unable to comprehend that it is impossible and I believe always will be when dealing with a narcissistic parent. Why they do not demand psychiatric reports to be done amazes me particularly as the most important is the welfare and safety of a child. Dear, oh dear. The narcissist is only interested in themselves, their need to control, manipulate and engage in parental alienation. Of course the innocent in all of this are the children and the other parent, no one else matters to them.

I think the way to survive this type of scenario is exactly as you have illustrated. As time goes by and there is need to change the details of a Court Order due to the development of the child/ren and their changing needs, I believe, it is an utter waste of time to try to negotiate with the narcissistic parent. The only way, I believe, is back to court to address the developing needs of the child/ren, In so doing, to think carefully what is required and to make sure all the i's and t's are crossed in a revised Court Order so as to control as much as possible the narcissistic parent and in so doing lesson the damage and heartache this type of person creates to their children and the other parent.

Posted : 30/06/2019 12:45 am
Bill337 and Bill337 reacted
Reputable Member Registered

My ex is a narcissist. It took me a long time to realise this (probably due to me having Aspergers, that makes me easy prey for these people right?) But when I did learn what she was I soon got rid. I spent many days researching these type of people and it's her down to a tee.

She has no contact with our child now and she follows the same pattern time and time again. She only wants to see him when she wants to, when it suits her, when she feels the need to see him, she blames me entirely for her not seeing him, refuses to accept it's her own inconsistencies is why she dont see him. She never ever sees it from the childs perspective, she refuses to accept that her actions caused him extreme amounts of trauma and upset. She would swear blind that the sky is not blue and actually make you believe it also! It's all about her rather than the child. She will always say how upset she is about not seeing him but then never even asks how is is doing, let alone provide for him!

She is so predictable and at first I used to fall for it but I'm wise to it these days. She will contact me every 3 months or so, be all nice, promise she will change etc etc but I need to let her see him in order to give her a reason to change. She will promise the world. My position these days is ok but you need to prove yourself, you start by seeing him at a contact centre to re establish contact and then when you prove you can stick to that then we will discuss further. In the meantime you provide for him etc. She then gets funny and says she doesn't need to see him in a contact centre, refuses to accept that to him she is a stranger and he doesn't know who she is, she expects to just pick him up at take him to McDonalds or something. She then gets funny, possibly turns up at my house banging on the door, sends me threatening messages, police refuse to do anything because I'm a bloke, she will then threaten to take me to family court but then never go through with it because of the stuff social services have on her and then will disappear off the face of the earth for another few months when the same cycle will repeat over and over again.

I describe her to people as a storm, she will come along and create chaos and then suddenly be gone.

I could never ever co parent with her as she hasn't got the ability to do that, she only sees things from her own perspective. She would destroy my relationship with him.

Posted : 13/11/2019 2:18 am
New Member Registered

My partner ( i am female but signed upto try and et some help) has a child with his ex ( who is 3). We took her to mediation because she was violent towards him she orchestrated this ill mannered dictatorship that he had to do everything she asked , nothing was negotiable if he didnt do what she asked she lost it and has huge anger issues. Her language and behaviour is incredibly violent towards my partner. He has his daughter 2 days a week ( mid week) because she told him he has to have her then and one night to stay but she says it is not enoughl. She will not move on with her life, she asks his parents for money non stop and always ask his parents to look after the child when she wants to go out doing drugs, she makes them look after her non stop. His parents probably spend more time dealing with her toxic behaviour than they do getting to know me. I have been with him nearly 2 years now. I want her to move on with her life and stop trying to disrupt ours. They are not together anymore, she needs to find her own unit and independence in her own life to look after her, as its so disruptive towards our life. His parents do us no favours saying yes to everything. We have already been to mediation and she pays no attention to it, she is not interested in looking after her daughter , only the money she craves from my partner, which we know she spends on herself. Never buys her new clothes, never even buys her birthday parents. She also takes her to the pub most evenings, and will drink drive home. I dont know what to do , but its stressing me out so badly. I dont think his parents do it any favours by always saying yes to her. Isnt this weird? and not normal for an ex to be still clinging in the picture. 

Posted : 06/12/2022 1:30 pm
Illustrious Member

@lmcb hi. Do you think it would better for child to be in the primary care of the father? If so then that is something he could think about. You mention she has issues with drugs and alcohol. Is also violent with anger issues. These may be serious safeguarding  concerns related to the child.

Topic starter Posted : 06/12/2022 4:46 pm
New Member Registered



Yes i agree, but he and i both work full time so we are unable to look after her full time. I also have a lodger which isnt the best living situation for us all.

Posted : 06/12/2022 4:48 pm
Estimable Member Registered

@lmcb Hello, Thank you for sharing. It reads to me like you are in a very difficult and stressful situation, wanting to do the best by your partner and also for his little girl. I would strongly urge you to make time to sit down with your partner and discuss a plan of action with the safety and well being of his 3 year old at the forefront. There appears to be some serious issues from what I have read, and if correct, cannot be ignored. For the safety and well being of this child, there has to be a way to asses if all her needs are being met when she is with her main caregiver as well as yourselves. However, this, I think has to be instigated by your partner, the father of the child, because he has a duty of care for her. You are there to be his support and to help bring up his daughter when she is with you, but I would encourage him to speak to a professional to whom he can voice his concerns too and then take it from there. 

The mother of the child sounds like she needs help too, but I would suggest that this is not for you to have to deal with or to become involved with. 

On a lighter note, make the times that you are together as a family memorable  - make memories that she will remember when she is older. Give praise and encouragement when she does something new for the first time, or does something well. Spend quality 1-1 time with her, so that you and your partner get that special time to create memories.Do an activity that is only something you would do at your home. Try really hard not to talk disrespectfully about the little girls Mum in front of her, even though you may feel like it sometimes, she is still her Mum and as she's 3, she will not realise quite what is going on.

I understand it must be tough for you both, but please make sure that you encourage your partner to get the right help with this situation. His daughter will be starting school aged 4, so she will need lots of encouragement and care for that.


Hope this helps,

All the best, Fegans Parent Support.

Posted : 08/12/2022 6:58 pm

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