Does co-parenting feel difficult because you and your ex are never on the same page?

Is your ex combative, dismissive, or a narcissist?

Are you worried about what they’re saying to your kids when you’re not there?

If you want what is best for your kids and find co-parenting activating, this episode is for you.

I am covering the common blocks to cooperative co-parenting, protecting your child from an emotionally unhealthy ex, and the boundaries needed for healthy co-parenting.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

Many of you have requested an episode on co-parenting with a difficult ex. If you are struggling with this, I want you to know you are not alone. ♥️

Setting Boundaries While Co-Parenting

You can empower yourself as a co-parent by setting boundaries with your ex.

Boundaries provide clarity: these are the days I have the kids, these are the days you have them. I will take them to dance, you will take them to lacrosse. 

If you do not have clean agreements like this, you might be reinventing the wheel with your ex in every interaction, which is stressful.

In fact, we often have silent agreements in these situations. This looks like rolling with whatever decisions the other person makes, even if it is not what is best for you, and not verbalizing expectations.

Here’s the thing: if your ex knows you lack boundaries and don’t enforce them, they will probably do whatever is best and easiest for them, even if it inconveniences you.

Figuring out who does what and when will help manage everyone’s expectations, which reduces stress and improves communication.

For example, if you have a custody schedule from the courts, everyone must agree to respect it. Stand your ground when your ex says the schedule doesn’t work for them (unless it is an extraordinary circumstance), and remind them of what you both agreed to.

Not sure what to say or how to set boundaries with your ex? I’ve included word-for-word scripts inside the guide, which you can download here.

Ignoring Your Ex and Focusing On You

Once you know who will do what and when, a quick text can handle any day-to-day issues with your ex.

You do not need to pick up the phone if they call. Instead, set this boundary: “My preference is we communicate through text only and keep it to the kids.”

If part of you is still afraid of your ex or feels controlled by them, get into therapy or a support group and talk about it.

The reality is, you are no longer married. You do not have to do what your ex wants you to do. You do not have to listen to their problems. If they are rude to you, you do not have to put up with it (and I wouldn’t!).

How to Limit Contact With Your Ex While Still Co-Parenting

If you have a difficult ex, it can be helpful to communicate with them in a non-emotional, professional manner.

You do not have to cross the line, make judgments, or name call.

Keeping it professional is better for you and your kids because you’ll avoid falling into old patterns and fights.

Communicating in writing only can also help. It gives you more time to think through a response and makes it easier to avoid getting sucked into conflict.

Additionally, be selective about what you talk about. Only communicate about your kids, because it is what you have in common and (likely) the only reason you are still in touch with them.

If they ask you questions about your life, you do not have to answer them. Your life beyond your kids is no longer their business.

This extends to new relationships, although I suggest agreeing on how long you will wait to introduce kids to new partners. From a therapeutic point of view, the new relationship should be fairly solid before involving your kids.

Dealing With An Abusive Ex

If you are dealing with a difficult and abusive ex, you may need to involve the legal system, especially if they are harming your kids.

You may request visitation with a guardian present, or, if you have evidence of harm, try to get sole custody with limited visitation for your ex.

This is an extreme case and I hope you are not dealing with something like this. If you are experiencing any kind of domestic abuse, I have a few free resources listed on this page. Your safety and your kid’s safety is the highest priority.

Stay On Your Side of the Street With Co-Parenting

It might be tempting to focus on what your ex allows your child to do in their house, especially if your child says they enjoy their time there more.

As tough as this is, you can only control what happens in your house.

If something egregious occurs, you can potentially talk to your ex about it. But as long as your children are loved and their needs are met, it is okay if they stay up later at the other person’s house. It’s normal to have different experiences at different homes.

No Bad Mouthing Your Ex

Nothing good comes from bad-mouthing the other parent. It will likely make them less cooperative than they already are.

Bad-mouthing your ex will also have an impact on your kids, who are one-half the other parent.

When kids witness bad-mouthing, they may feel shame or like they need to defend the other parent. It can create a split sense of loyalty in them, which you want to avoid.

It is the parent’s responsibility to manage the split well and create safety for the children.

High-Conflict Exes: Silence Is A Boundary

Michelle Dempsey is a certified divorce specialist and coach, and she is on point when it comes to psychological wellness and co-parenting with an ex.

She says high-conflict exes do not like being told “no” or that they are wrong.

“For this reason, I always advise my clients to harness the power of silence, a boundary in itself. High conflict exes are looking for exactly that, a war. And by modeling peace in the form of silence, you’re not only putting out their fire, you’re also giving yourself peace of mind and protection and taking your power back at the same time, because silence is a powerful boundary.”

Not getting sucked into conflict is powerful.

I like to say my power lies in not giving anyone the power to make me act lower than my own integrity level. This is especially applicable to co-parenting.

I hope this episode added value to your life. You will find more ideas on how to navigate co-parenting inside the guide, including boundary scripts, which you can download here.

Did this give you more confidence to set boundaries with your co-parent? Have you tried setting boundaries with them? What are your biggest struggles when it comes to healthy co-parenting? Let me know over on Instagram (@terricole) or in the comments!

I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.

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  1. This is something I need
    To do better with also. I tend to over explain (prove myself) to him and I end up right back where I was. But the kicker is him badmouthing my partner to my son. He has a right to be “upset” about who it is as he was our best friend at one point, but he crossed a line telling my son Details of his past relationship that never should’ve been shared. It’s obvious he did it to break my son’s loyalty to my partner. But my son knows my boyfriend will always be there for him and my son already says he feels he’s there more than his dad (because he is) but the fear is there still.

    1. I am so sorry to hear your ex said those things to your son, JE. It sounds like you, your partner, and your son are handling it as best as you can. 💕 It’s great that you can recognize you tend to over-explain yourself. The next time you notice yourself doing that, you can gently tap out of it and redirect the conversation or leave. Do what you need to do to protect yourself.

  2. This episode touched me deep. I struggle with boundaries with my ex. So much of the issue with boundaries was having hope that the problems we had would subside and we could be a family again (initially alcoholism). Which now has come to light that there are mental health and now physical health issues with the alcoholism. Our child has experienced emotional trauma in her toddler years and has no secure attachment. I have always held “it” together for everyone (even my ex) for years. I will be listening to this episode often to remind myself that I am no longer the wife and shouldn’t play that role. And hopefully I can find a way to emotionally let go so I don’t continue to experience heartache as I have during our marriage and post marriage.

  3. My biggest struggle is setting the right balance of emotional boundaries while trying to remain amicable. There are so many variations/ shades of amicability that I see amongst divorced co-parents and I'm trying to figure out the right shade of healthy amicability. I often find that in my endeavor to remain amicable, I violate personal emotional boundaries that I need to protect my heart.

    1. I am witnessing you with compassion, Ash ❤️ Depending on your relationship with your co-parent, is it possible to let them know about this in a gentle way? Something like, “Hey, I know I used to share information about X with you, but it no longer feels good for me to do so. In order to protect myself, our co-parenting journey, and the kids, I wanted to gently let you know I’ll no longer be sharing this information with you, and I would really appreciate it if you no longer asked about it.” You can be compassionate and show appreciation for how they’ve co-parented this far, too. ❤️

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