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Co-parenting with a difficult ex by Candice Janks, Counselling Psychologist

While you and your spouse have decided to end your romantic partnership; not an easy decision, particularly because a relationship between you is still required for the sake of your children. You now need to learn how to navigate new roles and redefine who you are. This can be made even more challenging when you are dealing with a difficult ex. How do you learn to co-parent in these new circumstances?

Tips for Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex

• Boundaries
Establishing boundaries is a crucial step in co-parenting with a difficult ex-partner. Boundaries will assist in reducing stress and increase the chances of working together more amicably. Important boundaries to set include communication, family and personal boundaries. For example, determine how, when and why, you and your ex will communicate. In addition, establish how households are to be run, how conflicts will be resolved, and decide on rewards and punishments your children will receive. Such family boundaries need to be created and maintained, regardless of whose house the children are staying in. Personal boundaries are also essential. Determine what you will not tolerate from your ex, how you will stand up for yourself and what you want, and identify how your needs can be appropriately met so you are able to provide the best support and nurturing for your children.
• Communication
Communication is key and the foundation in any relationship. There is a very strong possibility that communication with your ex has broken down and seems, at times, almost impossible without causing arguments and evoking strong negative emotions. The goal is to create new ways of communicating that affords the opportunity to parent your children most effectively. If this means that communication is now limited to email or text messages, then let that be the case. You need to determine what works best for you. Electronic communication such as messaging and email creates some distance and often removes the emotional aspect. This further allows your communication to be monitored if ever required for future legal dealings.
• Consistency
Remain consistent in your dealings with your ex. If everyone is aware of the rules then it is much easier to know what to expect, and what is expected in return. This will also assist in alleviating anxiety and confusion not only for you, but also your children. Consistency fosters an environment that feels safe, further promoting a sense of stability.
• Children Come First
Too often you can get caught up in the emotional rollercoaster that is dealing with your ex. It then becomes all too easy to neglect your children and their needs. It is important not to fall into this trap and lose sight of your children. Never use your children as bargaining tools or weapons against your ex. Acknowledge your children’s feelings, especially their possible fear and anxiety about their new home and living situation. Remaining focused on your children will help you stay strong and determined in your parenting plans, even when your ex is making it immensely difficult.
• Support Networks
Many studies have proven the importance of support networks in coping with stressful life events, such as divorce. A supportive social network can provide comfort and strength during turbulent and demanding times. When dealing with your ex feels like it is becoming too much, utilise the support of the significant people in your life. Sometimes, due to fear or embarrassment, we don’t reach out for help. Let your loved ones (extended family, friends, religious or social groups) be there for you whilst you attempt to make sense of your new reality.
• Counselling
Counselling provides a safe space to explore current difficulties and challenges. Adjusting to new circumstances and juggling day-to-day life can sometimes feel overwhelming and confusing. Counselling, or therapy, aims to create a non-judgmental, objective, and containing environment in which to voice your concerns. Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone who is not in your immediate circle, knowing you can trust that what you discuss will remain confidential.
• Take Care of You
Whilst your children may be your priority, it is very difficult to provide them with the attention and nurturing they may require if you do not take care of yourself. Think about the safety instructions when you fly. The flight attendant will indicate that in the case of an emergency, place the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting your children or fellow passengers. The same concept may be applied to your home environment. Taking care of yourself may be as simple as a bubble bath, attending a yoga class or trying something new that you keep putting off. Whatever it may be, look after yourself so that you can take care of your children.

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