Spot on Advice: “You Can’t Co-Parent With A Toxic Ex, But You Can Do This Instead”

“You cannot co-parent with a narcissist. I repeat, YOU. CANNOT. CO-PARENT. WITH. A. NARCISSIST.”—Jenny Penland “You Can’t Co-Parent With A Toxic Ex, But You Can Do This Instead

If you are reading my blog, I hope you get a sense that you can survive your narcissist. It will be an ugly, long, Willy Wonka-esque boat ride, but you are, can, and will do it. A friend sent me an article this morning and it was so spot on I had to share it with you.

Jenny Penland, the article’s author, “is a working mama who specializes in high-conflict family law and child welfare.” I wish she’d been my lawyer.

I recommend you read her article, “You Can’t Co-Parent With A Toxic Ex, But You Can Do This Instead.” Here are examples from my own journey that support her advice:

1. Recognize the dynamic and recognize the cycle.

It took a good bit of therapy for me to figure this out, but once I did I was able to change the way I interact with my ex. Our most contentious, back and forth drama related to medical care for our kids. No amount of logical arguments from me were going to convince him to follow the doctor’s orders, but he was getting endless supply manipulating me. This awareness helped me realize that I needed to take him back to court. His behavior was impacting the health of my kids, but for him it was a his means to control me.

2. Establish new boundaries.

I now have extremely firm boundaries with my ex. I do not answer the phone when he calls. I let him leave a message or text him back asking if he is calling to speak to one of the kids. If he is not, I send a stock message: “Unless this is an emergency, please send your message through the portal.” If he continues to text, I just ignore him. I do not respond via text. If it is something that I feel is important for the wellbeing of the kids, I screenshot his message and reply in the portal, sending the screenshot as an attachment.

When we exchange the kids, I do it in public and do not speak to him.

I check the parent communication portal at 8:00 am every day. That is the only time I check it. I have the app notifications turned off.

He hates having to use the parenting portal, by the way. He is always probing for ways to avoid it. Everything he types there is admissible in court and you can never delete what you send. I love it.

Penland also reminds you not to tell your ex these boundaries. Her description of why you shouldn’t tell is so accurate it’s like she met my ex! He is court ordered to tell me his visitation days by 8:00 pm on Sunday. He waits until the last possible second to send it pretty much every week.

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

I feel like this goes without saying, but know that a standard order won’t work for you. Once my lawyer understood that my ex was a batshit crazy narcissist, we were able to craft a very specific agreement. Communication through the parenting portal along with provisions outlining the only times we are allowed to communicate outside the portal are in there. Child exchanges at a specified, public place is in there. It’s even written that my ex husband has to provide the kids with toiletries while they are at his house.

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

All. The. Time. My ex is always pushing against the boundaries of our court order. He even breaks it. We’ve been back in front of a judge twice in less than a year.

5. Your ex will try to compete with you. Do not engage.

Let me tell you about our first Christmas while we were separated. He bought our daughter a bike. He posted a picture of the bike on Facebook, telling everyone that he’d bought this great present. He went on to ask if someone could tell me not to buy our daughter a bike since he couldn’t tag me on Facebook because I’d blocked him. He tagged several of my family members in the post instead. (Oh so much narcissism in just one Facebook post.)

I’d already planned on getting her a bike. And I did, just a few days after he made that Facebook post. Closer to Christmas he sent me a text message and said he’d bought her a bike and asked me not to buy one. I told him I’d already purchase one. He demanded to see the receipt and that whoever bought their bike last would have to take it back.

Um, no. It’s perfectly fine for her to have two bikes. It’s unreasonable to bring a bike back and forth between houses, so having one at each house makes a lot of sense.

It was my Christmas, so she would open my bike first. To fix that, he had the kids open their Christmas presents two days early, without telling me. But wait, there’s more! On Christmas morning, as my daughter was opening her presents from me, she kept saying “Oh, I love this! I got one of these at dad’s house.” I figured out that he’d logged on to my Amazon account and ordered her everything that’d I’d ordered for her.

What. An. Ass.

Everything “fun” is a competition. Don’t even bother. Don’t try to “show” your kids what your ex is doing either. Your kids need to keep that mask up. They can’t put up the same protective barriers as you. That mask is what keeps them from being even more damaged.

Just know, he will never out support, out help, or out care you. Your ex is incapable of doing that.

6. Expect to be dragged through the mud.

I’m sure this is happening to some degree, but I don’t know about it. He did such a great job of isolating me during our marriage that I had to make all new friends and he doesn’t know who they are.

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

It was very hard to get his voice out of my head, but now it’s just me in there. I still hold a lot of negative core beliefs that come from without rather than within, but I am living my best life. My decisions are mine.

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