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Ep #25: Co-Parenting With A Toxic Ex | Becoming You Again Podcast

Co-parenting is an essential part of divorce. We all have a desire that our co-parenting relationship will be easy, peaceful and harmonious. But for many, this isn't the reality. We end up trying to communicate with a toxic person who is unwilling to work together on any level. When this happens being a parent can feel overwhelming and we end up feeling like we have no control over parenting our kids.

Listen in as I break down the five steps to effective co-parenting with a toxic ex where you will feel in control and powerful in your own parenting role.

What you'll learn from this episode:

  1. The thing one truth that will set you free as you co-parent with your toxic ex.

  2. How to effectively keep the parenting focus on you.

  3. How to set and keep boundaries.

  4. Successful strategies for communication with your ex.

  5. The importance of having a support system.

List to the full episode:

If you want to feel more confident in your ability to co-parent, even when your ex is a toxic narcissist, then you need to schedule a free consult with me. I will teach you how to keep the focus on you and what you can control and to let go of everything else with eas. Schedule your free consult by clicking here and let's get you to being the parent you want to be after divorce.

Featured on this episode:

  1. Interested in the Divorce Betrayal Transformation? Learn more here.

  2. Are you lost and confused about who you are after divorce? Don't worry. I've got 51 Ways to Get to Know Yourself Again. Click here to download.

  3. Want to know first hand how Karin can help you with your specific problems and create an even better life than when you were married? Click here to schedule a free consult.

  4. Haven't left a review yet? No problem. Click here to leave one.

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome back to Becoming You Again. I’m your host Karin Nelson. I’m a certified divorce confidence coach and this is the podcast where I teach you how to reconnect with yourself, create emotional resiliency and live a truly independent life, so you can have an even better life than when you were married.

Hi everyone. I’m glad you’re back to listen to this week’s episode. It’s going to be a good one because this is something that I see over and over again when I’m working with my clients. It’s this struggle that they feel when they have to co-parent with a toxic ex. But before I dive into this topic, I want to ask a quick little favor of you. If you’re enjoying this podcast and feeling like it’s helpful to you as you go through your divorce, please will you do me three quick things? They are really easy. First I want you to follow this podcast on your favorite podcasting app and then give it a quick rating and then if you will just share it with someone you think it will help or share it on Instagram or in your divorce groups. The more women this podcast can reach the more help it will give to other women who are struggling as they go through their divorces too. And I can do my best to get the word out but I need your help as well. So I want to say thank you in advance. Thank you for your comments and your ratings and your reviews so far and for sharing it. I appreciate it all. Please keep going with it. You guys are amazing. I love you. Thank you for being here and let’s jump into today’s topic of co-parenting with a toxic ex.

I know that this can be a big struggle. You have kids and you have this ex and you know that probably for the rest of your life and at least for the remainder of your kids adolescent lives you will need to have a relationship with your ex because of the need to co-parent. Most of us have a desire that our co-parenting relationship be one of ease, and peace and harmony. And for some of us this really is available, right? For me and my ex and for my boyfriend and his ex we have really great coparenting relationships. We are able to make it work. We are able to communicate when we need to. There is not a lot of drama. It is not difficult. We are easily able to coparent in our relationships but this is not the reality for so many women who are going through a divorce or who are divorced and really trying to raise their kids with this other person that just happens to be the father of their children. Right? And for today I’m going to give you some tips that you can use and start and implement today to be able to coparent with a toxic ex.

I mean life would be so amazing and divorce wouldn’t be nearly as challenging if we all could just get along as humans and co-parents. Right? But unfortunately we as humans all get to choose to act in any way we want and when it comes to co-parenting this is no different. Not every person is able to, or knows how to or is willing to let go of their own personal pain, their own personal hurt or their own agenda whatever it is, right, instead put their kids wellbeing first. Not everybody is willing to do that. So let’s talk about what you can do if you find yourself in a situation like this where you’re desperately trying to co-parent in a healthy, peaceful way and your toxic ex is not following that lead.

The first and most important thing for you that is going to make your life so much easier as a co-parent is to remember that we as humans all have agency. Now agency means that we get to do whatever we want. Yes there are definitely consequences to every choice we make (good and bad) but we still get to do whatever we want. So as much as we may want our ex to change or to be different or if only they would stop being such a narcissistic, crap-head, life for you and the kids would be so much better. Like as much as we wish they’d stop behaving the way they are, they aren’t going to. Our wishing they would change or our ruminating on how they’re always creating so much drama isn’t going to actually help them or make them change. Right? All that resistance of really understanding that they have agency and that they get to be who they are and act as they do – all of that is just causing you a lot of pain, and anguish and heartache. Stop doing this to yourself. You can cut back on a lot of the pain and misery that you’re feeling just by applying this one idea into your life.

Now remembering and accepting that every person has their own agency, doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to let your ex walk all over you and it doesn’t mean that I’m telling you not to set boundaries or take care of yourself and your kids in the best way you know how. And I’m going to be talking about these other things in a minute. But remembering and accepting that your ex has his agency isn’t giving him a pass at being a terrible human. All this means is that you are acknowledging that he gets to be who he is and he gets to act how he wants to act and that you also have the same power to be who you are and act as you want to act. And since we know we can’t change him or control him, right? We’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work. We’re going to focus on what you can change and what you can control which is always you. Which is the best news ever.

So accepting that he has agency and that YOU also have agency is where all of your power lies. Because it means that you get to show up in this co-parenting relationship as the person you want to be, as the mother you want to be and it doesn’t matter if he follows suit or not. It really doesn’t.

So now that you’ve gotten to this place where you’ve accepted that he has agency and you can’t change him. There are some things that I’m going to talk about that you can do to be able to effectively co-parent with this toxic ex in your life.

The first thing that really helped me when I was first divorced and learning to co-parent was allowing my ex to parent in his own way at his own house. I remember specifically there was one instance after he had moved into an apartment and the kids were with him and for whatever reason – I can’t even remember what it was now – but I was on the phone with my ex and I was telling him essentially that he was doing parenting wrong. He was not doing it the way I would do it and essentially that meant in my head that he was just doing it wrong. We got in a huge argument about this because of course he felt attacked and I was kind of in my own way attacking him because I was telling him he wasn’t a good enough parent because he had a different way of doing it than I would do it. Right? Now we worked through this. I think we worked through it that afternoon even. Like I said before we have a great coparenting relationship. We have worked on her conversations and we are able to communicate very well. But the real work here was for me. It was when I realized he gets to parent however he wants in his house; and it’s not my place to tell him how to do it or to even judge whether he’s doing it right or wrong, good or bad, effectively or not. He’s parenting his way and I’m parenting my way and neither are right and neither are wrong – they are different. So once I was able to accept that he gets to parent however he wants at his house, that took a lot of pressure off of me. Because I didn’t have to feel like I had to be his parent and my kids parent at the same time. Right? I could finally let go of trying to control things that were completely outside of my control. When I was trying to control things that were out of my control it felt super helpless and useless and it just does not work. So I was able to let all of that go and I allowed him to show up as the dad that he wanted to be at his house and then I could focus all of my attention on being the mom that I wanted to be at my house.

And I must say as a bonus, our co-parenting relationship from that point on really blossomed because I got to stop judging him openly and in my head, and he got to learn how to show up as the dad he wanted to be and I got to focus on being the mom I wanted to be as I just said.

So unless your ex is literally giving your kids drugs, or allowing them to watch hardcore porn before bed or physically harming them in some way, I want you to know that you can let go of trying to control how they parent at their house and you keep just keep the focus on being the kind of parent you want to be when the kids are at your house.

I often hear moms say things like, well my ex just won’t enforce rules. I always feel like I’m the bad guy because at my house they have chores and they can only watch screens for one hour after all their homework is done and my kids hate coming to my house and love it at dad’s because they can do whatever they want.

This is always my response to this. If you want to be the kind of mom who enforces rules and has consequences for not getting homework done or getting homework done, then be that mom. It’s okay that they have a different experience at their dad’s house. You have good reasons for having them do chores and do homework before they get to have fun. Maybe you’re trying to teach them discipline or that taking care of responsibilities is important and you believe that it will serve them later in their life or whatever your reasoning is for it. Right? That’s great. Remember your reasons for doing those things and then keep showing up as the mom you want to be. And on the flip side, their dad has his own reasons for not doing those things in his house. Maybe he thinks it’s not as important as you do, or he doesn’t know how to enforce rules or he knows that you’ll take care of that part of the parenting because being a parent is hard and maybe he’s just not capable of saying no to the kids. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. And either way, we can let him choose to parent in the way he wants. We can let our kids think about it however they want and none of it means that you are doing it wrong. None of it means you have to change being the parent you want to be. None of it means that you’re the bad guy or it’s too difficult or any of that. You truly get to decide that this is the parent I want to be and it’s okay that my kids don’t love it. By the way, it makes total sense that they would complain more at your house especially if dad doesn’t have the same type of rules they have to follow at your house right. What kid likes rules and chores and limited screen time? I don’t know any kids that like that so it’s ok for your kids to think and feel that way. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re doing it wrong or even that you’re a mean parent. I want you to parent and focus on the kind of parent you want to be and stop focusing on what is happening at dad’s house. What you wish that he would do or how you wish that he would show up in this way. We are going to leave that behind and take the focus back on what you can control which is always and forever you.

Ok that was a little bit of a tangent but I think important for many of you to know and understand.

So the next thing that will help you to effectively co-parent with a toxic ex is setting boundaries. This my friends is essential when it comes to dealing with someone who is toxic in your life, especially with a co-parent. Okay.

I first want to define what a boundary is because this is where a lot of women get tripped up when it comes to boundaries. In simple terms a boundary is, “if you do then, then I am going to do this…” So for example if your ex is constantly walking into your house unannounced without knocking or asking permission to come in. A boundary could look like, if you continue to walk into my house unannounced without my permission, I will do this specific thing. And then you get to decide what you are going to do in that situation. Maybe you’re going to keep the door locked at all times so he will have to knock. Maybe you will have your locks changed if he has old keys. Maybe you’ll install an alarm system that goes off. Maybe you’ll call the police for trespassing. Whatever the decision is, it’s something that you have decided you will do to honor your own boundary. We don’t sit around waiting for other people to honor our boundaries. They aren’t going to. I hate to break the news to you but they are not going to. They aren’t capable of it, they don’t want to or they just don’t care about our boundaries. So instead of wishing and hoping that they would just keep the boundary that you’ve set, you let go of that idea completely and instead you honor and keep your own boundary that you’ve set. That’s how we keep boundaries.

Now when it comes to boundaries you get to decide whether or not you’re going to announce that you’ve set a boundary with your ex. That’s completely up to you. And you even get to decide if the first step to setting the boundary sounds something like this. Like, “I really don’t appreciate you walking into my house without knocking or being given permission. Please stop doing that.” So at that point if that how you decide to approach it, you’ve made a request. They know how you feel about it. You’ve asked them to stop doing it and if they continue to follow through with walking into your house unannounced or without knocking or without your permission, that’s when you get to decide in that moment what you’re going to do. And again you get to decide if you’re going to inform them before hand of what you’ve decided or if you just follow through with honoring your own boundary in that way. It is totally up to you.

But when it comes to toxic ex’s boundaries often essential. It is often an essential part of the co-parenting relationship for your sake. Right. Often these toxic people in our lives they don’t respect us. They don’t have any respect for us. They are going to talk to you in a harsh, angry way. They are going to call you names. They are going to yell at you and be verbally abusive. They may try any number of things to push your buttons. This is why setting and honoring your own boundaries is so important when it comes to dealing with toxic people.

We will never be able to rely on them to be kind, or to be reasonable, or to be rational even. They aren’t capable of it or don’t know how or they just don’t want to be. So a boundary is your opportunity to be the one showing up with kindness, and reason and rational for YOU. It’s to protect you. It’s to take care of you. They aren’t going to. They aren’t capable of it or they don’t want to. The boundary makes it so that you always take care of you.

Another step to co-parenting with a toxic ex is to remember to keep it about the kids. Now this means that if your ex struggles to have conversations with you without dragging up the past or without blaming you for this, that and the other, your job is to make it very clear that you will only be discussing the kids during conversations.

So this one definitely has tones of setting boundaries about conversations only being about kids but again it is an essential one if your ex is very toxic. You may be able to use the approach of just letting them know that when they bring up the past or issues they are holding onto you will be ending the conversation and that all future conversations are to only be about the kids. And you may find that that might work. Maybe that’s enough and they’ll be like, okay cool. We’re not going to talk unless it’s about the kids. It’s fine with me. But my guess is with most toxic ex’s this isn’t going to be the case and you may find that this isn’t enough to be effective. If that’s the case there are many options when it comes to limiting the ability to converse so that they don’t have access to constant belligerent communication like texting, and messaging through social media, or whatever way they’re using to push your buttons. I know of a few ways that you can limit this conversation. One is called Our Family Wizard. Another one is called Talking Parents. From what I understand both of these tools allow you to communicate through messaging and the messages are not able to be deleted and if necessary they can be downloaded and submitted in court. Often just this idea of having messages possibly be submitted in court may deter your toxic ex from communicating in a harmful, antagonistic way and will allow you to keep communication solely about the kids.

Again, if you still are having difficulty with this there is another option that I just learned about called Civil Communicator. This is where all messages that are sent are reviewed by another human being specially trained to regulate really high conflict divorce communications. Now this can be really helpful because some divorces are very difficult and very antagonistic. Right. We have some exes who are so toxic to the point that nothing can get done. That nothing can be communicated. So this can be really helpful because what these outside reviewers do is they send out the message with only the facts of the situation taking out all the emotional attachment out of the message. So those are some good tools that can definitely help you to really focus on just keeping the focus on the kids and as a coparent that really is your one and only priority when it comes to coparenting, it’s always about the kids.

Lastly, I really just want to make sure that you have a good support system. You don’t have to navigate divorce or co-parenting with a toxic ex all alone. Find support groups, get a therapist, hire a life coach, lean on supportive friends and family, but don’t tell yourself the story that you’re in this all alone. When you believe the story that you’re all alone, it’s like you’re feeding into this narrative that your toxic ex wants you to believe. They want you to believe that you are all alone. That it’s too hard and that you can’t do it. Feeding into this story will only continue to isolate you and keep you more easily controllable which is what they want. Right. This story isn’t true. You are not alone. There are so many other women who are going through or have gone through the same type of things you’re experiencing. Even better, there are experts like me and so many other coaches and teachers and divorce experts out there who have done it and who are here to help guide and support you every step of the way. So find the support system that you need. Trust in yourself that you truly can handle this and I promise you that it is possible for you to have an effective coparenting relationship even if your ex is toxic.

Thank you so much for listening. That’s all I have for you today. I will be back next week with another episode.

If you like what you heard on today’s podcast and you want to know more about working 1:1 with me, you can go to and schedule your free consult to find out more. That’s www dot Karin nelson coaching dot com.

Thanks for listening. If this podcast episode agreed with you in any way, please take a minute to follow, rate and leave a comment. And for more details make sure to check out the show notes by clicking the link in the description.



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