What Do You Do When You Can’t Co-Parent?

October 13, 2021
by Chelsy

What Do You Do When You Can’t Co-Parent?

By Chelsy
October 13, 2021

Hey! I know you!

Not personally, but I know why you’re here. At some point, you decided to parent alone because you knew the relationship with your partner was not good.

Maybe things were getting toxic or maybe you just knew your child would be better off not being raised in a loveless home.

I’m sure there was a part of you that believed that, if the two of you loved your child, you could make it work when parenting separately.

Then it all fell apart: Your ex was making parenting choices that made no sense. They started blaming you for every little thing you did even though it wasn’t wrong.

They started personally attacking you, trying to drag you into arguments every time you spoke, and perhaps even started badmouthing you amongst your social circles.

Every time you fought back or defended yourself, it got worse. You couldn’t reason with them and the whole situation became angering, frustrating, and confusing.

You were left wondering: How do you co-parent with someone you hate?

Trust me, there are ways! But before we get into how to co-parent with a toxic ex, let’s look at what may be actually going on:

Am I Dealing With a Narcissist?

As amicable as a break-up may be, there are always feelings involved. There will always be a period of hurt, sadness, and resentment from both sides.

For a while, your ex may turn into a total asshole as they struggle to sort out their lives without you.

However, there’s a special breed of asshole that goes far beyond hurt feelings. These individuals will manipulate and abuse in order to maintain control – especially after you leave.

These people are known as narcissists.

Does this mean your toxic and difficult ex is a narcissist? If they tick the boxes, they could be. Otherwise, they could just be dealing with the intense emotions that come with a separation. It’s possible that something like co-parenting therapy may help.

Yet, whatever their problem is, co-parenting with a difficult ex can be…well…difficult.

Knowing whether or not your ex is a narcissist certainly goes a long way to learning how to deal with them but I want to share with you a way of parenting separately that helps decrease conflict and establish boundaries no matter what you’re dealing with.

What To Do When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work

When co-parenting is not working, there is something you can do called “Parallel Parenting”.

Parallel parenting has everything to do with reducing conflict in order to make your kids feel safe. It’s not an ideal parenting situation but it is effective if you dealing with a toxic and hostile ex.

And you don’t need your ex on board to make it work! Parallel parenting is all about controlling what you can and establishing boundaries.

Here are some ways you can implement parallel parenting strategies:

1. Get a Lawyer

Even if your ex is simply going through a phase following your separation, it’s important that you deal with custody and access issues in a legal manner. Having a lawyer means that both parties have to come to an agreement and the agreement is made official through a court document.

There are so many benefits to doing this.

One, you have a legal body that will enforce decisions in the best interest of the child. Sometimes they may not seem like the best decisions to you but they do focus on providing children an opportunity to develop relationships with both parents. They also want to see the child have consistency in their life.

Two, you have an agreement on paper that has to be followed according to law. However, if you and your ex can come to an agreement regarding changes, you don’t have to follow it to the letter. It’s just to make sure your ex doesn’t go rogue and start messing with visitation agreements, etc.

Three, your ex can’t threaten you or bully you into making changes. If it’s in a court order, you are within your rights to stand your ground and not agree to any changes. If they don’t like it, they can take you to court where you will be legally represented.

Many judges will recognize the signs of a toxic ex and suggest or implement stipulations in the court order that are similar to parallel parenting strategies (such as written communication only).

2. Limit Communication and Set Communication Boundaries

Many toxic parenting situations amount to a “he said/she said/they said” mess. They may say something threatening or frightening to your face but, with no proof, there’s not much you can do.

If you’re dealing with a hostile and manipulative ex, it’s best to limit your communication to written forms such as texts and emails. This way, you can have evidence of what is said – whether it be threats or an attempt to change an agreement without your consent.

Also, when it comes to texts and emails, you can choose when to pay attention to them and deal with them.

As far as what you communicate about, limit your conversations to the child. Only discuss logistical matters such as visitation times, holiday plans, and doctor’s appointments as well as emergency information about your child that needs to be shared immediately.

Otherwise, you are within your rights to tell your ex that you will not respond to emails or texts that are threatening and abusive.

3. Remove Them From Your Personal Life

There’s no reason why your ex needs to know what’s going on in your personal life! You don’t have to divulge who you hang out with, where you work, what you do – nothing.

When exes are toxic and hostile, they will use information from your life against you. Apart from not sharing details about your personal life, you should also block them on social media as well.

One piece of advice for those dealing with narcissists, that works well in this situation as well, is to be a “Gray Rock”. This means making yourself as interesting to your ex as a gray rock they would pass in the street. Don’t give them any reason to be interested in your life and they’ll have nothing to use against you.


4. Don’t Worry About What They Are Doing

Just as you want to keep your ex out of your personal life, you have to accept that you do not have the right to be a part of theirs. This means that you don’t have the right to ask them questions about who they’re hanging out with and what they are doing.

The only exception to this is if you believe that some aspect of their lifestyle is harmful to your child. In this case, this is another reason to have a lawyer so you can submit your evidence to the courts.

Otherwise, don’t worry about what they are doing. This will also help you distance yourself from your ex so you can focus your energy on your well-being as well as the well-being of your children.

5. Talk To Your Child’s Teachers and Doctors

In an effort to “get back at you” or make themselves look better, it’s possible that your ex may approach your child’s teachers and doctors and tell them outrageous stories about you.

Even if your ex does not have custody of your child, they still have the right to information regarding your child regarding their academics and health.

Before they get a chance, talk with these people and let them know what the situation is. You don’t have to go into great detail but let them know that a separation occurred and the current custodial/visitation arrangements. Don’t be defensive and bad-talk the other parent – just explain the situation reasonably and they will see you as the reasonable parent.

Co-Parenting With a Toxic Ex

Whether you are dealing with a narcissist or your ex simply has a chip on their shoulder, you do not have to wait out the storm to see if it gets better. You can take action now!

By using parallel parenting strategies, you can reduce the conflict in the situation and provide your children with a safer and more peaceful environment.

Will parallel parenting solve all the problems? No, but it will certainly make a difference when it comes to the stress in your life.

Are you dealing with a toxic ex? If you have any other tips, please share them with us in the comments!



  1. Why A Parallel Parenting Plan Is Important in High Conflict Situations - Motherhood + Mayhem - […] What Do You Do When You Can’t Co-Parent? […]
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