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Co-Parenting Discipline with a Resistant Ex-Partner: 12 Tips

by | Oct 17, 2023 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

Are you trying to co-parent with a difficult ex, and you seem to argue about everything, especially co-parenting discipline?

While every parent is entitled to discipline in their own way, it can be extremely frustrating when your ex either disciplines differently just to defy you or has a skewed idea of what discipline should look like.

One of the best things you can do to ensure your separation or divorce doesn’t have a negative impact on your child is to reduce conflict – but that doesn’t mean you have to accept inappropriate parenting styles.

If you’re a single mom co-parenting and your ex is being resistant when it comes to how to discipline your child, you’re in the right place!

Let’s take a look at some tips to help you sort out discipline with a difficult co-parent:

What is Appropriate Discipline?

But before we do, we have to talk about what appropriate discipline looks like.

Discipline is not punishment – it’s about teaching and guiding your child, not scaring them into repeating a certain behavior.

It allows you to create a healthy, nurturing environment for your child so they can grow emotionally and socially.

Here are some of the key aspects of appropriate discipline:

  • Consistency: Discipline needs to be consistent in order to be effective, which can be a huge challenge when you are dealing with a difficult co-parent. Your child should experience similar (but not necessarily exact) rules and expectations in both households.
  • Fairness: Discipline should always be fair and reasonable. Avoid punitive measures that seem overly harsh or unrelated to the offending behavior. Instead, focus on age-appropriate consequences that will teach a lesson.
  • Age-Appropriate Strategies: Discipline needs to evolve as your child grows since strategies that work on a toddler probably won’t work on a teenager. Make sure you tailor your approach to your child’s age.
  • Teaching Over Punishing: Remember, the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to punish. Instead of merely focusing on consequences for misbehavior, think of how you can use these moments to teach your child.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Say your child won’t eat their dinner (and you’re not forcing them to eat something they don’t like). Taking away their iPad isn’t going to teach them about eating food at mealtimes – but telling them they will have to finish their dinner if they are hungry later instead of having a snack will.

Now, let’s say your child won’t clean their room. In this case, taking away their iPad will make sense because you want to teach them that responsibilities come before leisure.

(My daughter has an iPad, can you tell?)

What is Inappropriate Discipline?

You’ve probably read the above section and thought, “Yeah, I do most of those things,” or, “Hey, I could improve a little bit.”

Nobody disciplines their children perfectly, and the best you can do is make an effort to do your best. ????

However, there’s a dark side to disciplining, and understanding what inappropriate discipline looks like is key to understanding if your ex is inappropriately disciplining your child.

Now, the whole point of this article is to help you navigate the challenge of disciplining with a resistant ex – which means that your ex could very well be disciplining appropriately but just not in a way that makes sense or is effective for your child.

Unfortunately, they could be disciplining in a way that is harmful to your child, and understanding what that looks like is important:

  • Harsh Punishments: Inappropriate discipline often involves harsh and disproportionate punishments. These can be emotionally damaging to your child and may perpetuate a cycle of fear and resentment.
  • Verbal Abuse: Your child should never be subjected to verbal abuse, name-calling, or derogatory language. 
  • Control Vs. Discipline: Your ex-partner may confuse discipline with control, using it as a way to manipulate or assert power. 
  • Erratic Rules: Your child should not face a constantly shifting set of rules and expectations when moving between households. Inconsistency can cause confusion and anxiety.

If you suspect these things are happening when your child is with their other parent, you need to talk to someone.

Start with your family doctor, who can refer your kiddo to a therapist. From there, you can explore your legal options.

Sadly, law enforcement and child protective services won’t typically intervene in these cases unless there are obvious signs of abuse, but that doesn’t make emotional abuse any less real.

Even if enforcement agencies won’t do something, you can. Again, start with your family doctor or reach out to family resources centers for support.

Co-Parenting Discipline Tips

Okay, let’s move on to the meat and potatoes of this article! How exactly can you get your ex on the same page when it comes to discipline or dealing with their resistance?

Let’s take a look at some tips to help you out:

1. Communication is Key

I’m so used to dealing with a narcissistic co-parent that I forget that there are co-parents out there who just need to be talked to in order to sort out issues.

Start by having a respectful and child-focused conversation with your ex about discipline – and you can use text or email if this is easier.

Explain the behavior that is happening, the discipline steps you are taking, and how this is effective in helping your child avoid misbehaviors.

Express that you would appreciate them trying the same disciplinary approach so you can best guide your child through their development.

You can say something like, “I’ve noticed Johnny doesn’t like to finish his supper but always asks for a snack later. I’ve been having him finish his supper later before he can have his snack, and it seems to be working. If he’s doing the same thing with you, give that a try!”

But if your ex is really difficult and resistant, you may need to be more straightforward:

“I know that Johnny is allowed to have his iPad at your place even if he doesn’t take care of his chores, but this isn’t helping him learn responsibility. Please make sure his chores are done before he gets screen time.”

2. Establish Consistent Rules

At the core of co-parenting discipline are consistent rules in both households. Now, you and your ex aren’t going to have the exact same rules, but you both need to have similar expectations.

Talk to your ex about creating a set of consistent rules, but be prepared for some give and take. Being flexible will help you guys more easily come to an agreement.

For example, maybe you want to only give your child one hour on their iPad at home, but your ex wants to give them more time because they like to play Minecraft together. You can be flexible and let your ex give them the extra time when they are at their house.

Just make sure your child understands the expectations at each home.

3. Document Everything

As a single mom co-parenting with a resistant ex, it’s important that you document agreements and conversations in case any disputes arise.

For example, when you and your ex come to an agreement about discipline, send a summary through text or email, such as, “As we discussed, we’ll both make sure Johnny finishes his chores before getting his iPad. Thanks!”

Or make your discipline agreements through text or email so you have written proof of what your ex says.

This is important because, even though something like disagreeing about discipline may not seem like a hot-button issue in court, judges do want to see whether or not co-parents can cooperate.

Documenting the times your ex agrees to something and then turns around and does the opposite will speak to their willingness to cooperate.

4. Focus On the Child’s Needs

Always place your child’s emotional and mental well-being at the forefront of your discipline decisions. Make sure this is your focus whenever you have to address discipline issues with your ex.

Imagine your child is acting out at your e’s house because there’s no structure there. You could say, “I think Johnny needs some more consistency at both our homes to feel more secure. It’ll help with the behaviors. Let’s chat about some rules we can use to help him out.”

Don’t attack your ex for being a “bad” parent and not disciplining properly. If they are a narcissist, you are going to face a shit-storm of blame-shifting and gaslighting.

If they are just being difficult, they are going to get defensive.

Just always approach the matter from the perspective of what will benefit your child.

5. Stay In Your Own Lane

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about the way your co-parent disciplines your child (unless they are being harmed), and your best bet is just to stay in your own lane.

Kids are smart, and they’ll figure out what they can get away with in each household. 

At first, it may not seem fair to them (“Dad lets me do it!”), but you can always have a conversation with your child about how different parents sometimes have different expectations.

And while you are disciplining your way in your home, make sure you are consistently praising your child for their achievements and efforts.

Even More Co-Parenting Discipline Tips

So those are the main tips I wanted to talk in-depth about, but there are more ways you can make co-parenting discipline work when your ex is resistant:

  • Stay Calm and Collected: If your ex is trying to provoke you over discipline issues, stay composed. Emotional reactions can escalate conflicts, and then nothing is resolved.
  • Be a Role Model: Lead by example and show your kids the behaviors you want them to adopt. This consistency sends a strong message to your child about what is expected.
  • Use Mediation or Therapy: If communication with your ex is challenging or impossible, consider involving a mediator or therapist. They can provide a neutral space for discussions and offer strategies to resolve conflicts.
  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to lean on your support network, especially those in a similar situation who can provide valuable advice based on their experiences.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with your ex, such as the standards of behavior you expect while communicating, focusing on respect and civility.
  • Be Flexible: I already mentioned this, but it’s important that you remain open to adjusting your discipline strategies when circumstances require it. 
  • Self-Care is Vital: Single mom co-parenting with a toxic or narcissistic ex can be emotionally draining, so take care of your mental and physical health so you can effectively support your child.

Figuring Out Co-Parenting Discipline With a Resistant Ex

Not having your co-parent on the same page when it comes to discipline can be super frustrating, but there are ways you can ensure more consistency for your child.

In the end, even if all you can do is focus on your own efforts, you are doing so much for your kiddo!

Share your co-parenting discipline experiences and insights in the comments below – I’d love to hear how you’ve tackled the unique challenges of parenting with a difficult ex!

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Let’s create a supportive community and navigate the complexities of co-parenting with strength and resilience!

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