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Co-Parenting Struggles: How to Support Your Children

by | Nov 21, 2022 | 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.

Co-parenting is the ideal situation when it comes to raising your child with your ex.

However, it’s not without its challenges!

Co-parenting can be particularly challenging when your ex is toxic or narcissistic and purposely makes the situation difficult.

When they do this, it’s called inappropriate co-parenting, and it can cause some serious struggles.

While you can’t cut your toxic ex out of your child’s life, there are things you can do to make the situation easier.

It took me a long time to even identify the types of struggles I was dealing with when it came to co-parenting – and even longer to sort out how to deal with them!

Dealing with inappropriate co-parenting can seem impossible, and you probably feel like you have no power or control over the situation.

But you really do!

So how do you survive co-parenting when your ex makes things difficult?

The first step in taking control is understanding what those struggles are and how you can deal with them.

Here are some common co-parenting struggles and how you can best support your child:

What is Inappropriate Co-Parenting?

Inappropriate co-parenting, or bad co-parenting, occurs when one parent purposefully manipulates the child and parenting agreement to gain control and compromise the situation.

Basically, they use co-parenting to retaliate against the other parent.

Narcissistic parents, toxic people, and emotional abusers are notorious for inappropriate co-parenting.

Inappropriate co-parenting can include things like:

  • Profanity and insults
  • Badmouthing the other parent to the kids
  • Interfering with the other parent’s parenting time
  • Recording the child for “evidence”
  • Withholding information
  • Making one-sided decisions
  • Being inflexible and unreasonable

Co-Parenting Effects on a Child

Inappropriate co-parenting hurts children, even if the actions seem harmless.

For instance, using kids as messengers or to gain information about the other parent. When something goes wrong, they feel like they are the ones that did something wrong.

However, inappropriate co-parenting can affect children in more serious ways.

Listening to one parent badmouth the other places a huge emotional burden on the child, involving them in the negativity between their parents.

Other toxic behaviors can have lasting emotional effects on children. You can learn more about them here.

Thankfully, you can protect your children and alleviate some of the stress of the situation by providing them support – even if it can be challenging at times.

How Do You Deal With a Manipulative Co-Parent?

If you notice that your ex is engaging in inappropriate co-parenting tactics, there are ways that you can minimize the effect this has on your child.

It all starts with how you deal with your toxic ex!

Circumventing their attempt to manipulate you can help improve your co-parenting situation and make things easier for your child.

Here are some tips for dealing with a manipulative co-parent:

Pick Your Battles

I know you may feel compelled to respond to every taunt and insult your toxic ex throws your way, but they are simply trying to get you to fight with them.

Instead of engaging with your ex, decide which comments and statements are worth responding to.

To make this easier, limit all of your communication to text messages or emails. This will allow you time to read what they have to say, calm down, and formulate a logical response (instead of reacting emotionally).

Most of the time, you won’t have to respond at all! You are allowed to ignore your ex’s attempts at causing tension unless there is pertinent information to be shared regarding your child.

When you stop reacting emotionally to your ex, the less interest they will have in trying to get a reaction from you.

Keep Your Communication Business-Like

If you do have to respond to the toxic co-parent, keep your response short and business-like. Do not share any personal details and avoid having “pleasant” conversations even if they are behaving civilly.

When you do respond, stick to texts and emails. Take the time to write out what you want to say, editing and rewording it so that it is to the point and in a formal tone.

I can’t guarantee that your ex won’t try to pick a fight anyway, but it does reduce the chances of a conflict.

Document Everything

This is another great reason why you should limit your communication to written forms!

Documenting everything is something you can do if you suspect that your toxic ex is attempting to manipulate your child – because they will do that too.

Write down any concerning incidents, including any efforts you have made to communicate with your ex about these concerns.

You can use this evidence when you speak with a lawyer since manipulative behavior is being used to drive a wedge between you and your child (this is also known as parental alienation, which I’ll talk about in a bit).

Your lawyer may be able to include clauses in the court order that prohibits this type of behavior – meaning, if your ex continues to do it, they are in contempt of this legal document and can be penalized.

Watch for Signs of Emotional Abuse

Manipulative behavior is emotionally abusive behavior, so you need to be aware of what signs to look for and what to do if your child is being emotionally abused.

Pay attention to your child’s behavior since this will often drastically change when emotional abuse is happening. You can also look for other signs, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Avoidant behaviors
  • Problems at school
  • Developmental regressions (bedwetting, etc.)
  • Loss of interests
  • Low self-esteem

Your child likely won’t tell you they are being abused, mostly because it’s a hard concept for children to understand but partly because they may think this is normal treatment from their other parent.

If you suspect your child is being emotionally abused, act immediately!

Get them to a therapist or contact the Child Helpline, Kid’s Help Phone, or the National Parent Helpline for support.

What Happens When a Child Doesn’t Want to Visit The Other Parent?

Getting your child to visit their other parent when they don’t want to is a huge struggle when it comes to co-parenting!

However, it is important that you try and follow the agreed-upon plan to the best of your abilities, even if their desire to see their other parent is completely out of your control.

If you have a court order with your ex regarding parenting time, access, and visitation, you are responsible for ensuring that your child sees their other parent.

Compromising visitation time, even if you believe it’s in the best interest of your child, is not looked favorably upon in family court.

Unfortunately, children do not have a say in the visitation schedule. 🙁

But I’m not here to tell you what you can’t do. I want to let you know what you can do!

First of all, if you feel your child is refusing to see their other parent due to a safety issue, you need to talk to a lawyer or other legal professional. It is possible to make changes to the court order if your child is in danger.

Otherwise, here is what you can do when your child doesn’t want to visit the other parent:

Be a Parent

Again, you are responsible for following the parenting agreement and court order, so you need to call the shots when it comes to your child refusing to see their other parent.

I know this is hard! It’s an emotional situation, and you may feel guilty for making your child go.

Try to be as encouraging as possible, even if you have to offer an incentive to your child (like getting a treat or doing something special after the visitation).

Be sure that you aren’t influencing your child’s refusal by not badmouthing your ex or interrogating your child after their visit.

Talk to Your Child

It’s important to understand why your child doesn’t want to see the other parent in order to determine what you should do.

Let your child express how they feel without judging what they have to say. Respond to them with empathy, kindness, and understanding.

By doing so, your child will be more open to telling you what is really going on. If it’s a matter of safety, danger, or abuse, you can speak to a lawyer to figure out your next steps.

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Make Transitions as Smooth as Possible

Sometimes all it takes for your child to go with their other parent is making the transition easy and positive.

Make goodbyes quick while maintaining a positive attitude. You may hate that you have to leave your child with your ex, but you need to be encouraging and stay calm.

Let your child know that you love them and that you will miss them, and you look forward to seeing them when they come home.


If nothing works and you absolutely cannot get your child to see their other parent, make sure you notify your ex through text or email and document what is happening.

Try to make accommodations to reschedule the visitation time or suggest changes to the time and place of the visitations to see if this helps your child with the situation.

When Your Child is Afraid of the Other Parent

Even if you’re not dealing with an inappropriate co-parenting situation, many children will naturally prefer one parent over the other.

However, having two parents who are not together can trigger behaviors that indicate that the child is afraid of the other parent.

In the case of dealing with a toxic ex or narcissist, this can be a scary situation!

If your child is afraid of the other parent, the first thing you should do is figure out why. Here are some potential causes of fear:

  • Their other parent is more strict and firm.
  • The other parent shouts or yells.
  • Their other parent treats other people poorly.
  • Their needs aren’t being met.
  • They don’t have a bond with their other parent.

However, you must consider the possibility that your child’s fears are being caused by abuse, either physical, emotional, or both.

If you believe that your child is afraid of the other parent due to abuse, start documenting everything! Take your information to a lawyer, who can determine the fastest way to provide protection to your child.

If you can’t figure out why your child is afraid of the other parent, consider having your child talk to a therapist.

How Do You Identify Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when a child refuses to have a relationship with one parent because they were manipulated by the other parent.

It happens more often when the custodial parent manipulates the child against the other parent, but it can also happen when inappropriate co-parenting is involved.

Toxic people and narcissists often use their children to get back at their ex-partners.

Parental alienation is highly damaging to a child and illegal. If you suspect this is happening, you can take your ex to court with your evidence.

Identifying parental alienation can be tough, but look for signs such as your child being asked to spy on you, your child blaming you for their parents breaking up, and your ex interfering with your parenting time.

You may notice that your child unjustly criticizes you, defends their other parent no matter what, and doesn’t feel bad when they say mean things to you.

The best way to identify parental alienation is to have your child speak with a professional, such as a psychologist.

If parental alienation is happening, you must contact a lawyer to initiate court proceedings and ensure justice for your child.

Just make sure you document everything, like your child’s behaviors and comments.

Click here to learn more about how to deal with parental alienation.

Using Parallel Parenting Strategies

When you’re dealing with an inappropriate co-parenting situation, you really can’t co-parent at all.

What you can do instead is something called parallel parenting, which can help alleviate many of your co-parenting struggles and provide a healthier environment for your child.

I have a whole guide here that will walk you through how parallel parenting works, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Establish communication boundaries by restricting how your ex can contact you, blocking them on social media, and only talking about your child.
  • Make specific arrangements and avoid vague information in your agreements that can be misconstrued and misinterpreted.
  • Don’t defend yourself or give in to their ploys to start an argument.
  • Provide consistency to your child to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Give your child lots of love and understanding – the things they will likely not receive from their other parent.

You can also download my free parallel parenting plan to get started!

Supporting Your Child Through Co-Parenting Struggles

It can be scary thinking about toxic co-parenting’s effect on kids, but there are things you can do to survive co-parenting and help your child.

It all starts with understanding the situation so you can gain clarity on what is happening and come up with a plan to deal with it.

When your ex is toxic or a narcissist, co-parenting will always be a struggle, but you can take control and stop allowing it to add stress to your life and your child’s life.

Let me know some of the ways that you support your child when it comes to co-parenting struggles!

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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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