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Conflicted Co-Parenting: Why Setting Boundaries is Important

by | Aug 21, 2023 | 0 comments

parallel parenting boundaries. Two toy houses are separated by a red rope.

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.

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Are you struggling to establish boundaries with your ex while co-parenting?

If your ex is narcissistic, or a huge asshole, then they probably overstep your boundaries on purpose just to exert control and piss you off.

When I wrote the first edition of my book, one piece of feedback I got was that I didn’t talk enough about boundaries.

(I sure did in the second edition!)

It’s because I mistakingly believe that boundaries can only exist if the other person respects them.

I was wrong!

You can set boundaries and stick with them even if your difficult co-parent refuses to accept them.

So, let’s talk about boundaries and how you can put your foot down and take control of your situation:

What is a High-Conflict Co-Parent?

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A high-conflict co-parent is someone who makes no effort to co-parent with harmony and respect. They cause conflict to the point where communication breaks down, and tensions become the norm.

They refuse to find common ground and dispute anything that isn’t their idea.

In many cases, we refer to these co-parents as narcissistic. Narcissistic co-parents do all of this in an effort to maintain control of you and the situation.

Dealing with someone like this can be absolutely exhausting, especially when it comes to setting boundaries.

Why Are Boundaries Important in Co-Parenting?

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When you’re dealing with a difficult co-parent, boundaries can provide structure and direction. They can establish a framework within which you and your ex can work together while doing your own parenting.

This is actually called parallel parenting, and it can be a lifesaver if you are struggling to co-parent with your ex.

However, if you are dealing with a narcissist, boundaries are not likely going to lead to a respectful and harmonious situation.

What it will do is give you back some power and control. For instance, you can set a boundary that your ex is to only contact you through text or email. If they do so otherwise, you can ignore them.

Just make sure you’re not using boundaries to exact “revenge” (for lack of a better word) against your ex. I get it, they put you through the wringer, but it’s not our job to teach them a lesson. It’s our job to protect our kiddos and create a more peaceful environment for them.

That being said, let’s look at some healthy boundaries you can establish in your co-parenting relationship:

Healthy Boundaries in a Co-Parenting Relationship

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Before you start throwing out boundaries all willy-nilly, it’s important that you are thoughtful in your approach. Implement boundaries that focus on your child’s well-being and minimize conflict with your ex.

Here are the core boundaries you should consider:

1. Clear Communication

So, as I mentioned before, you can set boundaries around communication. I always recommend written communication because it’s harder to be pulled into an argument when you’re not face-to-face with someone.

It gives you evidence of what has been said, so there’s no room for misinterpretation – and you can use it in court if need be.

When you are communicating with your ex, limit your conversations to things like:

  • Schedules
  • Important events
  • Appointments
  • Concerns

Don’t let your ex pull you into discussions not related to your child. If you have to tell them that you will not participate in those types of conversations, go for it. That’s establishing a boundary!

2. Respect for Personal Space

When you’re co-parenting with an ex, it’s important that you respect their personal space as much as you want your personal space respected.

But if your ex is a nosey-rosey, you may have to put your foot down about your personal life.

You can flat-out tell them that it’s none of their business. Unless your child is at risk of harm, you are not legally obligated to share any details about your life with your co-parent.

The less they know about your life, the less ammunition they have for conflicts and arguments.

But, again, this is a two-way street. You have to respect their privacy as well (unless you believe your child is in danger).

3. Division of Responsibilities

A clear division of responsibilities is the cornerstone of any co-parenting situation. Everyone needs to be on the same page in order to make it work.

But, I know that difficult exes can make this, well…difficult. The best you can do is your best. Clearly define roles in terms of school activities, medical appointments, extracurricular activities, and financial obligations.

(Make sure this is all in writing!)

This way, you can try to prevent any conflicts based on misunderstandings.

However, if you can’t come to an agreement with your ex, you can always get a court order so the rules legally have to be followed.

4. Respectful Behavior

You can set a boundary in which you demand respectful and civil behavior when interacting with your difficult co-parent. To do this, clearly communicate your expectations, such as no insults, no yelling, etc.

You can then withdraw from any interactions if you are met with disrespect or manipulation – walk away, hang up the phone, or don’t reply to their text message.

If your co-parent is narcissistic, they will likely resort to manipulative tactics, like gaslighting or emotional blackmail, in order to avoid respecting your boundaries. Unless they are giving you an answer to a question or information about your child, ignore anything they have to say.

5. Co-Parenting Sabotage

It’s not outside the realm of possibility that your difficult co-parent may be intentionally sabotaging the situation. You can establish boundaries to prevent them from undermining the co-parenting relationship and sabotaging your efforts.

Sounds easier said than done, but hear me out!

Clearly communicate to your ex your expectations for cooperative co-parenting and mutual respect. Establish that you will not interfere in their parenting choices unless your child is in danger. Tell them you expect the same.

If they do try to pull nonsense, document it and address them calmly and assertively. Explain that if it continues, you will be seeking the help of a lawyer to address the situation.

Things like bad mouthing you or withholding information to undermine your relationship with your child are huge no-nos. Getting a court order, if necessary, can help if they are disrupting your co-parenting efforts.

Standing Your Ground With Healthy Boundaries

So there you go! Even if you feel like you have no control over your situation, there are ways you can set boundaries and take back your power.

Clearly define your limits and stick with them. In time, your ex will likely stop trying to disrupt the co-parenting situation – or at least stop trying as hard.

And who knows—maybe your ex just needs to be put in their place, and respectful co-parenting will develop in time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you! 🤞🤞

How have you set boundaries in your co-parenting situation? What boundaries do you need to set? Share in the comments below!

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