If you’re trying to parent with a toxic ex, you’ve probably hit Google hard trying to find solutions to your problems.
It’s likely that you’ve also been bombarded with the term “parallel parenting.”
While parallel parenting refers to parenting in any sort of high-conflict situation, it seems to be the ONLY way to parent with a toxic ex.
I’ll tell you from experience that implementing a parallel parenting plan makes a HUGE difference!
Did it turn around the toxic relationship I had with my toxic ex and make the situation all sparkles and cupcakes?
But it did improve my anxiety and stress, which stemmed from never knowing whether or not my ex was going to be hostile.
As certain agreements were made official and our methods of communication severely limited, the conflict between us decreased.
It didn’t go away completely, but it wasn’t nearly as frightening as it was before a parallel parenting plan was put into place.
So if you’re struggling to parent with a toxic ex, I urge you to consider creating a parallel parenting plan for high-conflict situations:
Podcast: Why is Parallel Parenting a Thing?
What is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel parenting is a term used to describe a way of parenting in high-conflict cases where effective communication is next to impossible.
This goes beyond just parents who have trouble getting along. Most often, parallel parenting plans are used when one parent is toxic and harbors resentment toward the other parent.
These individuals tend to “counter-parent” as well, meaning that they purposefully act in ways to disrespect you as a parent and refuse to work with you.
The main characteristic of parallel parenting is controlled and limited communication. Communication is made through written means (email, text, etc.) and only involves information pertinent to the child.
It also involves detailing specific arrangements that leave little to no room for malignant misinterpretation – the more detailed the arrangements are, the less your ex can make changes to them or turn around and blame you for “messing” them up.
Overall, parallel parenting with a toxic ex allows you to detach from them and avoid frequent discussions about day-to-day issues.
At the same time, each parent has control over their own parenting responsibilities and can make custodial decisions while the child is in their care.
However, whoever has sole custody has the final say when it comes to important decisions about the child, such as where they will go to school, whether or not they alter their appearance (haircuts, ear piercings), etc.
Otherwise, communication is limited to need-to-know information such as emergencies, medical information, and visitation/access arrangements changes.
Co-Parenting Versus Parallel Parenting
In a perfect world, separated parents would be able to co-parent. This involves reasonability and understanding that decisions must be made in the child’s best interest.
Ideally, you should begin by attempting to co-parent with your toxic ex – but once this method falls apart, it’s time to parallel parent.
You’ll know it’s time to switch to parallel parenting with your ex when the conflict starts to affect your kids. This usually involves arguing in front of your little one or your toxic ex trying to manipulate your relationship with your child.
Parallel Parenting in the Courts
If you are or have been going to court to sort out custody or visitation arrangements, it’s likely that the lawyers and judges have started out by encouraging a co-parent situation. They want to see if the ideal situation will work between two parents.
Even if nobody calls it “parallel parenting,” it’s likely that the courts will nudge you in this direction. For instance, there may be stipulations in the court order that communication is limited to text and email or that discussions only involve information about your child.
It wasn’t until after I was granted sole custody of my daughter that I started to learn about parallel parenting with my ex. Then, I started seeing parallels between a parallel parenting plan and what was already in my court order.
However, if you are not involved in the court system to sort out custody and access, you can still create a parallel parenting plan! You simply need to gather specific information from your toxic ex (in writing) and organize it into one plan.
Should they decide to argue with you, you can refer back to what they agreed to or suggested in writing (which is why it’s so important to keep all of your communications!).
And, if you ever end up in court, you can bring your parallel parenting plan and the evidence to your lawyer.
The courts don’t like to “claw back” what is already going on, meaning that they aren’t going to take the time away from a parent if that time has been consistent.
With a parallel parenting plan, you have a good starting point when it comes to agreeing on stipulations for the court order.
Creating a Parallel Parenting Plan
Don’t forget to sign up above for your free parallel parenting plan!
When you’re creating a parallel parenting plan, there are certain things you should try to document:
How You Will Split Time With the Child
You need to specifically state which days your child will be with you and which days they will be with their other parent. This should include details on where they’ll spend holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc.), vacations, and birthdays.
The Start Time and End Time For Each Visit
Clearly document specific pick-up and drop-off times for each parent to avoid misunderstanding and confusion.
Location for Pick-Ups and Drop-Offs
In order to continue limiting communication with your ex, choose a location that is neutral such as a grocery store parking lot – as long as it’s in an area where the child can be safely moved from one vehicle to another.
If your ex is particularly hostile, you can arrange for someone else to transport the kids or have someone accompany you to the meet-ups.
Life happens, so it’s important to have a plan should you or the other parent need to cancel. This includes cancellation notice (for planned cancellations) and whether or not the parent who canceled can make up their time.
You should also include details on last-minute cancellations or illnesses and whether time can be made up in these situations.
While you’re probably not going to be able to get your toxic ex to agree to any dispute resolution plans, it’s always good to have an idea of what to do should a dispute occur.
For instance, you can state in the parallel parenting plan that, should the two of you disagree about something important, lawyers or mediators will be involved.
Now, that being said, it’s important for you to be the bigger person and pick your battles. To minimize conflict in your child’s life, don’t threaten to take your ex to court every time they open their mouth (which will likely be to formulate a disagreement).
Pick your battles, learn to ignore what you can, and think about how a disagreement will affect your child’s life before proceeding with your dispute resolution plan.
Speak to a Lawyer
Ideally, you should have a lawyer involved even if you are creating your own parallel parenting plan – even if it’s just to give you guidance. That way, if you do land in court, you don’t need to waste as much time going through all the nitty-gritty details.
You may be able to contact your local courthouse and see if you can meet with an advice lawyer. These lawyers often offer one hour of free advice – it’s not actionable, and they won’t file anything for you, but it’s worth picking their brains about your situation.
Tips for Parallel Parenting With a Toxic Ex
Creating a parallel parenting plan is as easy as writing down details on a piece of paper. However, to make it as effective as possible, here are some tips for dealing with your ex and supporting your children:
1. Be Unemotional and Business-Like
When you communicate with your ex, be brief, informative, friendly, and firm. Only share information they need to know – not information about you or your life.
Also, try not to be rude – even if they are provoking you and driving you bonkers. If something needs to be said, say it firmly and concisely. Don’t let your feelings get involved.
2. Turn Conflicts into Lessons
Parallel parenting with a toxic ex is never perfect, so your child is likely going to struggle with their other parent’s behaviors. Instead of focusing on how your ex acts, turn it into a lesson.
Teach them how they can choose to allow what hurts them. For instance, my ex will say some pretty abrasive things to our daughter, but she knows that they are not true and that she doesn’t have to let them bother her.
Your child will experience difficult people at some point in their life – use this opportunity to teach them resiliency!
3. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Being resilient doesn’t mean unfeeling. While you want your child to be tough in the face of their toxic parent, they also need a place where they can feel safe and express their emotions.
Amidst the chaos, you need to be that place.
Acknowledge and validate their concerns and let them know that what they are feeling is normal. You can ask them questions to help guide them through these emotions, such as:
- What did you learn?
- How can you handle things differently next time?
- What can you say next time to establish a boundary?
- Is what your other parent said true?
Children automatically love both their parents, so it’s important that you lend them support and help them navigate this confusing situation.
Get Your FREE Parallel Parenting Plan
Don’t forget to throw your name and email address into the form above in order to receive a free and printable parallel parenting plan to get you started.
Again, parallel parenting isn’t perfect – but dealing with a toxic ex never is. You can minimize conflict, stress, and anxiety by implementing parallel parenting strategies with your ex.
While it may not ever be perfect, it can certainly be better!
Do you parallel parent with a toxic ex? How do you make it work? Let us know in the comments below!
And don’t forget to pin!