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10 Signs of a Toxic Co-Parent

by | Oct 23, 2023 | 1 comment

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 having a hard time trying to co-parent with your ex?

Are they being purposefully difficult? Manipulative? Controlling?

You may be dealing with a toxic co-parent.

But in order to approach your challenging co-parenting situation, it’s best to know for sure.

In a parenting relationship between separated individuals, bad feelings can linger.

I mean, a relationship did end, and even if there are children involved, there can be some negative emotions for a while.

This is completely normal, but these bad feelings eventually go away.

When the struggle continues on for months and even years, then you are parenting with a high-conflict individual.

This means that your ex is using the co-parenting situation to fulfill their own selfish needs, whether it’s to get “revenge” on you for leaving them or to maintain control of your life.

No matter their motivations, it’s important to understand if you are dealing with a toxic co-parent so you can figure out how to handle the situation.

So if you’re still struggling to co-parent with your ex, here are some signs that you should look for to see if you are dealing with someone who is toxic or even narcissistic.

What is a Toxic Co-Parent?

But first, let’s talk a little more about what a toxic co-parent is.

A toxic co-parent is someone who consistently exhibits harmful behaviors, manipulates, or engages in conflict that negatively impacts the co-parenting relationship and the well-being of the kiddos involved.

They are often characterized by their inability to put the well-being of their children first. These types of people may have a high level of self-centeredness, making it challenging for them to consider the needs and emotions of anyone else, including their own children.

This self-centeredness can manifest in various detrimental behaviors that can hinder effective co-parenting.

Oftentimes, we call a high-conflict person like this a narcissist, which, I mean, if the shoe fits. ????‍♂️

But whether or not your ex is truly narcissistic or just an asshole doesn’t really matter when it comes to figuring out if they are toxic (and what to do about it).

What Are the Signs of a High-Conflict Co-Parent?

So we’ve talked about what a high-conflict and toxic co-parent acts like in general terms, but let’s look at the signs you can watch out for in order to better understand what you are dealing with.

And then we’re going to talk about what to do about it!

Okay, here are the signs:

1. Constant Criticism and Blame

Toxic co-parents tend to constantly criticize and blame you, making you feel like everything is your fault. 

They may point fingers, assigning blame for every issue, no matter how small, which creates a hostile and negative atmosphere.

When they do this to shift responsibility from themselves, this is called “blame-shifting,” and it can make for a very frustrating situation.

What Does That Look Like?

Say you’re picking up your child after a weekend visit, and your ex immediately starts criticizing the clothes you buy your kid. They might say, “You can’t even dress our child properly, can you?”

Or, and this is a real example from my life: If my ex missed a visit with our daughter because he slept in, he blamed me for not calling him to wake him up, although we never agreed that I would. 


Anyway, this constant criticism and blame can make you feel like everything is your fault, even when it’s not.

2. Inconsistent Behavior

Toxic co-parents can be incredibly unpredictable. They might flip-flop between being overly nice and extremely hostile.

This can create confusion for you and your children and can be unsettling and stressful for everyone involved.

What Does That Look Like?

They may spoil your child with gifts and fun outings during their time together, only to later threaten to withhold visitation rights or support payments over minor disagreements.

Or it could be something as simple as trying to have a normal conversation with you one day and then becoming venomous the next.

3. Manipulation and Control

Toxic co-parents use manipulation tactics to maintain control over the situation, often at the expense of the child’s best interest.

They may use tactics like gaslighting, guilt-tripping, or emotional blackmail to get their way.

What Does That Look Like?

Maybe they don’t pay child support but say things like, “Let me know if you need money for school supplies.”

Or denying that they agreed to a change in the visitation schedule when they clearly did (just so they can blame you for messing it up).

4. Undermining Your Authority

They may consistently undermine your authority and decisions, creating instability in your child’s life.

This can lead to a lack of discipline and structure in your child’s upbringing.

What Does That Look Like?

Imagine that you’ve grounded your child for breaking a rule, but when your child returns from a visit with their other parent, they say, “Dad says you’re too strict, and  you’re always wrong.”

This constant undermining of your authority is frustrating and can create confusion for your child.

5. Refusing to Communicate

Effective co-parenting requires communication, but toxic co-parents often refuse to engage in meaningful discussions.

They may ignore messages, avoid answering calls, or only communicate through hostile means.

What Does That Look Like?

Say you’ve been trying to discuss a school-related issue with your ex, but they keep ignoring your messages and calls. 

Their lack of cooperation and communication makes it impossible to resolve important matters regarding your child’s well-being.

6. Involving Children in Conflict

Toxic co-parents may involve your children in adult conflicts, putting unnecessary emotional strain on them.

They might try to use your children as messengers or spies, causing them emotional distress.

What Does That Look Like?

They might ask your child to pass along messages or inquire about your personal life during visits.

Even if your child doesn’t realize this is wrong, this places undue strain and expectations on them.

7. Disregard for Boundaries

Toxic co-parents often ignore boundaries. They may show up unannounced at your home, make decisions about your child’s life without consulting you, or overstep your agreed-upon co-parenting arrangements.

What Does That Look Like?

Your toxic co-parent may show up unannounced at your home, even though you have a specific visitation schedule.

Or they might make decisions about your child’s life without consulting you, like enrolling them in an activity that clashes with your parenting time.

8. Legal Battles

They might use the legal system to harass you, filing excessive lawsuits and custody disputes. These legal battles can be both emotionally and financially draining.

What Does That Look Like?

Your ex may drag you to court every time you guys disagree on something instead of trying to work it out rationally.

If your ex is narcissistic, they likely have this idea in their head that they are absolutely right, so there is no way they can “lose” in court. Chances are, they won’t get in trouble for taking you to court, so they will consider this a win.

Yeah, it’s just as complicated as it sounds. I’ll give you an example – my ex did something I considered stupid and dangerous involving my daughter, and I withheld access until we could talk and sort it out.

He ignored my messages for weeks.

We landed in court, and the case master told us that we needed to follow the court order or we’d be thrown in jail.

(According to my lawyer, he told everyone that, so I wasn’t worried.)

My ex took that to mean that the case master was threatening me directly and that I was going to go to jail if I didn’t agree with him (my ex) about everything from there on.

He then proceeded to drag me to court over every stupid thing because he was convinced I would be arrested. ????

9. Parental Alienation

Toxic co-parents may attempt to turn your children against you, causing emotional harm – this is called parental alienation (and it’s very illegal).

They may speak negatively about you, undermine your authority, or make false allegations to damage your relationship with your children.

What Does That Look Like?

Parental alienation, in a legal sense, is more than your ex feeding lies about you to your child. It has to cause significant damage to the parent-child relationship.

But it’s important to know the signs before it gets to that point. Your child may come home saying, “Daddy says you don’t really love me.”

Your toxic co-parent may also try to turn your child against you by speaking negatively about you, undermining your authority, or making false allegations to damage your relationship with your child.

10. Lack of Empathy

Toxic co-parents typically display a lack of empathy or concern for your feelings and well-being. They are often more focused on their own needs and desires, neglecting the emotional well-being of you and your children.

What Does That Look Like?

When you express your feelings, concerns, or needs to your ex, they may respond with indifference or dismissive comments like, “I don’t have time for your drama.”

When it comes to the kids, they may tell their child that they are “too sensitive” when they get upset or even ridicule their displays of emotion.

What Can You Do?

So, yeah, dealing with a high-conflict co-parent is extremely difficult and challenging.

But now that you know what a toxic co-parent acts like, let’s look at some strategies you can use to protect yourself and your children from their behaviors:

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is key to dealing with a toxic co-parent, but when you have court orders telling you that you have to do x, y, and z, it can be hard to know when you can put your foot down.

Even if your ex is trying to control you via co-parenting, there are boundaries you can set to maintain control and consistency in your life.

Clearly define these boundaries and stick with them. They are crucial for maintaining your sanity and protecting your children from unnecessary stress.

These boundaries can include the type of treatment you will accept from them, when they can contact you, what they can contact you about, etc.

Document Everything

When it comes to parenting communication with a toxic co-parent, make sure you keep a detailed record of all interactions and conflicts.

Limit your communication to written forms like texts and emails whenever possible.

This documentation can be useful if legal action is required to protect your rights and the best interests of your child.

Seek Support

Connect with your friends, family members, or even a therapist who can provide emotional support and guidance. 

Coping with a toxic co-parent can be isolating, so having a support network is crucial!

If you’re interested in connecting with parents who are also struggling to co-parent with a toxic/narcissistic ex, you can always join my Facebook support group:

Focus On Your Children

No matter what kind of nonsense your ex tries to cause, always prioritize your child’s well-being

Shield them from conflicts as much as possible and create a safe and stable environment for them where they can openly share their feelings.

It’s important that you be a source of comfort and stability in their lives – because they’re probably going to get very little of this from their toxic parent.


Dealing with a high-conflict co-parent is not all logistics. Your mental health is involved, and it’s important that you take care of yourself physically and emotionally.

Prioritize activities that bring you joy and help you feel relaxed and balanced.

This will help you maintain your strength and resilience through this difficult journey!

Consider Legal Action

Ultimately, if you haven’t already taken this to court, you may have to consult with an attorney who specializes in family law.

Getting a court order means that you both have to follow the rules set out by a case master, but it will hold your ex accountable to the agreement.

If you need to, talk to a lawyer who can advocate for your rights and the best interests of your child.

Recognizing a Toxic Co-Parent

Once you can recognize the signs of a toxic co-parent, you can start approaching the situation in a way that reduces conflict and creates a better environment for your child.

And even though it’s challenging and a pain in the ass to deal with a high-conflict co-parent, your dedication to your child’s happiness and well-being will ultimately shine through!

Stay strong, and never underestimate your ability to handle this difficult situation.

What signs did you notice that made you think your co-parent is toxic? How do you deal with the situation? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below!

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

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Apparently my ex is a narcissist.. I don’t really see it though. I mean, he cheated and he had faults but full blown out narcissism? I don’t really think so. He’s the golden child and his mother is a narcissist and she is the worst! He ignored the kids most of the time because he was always on his phone when he was off from work. He worked a lot though and his job was physically demanding. I wouldn’t call him a bad parent. He played with them and gave them attention.



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