I remember when I was finally on my own after being separated, and how much weight I put on being ‘the perfect mom’, especially at that immediate time. It’s pretty obvious why we hold so much weight on being perfect – we have so much guilt about having to go through a divorce at all, what we think the kids are going through (all bad, right?), and anxiety about how the ex is parenting and possibly, what that ex is saying to the kids about you as a parent. I have the utmost respect and praise for those parents who really do co-parent…who can continue to empathize with their ex and their children on what is the simplest and most beneficial way to resolve an issue. If that means sacrificing a day of their time, or taking a child to a doctor’s visit when it’s not their day, awesome. That is co-parenting, folks – being able to go off a script and not take names or count points towards who did what and when. In the world of high conflict divorce, it’s more about parallel parenting.
Unfortunately, there are some of us that have divorced due to being in a very toxic relationship, perhaps with someone who continues to tally up all the ways they have been a perfect parent, and all the ways (in their opinion) you have not. This puts us on an automatic defensive when we separate from them. You are not around to defend yourself anymore, and you are damn sure that those lists still continue at his house.
For those of us who endured gas-lighting, verbal abuse, control, and systematic alienation tactics, parenting as a now-single parent is a chaos of emotions. We want to do what is best for our kids, and discipline and structure is still a big part of this. For those of us who are going through a divorce with an ex that is hell-bent on making life difficult for us, discipline and maintaining balance is exceptionally hard. Your worst fear is that they call daddy upset or worse, crying, telling him that mommy is mean or that mommy yelled at them. And there is daddy on the other end, eating it all up, adding this to a list of twisted ways to find us inept and abusive as a parent. For some of us, it may be very extreme – attempts to brainwash the children against us, telling them that if they say anything bad about daddy, they might never see him again, the list goes on and on. It can be Hell on earth dealing with this type of disparagement and alienation.
The short answer to the parenting dilemma is that you keep parenting the best way that you know how. Keep up the love, the discipline, the structure, and have actual conversations with your babies. Sometimes that means getting real and letting them know when you feel like you were too harsh, or if you start seeing a pattern of behavior in your child that is starting to alarm you. A parent that constantly bribes with gifts or promises is not one that is teaching or guiding – it’s not who your future adult child will automatically run to with their questions or problems. But how, you say? How do I parent my child without always looking over my shoulder?
- Document anything and everything that you hear from your ex or your child that seems wrong to you. Figure out a system of documentation so that it’s easy to do – carry around a small notebook that only you have access to. Better yet, use a ‘notes’ app on your phone since we always tend to have our phones on us. If things were to get worse with your situation, you need to have documentation.
- Get help. If you are the only one seeing or being a part of a systematic attempt to alienate your kids from you, you need more eyes on the problem. Find out if there are Parent Coordinators available in your area, and how they can be implemented into your situation. Have a conversation with your divorce attorney about how a PC might be implemented in your high-conflict case. A PC has a certain level of authority and can be both a guide and referee when you have difficulty co-parenting. Life before a PC came into our lives is actually emotionally hard for me to think about.
- Get your children a therapist to help them. This is a tough one – as my ex seemed terrified at the idea that there was a third party where my kids might be saying negative things about him. That’s not the point of a therapist of course, but getting a therapist for the children ended up being quite a journey. Your kids need someone they can speak to about anything and everything. We all know there are things we just can’t talk to our moms about, as difficult as that is for us to know now that we are indeed moms. In my case, a PC came first (after dealing with disparagement and alienation for several years), and she helped in deciding that a therapist was a good idea for our children.
- Get yourself a therapist. Talk about the stuff that really bugs you. Talk about those deep dark fears you might be having- of failure, of fear, of whatever it is that paralyzes you. Get it out of your head and learn how to cope and understand that you are not failure, you are not less than. A good therapist will help give you ways to cope with your anxieties, and also help you identify the root causes so that you can put them behind you or manage them appropriately.
- Get Our Family Wizard (OFW). No more talking on the phone with an ex that spouts off or that tries to get your goat. No more random emails lashing out just from a simple question of how do you want to handle the snow day today? No more text messages that will ruin your day. You need a legit platform to communicate, and OFW is great for this. Our PC was able to help get buy-in from both sides to utilize this. You can even add your PC or therapist as administrators on your account if they need to view a conversation or if you’d like to have them be part of one. (Oh, and no – I do not make any money on advocating any of this – it’s what I use personally. https://www.ourfamilywizard.com).
- Become a robot. That is when it comes to communicating with your ex. Treat your communication as if you are responding to someone you work with, or craft your question as if it’s to someone you work with. I pretend I’m writing to someone in a totally different department within the same company, someone I either hardly know or don’t know at all. Business professional. Always read your email back to yourself as if you were receiving it, or better yet – send it to a friend who can help you. Wait a while before sending (if you can). How does it make you feel? Take out all opinions, but state your case, and DO NOT BE JUDGE-Y. Ask your question or make your statement, and send. Also if you’re used to requesting things, you may need to look at your email with a very confident set of eyes to see if it is somehow putting you in a corner. Are you asking when you don’t need to ask? Are you able to say “I will be” instead of “I’d like to be able to”? If you give your ex the ability to challenge, they absolutely will. Lastly regarding communication – I like to write as if someday my child will read it. This may help you to change your writing style with your ex completely.
Do you have tips, tools or resources that have helped you parallel parent? Please comment and share!
As always, my love and encouragement goes with this post to anyone suffering in silence. Keep persisting and know you are not alone.