Why We No Longer Attempt to “Co-Parent”

maiko michelle blended families stepmom

About two years ago, my significant other and I made the conscious decision to no longer attempt to co-parent with the high-conflict biological mother of his kids. Instead, we carved out our own version of a parallel parenting plan that protects us (and our precious time with the children). This did not require agreement on the bio-mother’s part, just a decision on our part that we could no longer live at the mercy of her negativity and game-playing.

The way we choose to handle things now is based on the reality of who we’re dealing with, not a fantasy of what we wish she were. Meaning, we no longer attempt to blend households with someone who not only has no concept of what healthy parenting looks like, but also someone who doesn’t seem capable of rational thinking. If someone consistently shows that she does not know how to or does not care to make decisions that are in the best interest of her children, why would we want to align our parenting with her? If someone has repeatedly tried to use her children as weapons in attempts to hurt their father or pawns to manipulate to try and get what she wants, why would we continue to try and co-parent with her? Not only is it impossible, but it makes no rational sense.

And yet… judges, lawyers, mediators, parenting coordinators, family members, friends, etc. heard our story and would tell us, “you should just try to get along for the sake of the kids.” AS IF IT WERE THAT EASY!! If it were that simple, don’t you think we would be doing it?! I learned that unless someone has lived through a situation like this, even if they might work for the family court system, I will serioulsy think twice about taking advice from them. Unless they’ve experienced this particular kind of nightmare themselves or immersed themselves in learning about high-conflict personalities, they often have NO idea what they’re talking about. One of my biggest lessons through this journey is to be very careful about who I take advice from… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt invalidated or worse yet, we listened to this kind of generic advice only to end up getting sucked back into the bio-mother’s drama when we instead should have just set a boundary and protected ourselves. Lesson learned.

We used to try and “get along for the sake of the kids”, and our lives & relationship suffered miserably as a consequence. Which, by the way, is exactly why these high-conflict personalities spend so much energy doing what they do: her deepest goal is to hurt your partner or “get him back for abandoning her” (even if it’s at the expense of hurting the kids). These are broken people. Once we got burned enough and opened our eyes, we went out and got help from the therapists and coaches who could help us protect ourselves (we hand-picked the right experts who specialized in our specific kind of parenting situation). First we had to understand what we were dealing with, second we needed to make changes in our expectations and our parenting plan. First thing to go: attempting to co-parent. Continuing to try and “get along” (a.k.a. get raked over the coals) by someone like that was ruining our lives. Now that we’ve woken up and accepted the reality that she is not well mentally, and stopped attempting to co-parent with someone who thrives on conflict & drama, we are so much healthier & happier, as are the kids.

For us to continue to attempt to run two separate households with two biological parents who have completely different core values would be the definition of insanity: doing the same thing in hopes of a different result. Let’s just take a minute to acknowledge the fact that if these two people were actually in alignment on their values in the first place, they might not be divorced. Maybe they were too young or they didn’t know themselves yet, but I truly believe that in most cases when people get divorced it’s because their foundational values are not in sync with one another. If core values aren’t similar, it’s very easy to grow apart as life’s challenges come your way and you start to see your partner’s true character (or lack of it).

People get divorced for a multitude of reasons but oftentimes differences in parenting are a contributing factor to the divorce. Having kids seems to put a magnifying glass on the areas where the relationship is weak — and again, this is usually the areas where values are not lining up. And if these two people weren’t able to parent as a team while married, why would we expect that they could parent as a team post-divorce? It’s unrealistic in situations like this. I think co-parenting can be difficult even when both parents are rational. Add in someone who is combative, delusional, and vengeful and you have a recipe for disaster. And from what I’ve experienced, it’s confusing for the kids! Children need structure and consistency… not the chaos of one parent being allowed to use them as pawns to hurt their other parent. They need to be protected from this! And yet… we’re told to just keep our mouths shut and “get along?” Nope. I’ll say it, even if no one else will. Attempting to co-parent just doesn’t work when you’re dealing with a high-conflict personality. And continuing over & over again when it isn’t working will suck the lifeforce out of you. Just ask anyone who is living in a situation like this.

My guy and I finally hit that wall one too many times, stopped listening to the peanut gallery, and changed course — a.k.a. making choices & decisions that are based on reality, not the utopia that so many judges, lawyers, mediators, family members, friends, etc. seem to think exists after divorce.

Making decisions from your household’s core values with your partner is key. When challenges come at you or decisions regarding the kids need to be made, process them through your own household values and make choices from there. This is your custody time, your parenting time, your household… not hers. Be clear. That shipped sailed because it wasn’t working the first time around. Time to change it up. We no longer try to line up or work in conjunction with someone whose household values couldn’t be any further from what ours are. Because my guy went through so much in his marriage, he took the time after the divorce to figure out more of what he wanted in a partner that would fit in alignment with his vision of what would make him happy on a deeper level (including what he needed from a partner in parenting). These are the foundational things his first marriage lacked, the reason he got divorced. People shouldn’t be forced to go back and try and create understanding and respect where there was none in the first place, it doesn’t work.

My piece of advice (which I think I can give since I’ve lived through this and have come out the other side): try your best to reframe your thoughts… come at parenting and decisions for your custody time from your own foundational core values, not from pressure from outside sources. I believe this is the healthiest and simplest way to get your answers. Other people are not living your life, running your household, or parenting with your guy and his particular version of a crazy reality… do it your way. You always know by how it feels, listen to your own internal guidance system. First step would be to get crystal clear on what your household core values are with your partner in parenting.

Ours are: consistency & structure, integrity, living our truth, depth & connection, authentic love, and protection (including self-protection). Let me just say that the biological mother we deal with probably wouldn’t even be capable of understanding what these values mean and what they look like… she completely lacks self-awareness. It’s actually quite sad for the kids, but it is what it is. We now believe that as long as we do our best to show the kids what health, love, integrity and real happiness look like while they’re with us, that’s the best we can do for them. Our therapist who specializes in situations like this told us that as long as they have one healthy household, the kids can be okay. If they have two dysfunctional homes, they don’t stand a chance at growing up into emotionally healthy young adults. So, that’s our focus. If we were to continue to try and co-parent with her, the kids would then have two dysfunctional homes. We aren’t going to lower our bar.

And because we protect our household & relationship core values at all costs, anything that attempts to cross these boundaries is not allowed into our safety zone. Period. Meaning, we will no longer attempt to co-parent with someone who is toxic. Instead,we have chosen to protect ourselves and our family from that person. We have let go of trying to control the things we cannot control beyond our custody time and our own household. We choose not to spin in circles trying to work with someone whose intentions are not about the kids’ best interests (although she does everything in her power to present herself as someone who is much different than what’s going on behind her closed doors). We instead focus on creating a healthy & happy household for them. Which means we can’t engage with her, at all. She has become insignificant to us. We love the kids too much to listen to the peanut gallery giving us ignorant advice that makes our household vulnerable.

Ladies, listen to your gut. You know by how it feels when you and your partner try to co-parent with someone like this and it keeps blowing up in your faces… at what point do you stop playing with the bomb? We chose to stop doing it and we finally have our health & happiness back.

I can help by walking you through the steps we took in disengaging from the madness and getting our sanity back. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the work. The first step is getting clear on your core values then implementing a game-plan based on those values. There are lots of steps involved, including moving to “bare minimum contact.” It’s so important to create distance wherever you can. Once you start to do this, you and your man can start to breathe again… finally.

Please contact me if you’d like to work together to identify your values and remove the negative impact of a high-conflict bio-mother from your life and relationship! No one should have to suffer like that. I understand, I’ve lived through it myself. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Let me help you.

XOXO,

Maiko

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