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Navigating High Conflict Co-parenting

When you end a relationship with your partner and your child’s parent, it can create an intense situation filled with conflict and doubt. Navigating this new relationship with your co-parent can be difficult and understanding your priorities and working together is essential. Often times both parents may not see eye to eye on what they envision for the child or the relationship. Navigating these disagreements gets tricky and can quickly become a high-conflict situation.

What co-parenting?

Co-parenting is a relatively simple concept that can be challenging to maintain depending on the relationship between the parents. Co-parenting is described as sharing the duties of raising a child; however, it is most commonly used for parents who are separated or not in a relationship. Successful co-parenting (which may look different for everyone) is the best way to create a healthy environment for your children.

Working together for the benefits of kids is the best way!

Divorce or the separation of a parental unit can be an extremely vulnerable situation for children. Even if they can’t express it, seeing their parents work together to create a happy and healthy environment can positively impact their development. It can also impact the way they view relationships later in life. That is why it is important to recognize when you’re in a high-conflict co-parenting situation and the steps you can take to reduce conflict for the benefit of your child.

How to identify a high-conflict co-parenting situation?

A high-conflict co-parenting situation is typically very volatile, where one or both parents may be disrespectful, hostile, vindictive, or spiteful. They may place blame on the other parent for no reason claiming it is always their fault, and take things personally in even the smallest of instances. High-conflict co-parenting can also manifest in ways that involve the child, such as not allowing the other parent to see the child or telling the child negative things about the other parent.

Tips for managing high-conflict co-parenting relationships?

This may seem like an impossible scenario to change or manage, but at the end of the day, all you can control is how you react to a situation. Your actions and reactions when dealing with your co-parent should always prioritize your child. Limiting conflict will benefit your child, and if they continue to be combative, here are some tips you can take to remedy the situation.

Disengage instead of fighting: Learning to de-escalate amidst an argument with an ex is not easy; letting our emotions get the best of us can happen so quickly. Finding a neutral exit strategy for yourself is the best step to work towards disengaging. This will allow you to take a pause before things get too chaotic. Another way to avoid escalation is to understand what triggers you and how to ignore it. If you can remove yourself from the situation before you’re triggered by using a thoughtful exit strategy, then you can de-escalate the situation and come back to it when things have cooled down.

Create a parenting plan: Creating a plan and sticking to it is one of the golden rules of co-parenting. While flexibility is necessary, it is much easier to follow a plan that both parents have approved. Following a plan will reduce the opportunities for conflict to arise and will help solve some of the issues that occur when there is no plan, such as time-sharing, extracurricular activities, medical bills, and education.

Set co-parenting boundaries: Setting boundaries with someone you once shared a personal life with can be extremely difficult. Still, it is essential when managing a high-conflict co-parenting relationship. Boundaries help create healthy parameters that each person should respect. Setting boundaries might look like keeping your personal life to yourself, creating a set time to respond to them (only your child’s waking hours), public or open meeting spaces, or using parenting apps to manage communication or your child’s schedule. However you choose to set boundaries, it is important they are clearly and respectfully communicated. This will keep conflict to a minimum during boundary setting.

The child is your top priority: Keep this in mind throughout the process. Even though it may be difficult to de-escalate, stick to a plan, or create boundaries, remember the reason for these actions and the positive effect they can have on your child.

Set a positive example for your child: This one may seem self-explanatory, but it isn’t as simple as it comes across, especially when emotions are running high. Co-parenting, whether we try and keep it among adults or not, directly relates to your child, and they will be a part of the process. Acting in a way that shows them you are trying to work together with your co-parent and behaving in their best interest will positively impact them.

Ask for support from counselors, mediators, or other co-parenting professionals. While putting these tips into practice might be helpful, sometimes it is easier when you have someone to walk you through the process and your emotions. It doesn’t hurt to learn on your support network, like family and friends, when co-parenting is difficult. A professional can also help you look at things from an outside perspective and make navigating a high-conflict co-parenting situation easier. Professionals are trained to handle these situations and can provide insights that can guide you while also looking out for you along the way.