My guess is that when your children were born, you never envisioned you’d one day have to co-parent with your spouse after a divorce, let alone read an article about the best ways to co-parent with an asshole. Maybe you knew deep down they were an asshole, but they were never an asshole to you. Not yet. Or perhaps their assholeness revealed itself much later. It doesn’t matter. This is where you are now, asshole, article, and all.
Assholes are all over the place, so the skills you pick up from the experience will help you in other areas of your life because the approach will be the same. The reason why I say this to you is so you can take a step back from the asshole who’s in front of your face now, the one who makes you emotional, who knows you well, and because of that, knows how to push your buttons and turn you into an asshole, too.
So before I get started, take a deep breath. Think of your asshole ex and remind yourself that they’re not as powerful as they think or want you to believe. When you take control of your emotions and behavior, life will change for you and your kids real quick. You’re not going to rid yourself of this asshole from your life for a long time, especially if your kids are young.
You’re always going to be connected with your asshole ex through your child, and they may pop up from time to time long after your kids are grown. So best to learn how to manage them and the situations you find yourself in with them now. Here are a few tips about how.
Pick your topics.
Yes, yes, I know the expression is to pick your battles. But the idiom implies that you’re at war with your ex, so my advice is not to use that terminology. When you do, your back goes up, and you put yourself on the defensive.
Instead, recognize you’re going to butt heads (pun intended). Some issues will be more important than others. Hot button topics often include religious observance, education, medical decisions, and, of course, money. There’s a lot of nitty-gritty that can come up under these umbrella topics. So you need to be clear with yourself if you’re going to raise the roof because your kid didn’t come home with every pair of socks you purchased after a vacation with your ex or whether you care if they are taking Taekwondo instead of Jui Jitsu like you did when you were a child.
Save your strength for what you really care about, those major decisions that can potentially impact and shape your child’s life in a fundamental way. Examples include what faith you and your ex will raise your child in, what level of religiosity, where they will attend school, and whether they will receive certain vaccinations.
You know in your heart what’s important and what’s not. If you find yourself fretting about nonsense, shake it off. It’s not worth getting upset over, and you want to compromise where you can. Not everything has to be a big deal. Unless, of course, you’re an asshole.
Create a temporary co-parenting plan.
When dealing with an asshole ex, especially one who doesn’t like to cooperate, putting expectations in writing in a parenting plan can help a lot. It makes the rules of engagement crystal clear for both parents. The idea is that you will have to deal with each other less because decisions such as what holidays belong to which parent and what time drop off and pick up are already ironed out. Then, if one person decides to do things their way, there’s less of a gray area for them to excuse the behavior away.
A parenting plan can be as informal and formal as you make it. Meaning, you don’t need to go to court to have one, which is a definite plus and a co-parenting win. Even asshole exes can understand the benefit of staying out of court. Court costs a lot of money and can prolong a divorce by months, even years. That can put an unnecessary strain on the entire family, particularly children. By the very nature of the conflict, children are in the middle of it. However, if your asshole ex continues to be an asshole and violates your agreement over and over again, the court has specific terms to review and enforce.
A temporary parenting plan also allows you time before you finalize your divorce to see what works and what doesn’t. For example, is a 6:30 p.m. pick-up on Fridays really reasonable given the time it takes to cross town during rush hour? On the other hand, should you and your co-parent find the temporary parenting plan is actually working, you can choose whether you want to incorporate it into your final divorce agreement.
Hire a parenting coordinator to help.
An effective way to stay out of court before and after you finalize your divorce is to invite the assistance of a parenting coordinator. Parenting coordinators are neutral third parties who act as a liaison between co-parents who have difficulty getting along.
Co-parents can communicate through the parenting coordinator, who will deliver messages without tone (helpful when communicating with an asshole) and prevent exchanges from becoming heated and escalating. Parenting coordinators can also give guidance to high-conflict co-parents about whether specific behaviors are in accordance with the parenting plan or violate its terms.
Parenting coordinators can also keep a watchful eye over children. The idea is to make sure the kids are happy, healthy, and well cared for under the plan and by their parents.
Even with a parenting plan and a parenting coordinator, your asshole ex is going to do something to get under your skin. It will piss you off. But unless the transgression is serious, your best bet is to keep your children’s environment as stable as you can, even if your asshole ex’s actions, whether deliberate or because they just don’t care, are having the opposite effect.
You have a job to do, which is to raise your children in a happy, stable environment. In other words, you need to be the best parent you can be in what may not be the best of circumstances. This won’t be easy.
The parent who has to work around an asshole ex may sometimes get a bad rap, especially from their kids, because they’re the parent who has to enforce the rules. They’re also the parent who has their personal time infringed upon and often bears the brunt due to their ex’s selfish behavior. Some or all of this may be true, and it sucks. I don’t deny that.
But what you also have is an opportunity, and that’s to be a role model for your kids. You can show them through not only your words but also your actions how to deal with someone who may not think or behave as you do. That also means not bashing your asshole ex, which will only hurt your children because they can’t help but see themselves in each of their parents. And the last thing you want them to think is they’re assholes, too, or become ones. Remember, your kids are watching both of you.
Hire a Seattle divorce and family lawyer to help co-parent with your high-conflict ex.
At Elise Buie Family Law, we know how challenging it can be to co-parent with a high-conflict ex while trying to provide a stable home for your children and yourself. We believe strongly in alternative dispute resolution, especially collaborative divorce, and offer our clients practical and effective strategies to manage co-parenting conflicts at any stage during the divorce process or afterward, leaving family court as a last resort. Co-parenting is a long game, and we want your children to walk away winners.
If you would like to learn more about co-parenting during and after divorce or discuss a particular matter with us, reach out today. We’re here to assist.