Your abuser is your child’s parent. It’s a sobering reality for many separated or divorced couples. However, if there is no proven record of abuse toward your children, you and your ex likely will share physical and legal custody.
For most parents in this situation, limiting contact with their former abuser is the best way to create boundaries and prevent further abuse. It’s not co-parenting, but parallel parenting.
How to Stay In Control
Keep conversation and contact to a minimum.
Communication through meetings, phone calls or texts can turn ugly quickly. Communicating through a co-parenting app like Talking Parents means every conversation between you and your ex is on-the-record, timestamped and unalterable for the court and lawyers to review. Discussions tend to be much more businesslike and focused on the task-at-hand.
To further help you communicate with an abusive ex, script out conversations ahead of time. If your ex tries to escalate any interaction into a fight, end the conversation. Make sure drop-offs and pick-ups happen in a public, neutral location. Try to have someone with you during drop-offs or pick-ups to help diffuse tensions or serve as a witness to any abusive behavior.
Have a structured parenting plan.
Set up a parenting plan with the help of an experienced lawyer. The parenting plan must be highly specific and spell out all exactly what days children will reside with which parent, how holidays and vacations will be handled, how transportation to and from school events will take place, etc. A detailed parenting plan minimizes the need for contact with your abuser. Again, this is where the Talking Parents co-parenting app also can help with its shared calendar feature and ability to upload relevant documents and information about the kids in one shared place.
You can only control you.
Abusers thrive on control, so expecting your abuser to work with you on the consistency of rules, discipline or routines between homes probably isn’t in the cards. You must accept that your kids live between two households and while you may not approve of your co-parent’s parenting behaviors or choices, you cannot change them. When your children are with their co-parent, you must let go.
If you say you think bedtime should be at 9:00, an abusive co-parent will make it 11:00 p.m. to spite you. If you get upset because the kids eat junk food at the co-parent’s house, he or she will feed them even more. It’s a power struggle you won’t win. The only time you should intercede is if you think your kids are in real physical or emotional danger.
Model emotional intelligence.
Empathy, compassion, and forgiveness are emotions your children likely did not witness in an abusive relationship. You are free from that now. Model the behaviors you want your children to learn. Show your children love, stability, and support. If possible, enlist the help of a family counselor or therapist to help you and your children through the transition of the divorce.
Showing respect to your co-parent is an important part of helping your children transition. It’s an especially difficult ask for those who have suffered from abuse at the hands of a co-parent, but it’s still critical. Toxic fighting between parents – name-calling, insults, threats, physical aggression, walking out – dramatically impact a child’s mental health. Leaving an abusive relationship was the first step in protecting your children from this type of behavior. Don’t let it continue by disparaging your ex in front of your children or allowing others to do so.
Build a village.
You are going to need a lot of support. Abusers thrive on control and will continue to tell you things that make you lose confidence in yourself and your decision-making abilities. Surround yourself with other people who can help you and keep you focused on the goal at hand: caring for your children in the best way you can during the time they are with you. Reach out to trained domestic violence advocates, counselors, family and friends.
Also, teach your children how to recognize abusive situations that may occur in their own lives - bullies, sexual predators, dating violence, or verbal abuse. Make a safety plan with your children that provides them with a way to alert you if they are ever in need of help or feel uneasy in any situation.
If your abuser is violating the parenting plan or custody schedule, remain calm and do not confront him or her directly. Document every violation through communication within Talking Parents and contact your lawyer.