You have found yourself on the other side of separation from an abusive ex-partner and are wondering what is next. In the best of circumstances, separation and divorce is tough. In the worst of circumstances, such as leaving an abusive relationship and particularly if you share children with your ex, you will end up in situations where you have to interact. Here is some brief information and internet resources on how to navigate this situation for yourself and your children in the best way.
Co-Parenting or Parallel Parenting?
In a perfect world, a couple can separate and continue to peacefully and amicably work as co-parents to raise their children. In cases of abuse, however, this is considered inappropriate. National Domestic Violence Hotline has recent research published, which boldly states that interactions such as couple’s counseling is contraindicated for survivors.
Coparenter.org provides a helpful definition of this term:
Parallel parenting can be beneficial in high-conflict families where limited contact may be helpful and safer. This often indicates that parents remain disengaged from one another, separately deciding the logistics of routine and day-to-day parenting. Parallel parenting may include different rules and expectations at each parent’s home but the child is able to have both parents in their lives.
But wait…doesn’t the judge expect us to co-parent? During the reading of the final orders it is sometimes specifically stated that the judge believes that we have the capacity to co-parent and do what is in the best interests of the children. Many times this is because they really do not understand the nuances of abuse and believe that now that you are separated from your ex, the abuse has ended. So, what do you do? You do what is in the best interest of your children…parallel parenting.
OK, I now understand the concept of Parallel Parenting – but how do I do this?
In short, the key is to understand the ways in which you can keep your emotional safety intact while parenting with your abusive ex. Here are some considerations:
1. Firm Boundaries with Communication and Face-To-Face Interactions
There are resources available for free or of minimal cost, that can help. For example, TalkingParents or OurFamilyWizard are examples of two communication apps that allow for a place to communicate with your ex, that cannot be edited. In some of these tools, there is even a “tone checker” to pick up on written negative tones that could incite argument!
A helpful resource to learn in communication is to understand common pitfalls, explained as “Cognitive Distortions”. These include “all or nothing” statements, labeling, or overgeneralization.
Hold yourself to the standard of simple, neutral, factual communication circumscribed only to the topic of the children.
You may consider options such as a neutral place for child exchanges, to further reduce the worry of an altercation. The Supervised Visitation Network provides a national database for such places. In a pinch, you can call your local non-emergency police department phone number and ask for a ‘civil assist’.
2. Create a Self-Care Plan
Keeping yourself emotionally safe includes finding healthy ways to outlet the inevitable stress and re-triggering of trauma that can arise in these interactions.
Creating a “go-to” plan for handling stress is essential. Start with a list of actions and things that help you find inner peace – some mindful breathing, stretching, a walk outdoors, a talk with a friend – and then refer to that list when you are in need of centering.
3. Find and Nurture Your Support System
Who can you lean on during tough times? Who are the confidants that allow you to process the challenges of raising children with an abusive ex? For many in this situation, the answer might be, I don’t have anyone. Please do not despair: there are ways to build this system.
Consider joining a support group and even finding a therapist that is trauma-informed and astute in helping you navigate the dynamics – QueenBeeing.com has a helpful article on questions to ask to interview a potential therapist, such as: “what is your experience in working with high-conflict post-divorce parenting?”. It is also empowering to know your rights as a parent. Many states offer pro bono or reduced fee legal services; the American Bar Association website has a state resource finder.
While coparenting with your abusive ex may be one of the most trying situations you will experience, there are some helpful resources available to you to help you manage the situation. Finding support from others who have gone through similar situations and mental health professionals or advocates that understand the nuances of post separation abuse can also be a great life line.
Carla D’Agostino is a clinical mental health counselor and business owner, located in Westminster, Colorado. She operates Ignite Counseling Colorado, with a focus on expert care in the treatment of trauma, substance use and OCD and phobias. She is a Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC) and a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate (LPCC) in the State of Colorado and holds the designation of Nationally Credentialed Counselor (NCC). Her additional credentials include Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP), Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) trained therapist, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) trained therapist and Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR).