The Good Men Project describe a toxic ex as someone who doesn’t respect the boundaries of their relationship with their ex. “They have never really let go of ex mates and will hang on for dear life all the while undermining your ability to co-parent with them and move on to a new life.”
Few people walk away from a divorce feeling any remnants of positivity. But when you’re parents, there’s the added complication of the children, which means your lives are intertwined forever.
Of course, one of the issues that comes with being a divorced parent is that you probably have very different ideas of what constitutes sound parenting, setting the stage for many future arguments.
Co-parenting and divorce
The complexities of co-parenting with someone you consider toxic go well beyond that. As Stacey Lewis, founder of the Divorce Source and Divorce 101: Survive and Thrive, says, “The main aim of co-parenting should be to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted parents. When there’s a toxic ex involved, we often see what I call “counter-parenting’, rather than co-parenting.”
Worse still, it may happen that one parent’s dislike for the other is so intense that it affects their feelings for their children. This is, of course, very damaging for the child. “A child may see their parents’ rejection of each other as a rejection of part of themselves, and this may lead to self-esteem and behavioural issues.”
Badmouthing your ex isn’t just bad form, Stacey continues: parental alienation is actually a form of child abuse, so the person who ultimately suffers most is your child. “In South Africa, we have both a legal and moral obligation to prioritise our children’s best interests. This understanding is something you need to keep in mind.”
Stacey’s tips for effective co-parenting with a toxic ex include:
- Keeping your relationship businesslike. Limit communication to logistics regarding the children.
- Keep communication unemotional.
- Ensure you prioritise your child’s best interests over ego or the need to be right.
- Pick your battles when you face conflict with your ex. Remind yourself there will be a tug of war only if you hold onto the rope.
- If you can’t agree, involve an impartial expert such as a mediator.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.