Co-parenting after a separation or divorce is always tricky, but when your ex is also your domestic violence perpetrator, there’s an added layer of difficulty and real safety concerns that need to be factored in. In this blog, we take a closer look at some of the steps you can take to keep yourself and your children safe while allowing kids to maintain a relationship with both of their parents. It’s difficult, but it is possible. If you want to learn more about the impact of domestic violence on children, check out our blog from last week.
One of the essential aspects of breaking from the cycle of abuse is setting and maintaining boundaries between yourself and your abuser. For survivors and perpetrators who have children together, this can be a real struggle. Some abusers use the children as leverage to get access to their exes. In order to ensure safety for yourself and your children, establishing and maintaining physical boundaries is essential. Additionally, it is usually best to sit down with one or more mediators to create a parenting plan you both agree to. In some cases, this happens in the courtroom. If you don’t have a mandated parenting plan and you believe it’s safe for your child to spend time with your abuser, you should still take the time to establish a detailed co-parenting plan. To ensure your safety, it is always recommended you have someone else with you when engaging with your abuser. You can bring a friend or family member along, or you can even talk to counselors who specialize in marriage and family therapy as they often have experience mediating in these situations.
The co-parenting plan should include:
- How many days a week, month, year your child will spend with them
- How holidays will be handled
- When and where pickups and drop offs should occur (including whether or not the ex-spouse has access to pick kids up from school or day care)
- How changes to the schedule should be handled
After doing the hard work of leaving an abusive relationship, you know that perpetrators of domestic violence feed on control. It is likely that they will try to push against the boundaries that you set. Remember that you can only control your own response and behavior. If your co-parenting plan is court ordered, document occasions where your ex deviates from the boundaries you set. Unless your abusive co-parent is failing to take your child to school, doctor’s appointments, and other necessary or required activities, your best course of action may be accepting the situation and doing your best to model appropriate behaviors for your child by following through with the plan you agreed to – even if it’s frustrating.
Accepting Aspects of Co-Parenting that are Out of Your Control
At the end of the day, trying to win these types of power struggles with an abusive co-parent is much more likely to leave you feeling frustrated and looking like the “bad guy” to your kids. If you agree to an 8 pm bedtime and your co-parent continually lets kids stay up late, take a breath and step away. If your abusive co-parent sees that their behavior is affecting you, it is likely they will continue trying to push your buttons. Unless your child is in real physical or emotional danger, it’s likely best to ignore your ex’s boundary pushing. Continue to stick to your agreed upon plan and show your spouse that you’re unwilling to engage in their manipulative behaviors.
Limiting communications can make it easier for you to avoid an abusive co-parent’s power plays and manipulation. Many people choose to only communicate via email or text message, or they schedule just one weekly call to touch base. As a worst case scenario, you may also want to consider communicating only through a third party. By setting limitations on your communication with your ex, you take away their power to pull you into unhealthy power dynamics or manipulative behaviors.
Providing Emotional Stability & Support for Children
Throughout the process, it’s important for you to continually model emotional stability for your child. If your kids don’t want to be involved with your ex, take the time to talk to them about why. You likely remember one or more occasions where you tried to talk about your abuser and people didn’t listen, so you know better than anyone what they’re going through. While you don’t want to reflect your own fears onto your children or prevent them from being involved with their parent, you do need to know that they are safe. Providing a stable, healthy environment and offering your kids support can ensure they feel comfortable telling you right away if something isn’t right.
Working with Central Arkansas Group Counseling
If you want to include counseling for yourself, your kids, or your whole family as part of your life after domestic violence, the Central Arkansas Group Counseling team is here to help. We offer a range of counseling options including individual, family, and group therapy. Building a support system for yourself and your kids is an essential part of life after leaving an abusive relationship, and counseling can be an impactful addition to this support network. To get started, simply contact our offices in Benton or North Little Rock.