What to do when you are co-parenting with a jerk…


Focusing on myself relaxing with a glass of Prosecco.

I hear over and over from frustrated parents who find themselves in an endless loop of conflict with an ex-spouse that just won’t stop being a turd.  Attorneys, judges, therapists and other professionals that work with divorced families will tell you that the truth is, they can’t change a turd into a great parent, or even just a moderately reasonable and respectful parent.  So where does that leave the thousands of people that are stuck trying to raise their kids with a turd?


Don’t play.  Often, a person who is continuing to be mean, spiteful or just, plain difficult on a regular basis has mental health issues that you aren’t going to solve (this might be why you divorced in the first place).  For some narcissists and people with a borderline personality disorder, they WANT the conflict.  They bring it on and instigate drama because it feels satisfying to them.  Your greatest tool is to manage your own reaction.  If your co-parent is someone that enjoys conflict and drama, don’t give it to them.  Let them start to look for their drama fix from someone else.

Don’t take the bait.  Ignore the insults and start to look for and recognize when someone is trying to draw you into  drama.  “You’re just like your mother” or “You never____(fill in the blank)” are not questions, they are not co-parenting issues – what they are is BAIT to start a fight.   Once you learn to recognize the attempts to engage in conflict, you have taken a huge step toward staying out of the crazy mess that a narcissist wants to live in.  If you don’t want to live in crazy town, stay off the road to crazy.

Focus on yourself.  You can have a great relationship with your kids, separate from a jerk.  Avoid talking about the things you don’t like about the other parent (except to your therapist).  Make the most of the time you have with your kids, building the loving, connected relationship that you want.  You may find that the turd tries to undermine this.  Trust me, the long term studies show that kids eventually see through the narcissist, the petty drama queen/king and the bully.  It may be really, really hard to stay focused on just enjoying and loving your time with your kids when your ex keeps trying to sabotage and undermine your relationship.  But if you stick with being who you are and don’t spend all of your time with your kids complaining about their other parent or engaged in conflict with their other parent, you will ultimately have a strong relationship where they know they are loved unconditionally.

Start with these steps and then keep building on this foundation of love and security for your kids.  Kids learn the most from us by watching what we do.  If you find yourself unable to avoid taking the bait or can’t stop engaging in conflict with your ex – you are showing your kids that you don’t know how to help them deal with him/her either.  That’s the time to seek the assistance of a professional – a therapist, a book on co-parenting or a workshop (hint, hint, I have one coming up this weekend, check out the Offerings Page for details).

What’s your biggest co-parenting challenge?  Share in the comments and I’ll recommend my favorite resources for you.


  1. This sounds exactly like my stupid husband. i have long ago decided not to take the bait, but that just causes him to get even more upset maybe even physical. its inevitable that he will get angry/irritated over some tiny little thing today.( i.e. first it was that i needed a job. now that i have a job he complains about the hours that i have to work) and all i can do is give out multiple appologies that wont be “good enough” and ask him to calm down and “i let you rant for 30 mins now, can we please get past this?” My tears dont mean anything. then all of a sudden he snaps out of it and is fine??? then im the one whos upset and crabby. i dont want to live like this anymore. all my support is out of state. i dont know how or if i would be allowed to pack up the kids and leave. but i need to find out soon.

    • Christina, I hope you are able to find a local attorney to help guide you and answer your questions. Your local bar association can give you a referral. Even if you can’t move out of state, you can still make a good life for you and your children as a divorced mom. Thank you for sharing your story and I hope you keep in touch. xoxo Keri

    • Sounds like me before the divorce. The sooner you start, the better. It takes a long time – SOOO much longer than getting married – and the quicker you get it underway the better off you will be. just not living in the same house is such a blessing. they still behave badly and annoy you, but at least it’s not every day all the time anymore! Good luck and I understand completely!

  2. Are there ways to tell if a small child is being verbally, mentally, emotionally abused or possibly neglected when they are in the other parents care? How about physical abuse? Learned behaviors?

    • There are behaviors that a child development expert might be able to assess but it’s not the kind of thing that can be generalized – you would need an expert to actually assess your child in person. It’s so scary to think your child might be abused. I encourage anyone that believes their child might be abused to get professional help from both a mental health expert and child development expert. xoxo Keri

Please share your thoughts.