Surviving The Summer When You Have A High-Conflict Co-Parent

It’s not just the temperatures outside that are soaring. Is summer co-parenting with your ex leading to heated battles over your kids?

Co-parenting with a narcissist and/or high-conflict personality ex is difficult all year round, but summer co-parenting poses unique challenges. Without the regularity of the school year, you and your ex have to navigate logistics of your children’s plans regarding vacations, camps, and long blocks of down time. Now that we’re in mid-July, simmering tensions between the two of you may be reaching a boiling point. What can you do to cool off? Read on for tips on how you and your kids can survive – and enjoy – the rest of summer with your high-conflict co-parent. 

Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Expect that your ex will try to spoil your fun by trying to obstruct your travel plans: failure to drop off the kids in time to make your flight; planning a trip that overlaps yours; intruding on your vacation by calling the kids frequently. Anticipating hi-jinks will help prevent them from happening. For instance, book flights the day after your visitation time begins; have your own suitcases, clothing, and toys for the kids instead of depending on your ex to return items; hold on to phones so your children don’t feel obligated to answer every time their other parent calls.  

Keep your boundaries. High-conflict people love to trample over your boundaries. With school out, your ex may feel he or she has more access to the kids and may try to control what they do when they’re with you:  dictating how you plan the kid’s days, and creating melodrama if you don’t do things according to your ex’s instructions. How do you handle all this chaos? Don’t get defensive and don’t engage in debate – which is precisely what your ex wants you to do. Instead, thank your ex for his/her summer co-parenting suggestions and end the conversation or email communication. 

Stick to the visitation schedule. Amicably divorced couples can be flexible with visitation time, allowing the other to extend vacations, or travel between households more frequently (especially if one parent has a pool). However, veering from the court-ordered schedule will likely create more chaos with a high-conflict ex, who’s incapable of reciprocity and doesn’t respect others’ boundaries. So, don’t try to mimic what the consciously uncoupling folks do; with a high-conflict ex, think structure, not flexibility.

Lock down summer activity logistics. If you’re in the process of hammering out your divorce agreement, make sure to specify how you will decide on child-related activities such as day or sleepaway camp. Get in writing a mechanism for choosing camp and other activities, and how payment will be handled. For instance, do both parents need to agree on camp? If it’s day camp, is the location convenient for both? Are costs split 50-50, or by a different ratio that reflects income disparity? Avoid headaches by minimizing wiggle room in your parenting plan. 

While you can’t control your ex, you can safeguard your summer co-parenting by using foresight and maintaining boundaries. And just keep this in mind…summer is brief and before you know it, the more structured school year schedule will be here. Do your best to enjoy this time with your kids as much you can.

Read more: 

High Conflict Divorce: 5 Things Your Therapist Can Do To Help

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