It’s hard enough co-parenting with a hostile ex when things are going smoothly, but the process becomes much tougher when your child is struggling or acting out in school. Although you can’t control your ex’s behavior, you can be proactive if you know what to expect and employ strategies for how to manage the crazy.
- Expect to be the target of blame. High-conflict exes will blame you for your kid’s problems, no matter what they are. But the issue is not really about your child; it’s about your former spouse’s inability to confront their own shortcomings by projecting them onto you, their handy scapegoat. If you understand your ex’s high-conflict pattern of engagement, you will be less likely to take their words personally.
- Expect cyber warfare. High-conflict people (HCPs) use electronic communication as a weapon. Firing off hostile emails and texts is an easy way to sling barbs your way. Because you have a legitimate problem to be solved (your child’s behavioral or academic issue), you have to communicate. So how do you do this with someone who treats you like an incompetent employee? Keep communication: 1) concise (over-explaining invites more attacks); 2) factual (no opinions or emotions); 3) neutral in tone (no sarcasm or lecturing). If your ex returns your straightforward email with insults and blame, don’t respond to the content of what he’s saying. (Remember it’s not about you!) Instead, write something like: “It sounds like you’re really concerned about Jake’s school performance; I am too.” In this kind of response, you’re not arguing, you’re pointing out what you have in common.
- Expect your ex to triangulate the teacher. Your ex will probably try to get the teacher on their side by: throwing you under the bus by blaming you for your child’s problems, or bragging about their superior parenting skills. Resist the urge to follow suit. Teachers have no interest in taking sides; they just want to help your child. Instead, ask the teacher what his or her suggestions are and thank them for their help. Teachers want to see parents who are calm, reasonable, and appreciate their efforts. They also want to see parents prioritize their children’s needs, which won’t happen if both parents compete for the Best Parent Award.
Dealing With Severe Emotional And/Or Academic Problems
If the school believes they’re not equipped to meet your child’s needs, you will be faced with the daunting task of working with your ex to choose the right school and go through that application process. If you agree on the school, that’s great! But if you can’t reach an agreement, you could wind up in court – a process that will be stressful for you, your ex, and your child. Here are some ways to keep that from happening.
Keep your opinion out of it. Your ex will oppose what they think you want, so defer to the teachers or therapist. Say you have tremendous faith in these professionals – hopefully you do! — and you’re following their lead. Your former spouse will have less motivation to fight you if they believe you’re not emotionally invested in the school choice.
If you must litigate…keep it to a limited scope. Custody battles are financially and psychologically devastating – especially to children. Better to request that you be awarded school choice, so the rest of custody is unchanged. In order to reach a settlement out of court, you’ll need to give something up to get something, i.e., you get school choice and your spouse gets medical/mental health choice. If you can’t settle out of court and you wind up in front of the judge, all bets are off.
Be sure that the school is really the issue. Has your ex gotten you so worked up that you want to win at all costs? Do you dream of getting full custody so you no longer have to deal with their nonsense? If so then you are giving them way too much power and you need to detach emotionally.
Separate the real need – placing your child in an appropriate academic and/or mental health setting — from your feelings about your former spouse. Will your child actually be harmed if he attends the facility your ex has chosen? Is fighting for your choice worth the financial and psychological cost of litigation, which you may not even win? Your child is likely to incur far more damage being in the middle of a war zone than enrolling in a school or facility that is not your preference.
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