1. Accept what you can’t change and control what you can
When dealing with child custody issues you will by no means be able to change your co-parent. No matter how much they need to change (in your opinion), that work belongs to your ex.
What you are able to and need to control are your personal life and responses.
If you are co-parenting with a complicated ex, you know your buttons are going to get pushed. You will need a steady temperament and resolved composure in order to maintain your dedication to great parenting.
2. Acknowledge the dynamic and how it works out
How does the conversation with your ex go from zero to 90 in the course of a breath? Are there identifiable patterns to your communication? Do you have fears that get triggered? Are those fears based on reality and logic?
What can you do to interrupt an harmful dynamic and steer it in a direction that empowers and protects you?
Keep in mind, the children and your integrity and sanity are non-negotiables. And the only person you can control is yourself.
3. Set new boundaries
Once more, this is really about you and how you are going to engage (or not) with your ex.
Don’t allow yourself to be baited. Take defensiveness and emotional reactions off the table. Set time parameters for communication, and stand by them.
Reduce the means of communication. For example, you don’t text them but only use e-mail and a parenting portal. (Talking Parents is a free option for both avoiding disputes and documenting communication between co-parents.)
A person may also want to consider blocking your ex from your social media.
It will be up to you to stand by your boundaries when your ex challenges your resolve.
4. Don’t respond immediately
So much of co-parenting with a difficult ex is about not engaging. Of course, you will have to engage on behalf of your children. But you do have the power and right to choose when and how you engage.
If your ex says or writes something that causes an immediate dump of adrenaline into your system, take a breath and step back. Do your “reacting” in your own mind or when you’re venting with a friend. Do your “responding” once you are calm.
And sleep on your response. Choose a doable ‘delay time’ for responding to anything other than emergencies. You’re not on-call for your ex.
5. Don’t respond to everything
Just because your co-parent pushes your buttons in order to bait you into engaging doesn’t mean you have to engage.
Stay focused on what co-parenting is about: parenting. It’s not about hashing out your unfinished marital discord or diminishing one another.
React to communication about the children. Let the rest go or add it to a happy hour vent session with a trusted friend.