Setting Boundaries With A Difficult Co-Parent

by | May 13, 2021


Co-Parenting can create a great deal of stress regardless of whether you’re dealing with a cooperative co-parent or a high conflict ex. The stress is not only between you and your co-parent, but it extends to your children as well. Being able to set good boundaries can show your children how to manage stress in their new lives as well.

Define Your Boundaries

So how do boundaries affect your ability to co-parent effectively? What are we talking about when we say boundaries?

Boundaries are actually an invisible way of engaging in a relationship so that you can show up at your best and not take on someone else’s issues. Many people say that someone is “crossing their boundaries,” “made them feel a certain way” or “made them do something” they didn’t want to do.

Do you ever feel disrespected by your ex or that you have to “defend” your boundaries or explain “why” you’re setting them? The first step to understanding about boundary setting is to take ownership of the boundary you’ve created.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want the boundary to be?
  • How do you want to communicate it clearly?
  • Why is it valuable to you?

Keep in mind that it’s not the other person who has to honor your boundary – it’s actually YOU!

Here are some strategies that can help you with the difficult task of setting boundaries with your co-parent:

1. Respect that you now have separate homes

Do not allow the other parent to come over or you go over to their home unless you both agree. These are two separate residences and should be treated as each parent’s separate space.

2. Set boundaries around conversations

Your ex does not need to know every detail about your personal life and you don’t need to know theirs either. Keep primarily to issues around the children. There may be some areas when it comes to schedules or plans that overlap, but stay away from conversations involving each other’s family or other sensitive topics.

3. Keep things business-like

Your relationship is no longer as a couple, but as co-parents. You do not need to be friends with your ex to make co-parenting work. Think about how you would talk with a colleague or co-worker and communicate that way with your ex.

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4. Children’s events and special activities

These should be about the children and both parents should be included. As difficult as this may be, children want to have both parents at their events. It’s helpful to make every effort to make these experiences positive and to create good boundaries on how to make that happen for your children.

5. Avoid using children as messengers

As tempting as this may be, set a boundary that you will not tell the children to tell the other parent some piece of information. It may seem convenient, but it can be incredibly stressful for a child who may be afraid of the other parent’s reaction to the message. Use email or if it’s urgent, try texting.

6. Picking up and dropping off children may require stricter boundaries

If you and your co-parent tend to discuss issues in front of your children that are negative, it’s best to create a plan that will not set up that possibility during exchanges. There are many alternative ways to do the exchanges to create good boundaries and protect your children.

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Focus on doing your own boundary work with self-compassion and taking ownership and responsibility for your thoughts and actions. This can be extremely challenging if you are dealing with a high conflict co-parent because as you know, you can only control how you show up. Your children are watching and being a good role model for how to set boundaries will serve them well into their adult lives.

And if you are struggling with how to do this, you’re not alone. Please reach out and let’s talk about how I can help you.


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