Co-Parenting With An Abuser

December 6, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

All of us survivors know that our ex will at least verbally and emotionally abuse our children. We survivors also know how hard that type of abuse is to prove, and even proving it doesn't mean your ex will have less time with our children. Proving non-sexual or non-physical abuse typically results in therapy if it results in anything at all. Therapy doesn't work unless the abuser wants to change. They don't want to change which is the reason you left them in the first place.

If you are in this position, then you have to fight back through education and love. That is easier said than done, but it is very important to "do it" more often than you don't.

  • Educate your kids about bullies, sexual predators, and dating violence.
  • Empathize with them when their other parent hurts them, remind them how great they are, and have faith that your children are smart cookies who will continue to talk to you about their problems.
  • Introduce your children to therapy, keep your eyes open for signs and symptoms of abuse, and report any allegations or proof of sexual or physical violence as soon as you see it.
  • Create a new safety plan with your children. Make sure they know what they can do if they feel afraid while at your ex's house. You may have to be very careful about this because focusing on "what to do if you're at mom's house and she starts hitting you" could have negative effects. Instead, create a safety plan for your home, the babysitter's, grandma's, their friend's and your ex's. Make it a general "what to do if I am scared" plan without singling anyone out, then practice it with them.

Yes, it feels horrible to know that your kids cannot escape the emotional manipulation and pain like you did through separation or divorce. It is very difficult to cope with your kids' visits to your ex when you truly believe it is but a matter of time before your children are injured on the outside too. It is a helpless feeling to watch them go off to your ex's home, knowing "something bad" is waiting for them there. However, you cannot allow yourself to remain attached to your abuser through the children. So long as you feel like a victim (out of powerlessness to help your kids like you want to) you will remain a victim.

Remind yourself that now you are free of your ex's daily abuse, much stronger and smarter, and therefore in a better position to support your children in helpful ways. When you lived with abuse, you did not have the freedom to combat it that you do today. Remember to be grateful that you set an example for your children and try to stop beating yourself up every time they visit their other parent. Your kids visit your abuser because the court says they have to do so, not because you want it that way.

Forgive yourself for being unable to protect them 100% from their abusive parent. You can't protect them all of the time anyway. Children must learn hard lessons about all kinds of things on their own. They will be grateful that you were there for them, their safe place, if the other parent abuses them. They'll see the difference in the two of you in time. Let that awareness be as natural for them as possible (meaning don't habitually point out the other parent's flaws even if they talk badly about you).

Protect Yourself

You are no good to your children if you allow yourself to be abused by your ex.

  • If you stay on the phone while your ex admonishes you for your poor parenting skills so you can eventually talk to them about the kids, you're allowing the abuse to continue. Hang up the phone at the first insult and send an email instead. Write only about the children.
  • Don't allow your ex to enter your house without knocking and respect their home in the same way.
  • Keep your personal boundaries strong. Let your children see that your ex can't get to you (at least not for long). They need to see you as separate from your ex; they need to know they have two homes, two parents, two different families to love. (They do love their other parent, always will - let them, and be there without "I told you so" if your ex lets them down.)

Your way of parenting will not affect your ex's ideas about parenting. Don't let their way of parenting affect yours. The idea is to work with your ex when it is reasonable to do so, but remember that you have separate homes and separate lives. You get to set the rules at your house.

  • Don't let them talk you into spanking when you prefer time-outs, not even "for consistency between households".
  • If your ex grounds your daughter from her cell phone (for good reasons) but you feel more comfortable if she has it on her at school, then take it from her as soon as she gets home.
  • Drop any expectation that your ex will enforce a punishment you set for your child while the child visits them.

Realize that your children will play you against your ex sometimes. Your kids are smart; they know both of their parent's well. Our kids do not label us "bad" and "good" people. We're "mom" and "dad". If you think you're being played and that your child is doing something dangerous, email your ex to tell them about it.

  • You may get no response or your ex could degrade you for your thoughts, but keep in mind that, most likely, your ex wants your children alive and well too (If they don't, you probably have proof of that and already took it to the authorities).
  • If you receive a nasty reply, read it (I know you will), then archive it. I add my ex's emails to a folder labeled "Jerk" - it feels really good to hit the button sending it to that folder! I save them just in case I need proof of something in the future. I don't reread them, and I don't give them a second thought. I did what I needed to do when I informed him about our child.

Remember that you cannot see the future. Your gut instincts and intuition do not determine destiny. Your fears may never come true. Trust that if they do, you will have the presence of mind to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

Do the best you can today. Take a deep breath, hug and kiss your kids, and talk to them. Parent the best way you know how, keep educating yourself so you can teach your kids how to live free of abuse, and keep your ex abuser's voice out of your decisions.

Keep your focus on your relationship with your child. How your ex fixes or screws up their relationship with your child is beyond your control.

You can do this. It isn't easy, but you can do it.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

Tags: co-parenting

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, December 6). Co-Parenting With An Abuser, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 25 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
December, 8 2012 at 2:02 pm

Um, yes, my ex is male. But who is to say my ex couldn't be a female? What if my girlfriend and I adopted children together, but I had to leave her because of her abuse? Read through the article again. Do you see any assumption that all abusers are male? How do you know who is equally vicious? You don't know what goes on behind closed doors any more than I do. I didn't make any assumption about "who" is vicious. I only spoke about an abusive ex. I can't help it if my ex is a man. I cannot rewrite my history to be PC.
Also, this blog is about verbal abuse in relationships. That is its title. I assume my readers know that I am not speaking of "normal" relationships with "normal" divorces. If there was no abuse in the relationship, there will unlikely be abuse after it. If the children were not abused during the relationship, it is unlikely they will be abused after it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 20 2018 at 3:27 pm

Thanks so much for this article you wrote.
I am a domestic violence survivor literally-was both physically and verbally abused during my relationship with my son’s father- and he still controls my life with his manipulative ways. The court system is a joke. My son’s about to be 8 years old and I’ve been living a nightmare for the past 8 years because his dad is so verbally abusive and no one listens to me - they think I am being bitter and a jealous freak according to him.
This article helped me realize I’m not alone and I get to have another woman’s point of how to deal with it and be the better person (Mom) to my child as long as I teach him right.

July, 16 2018 at 6:55 pm

You are not alone. I'm in a similar situation.
This article hit a lot of great points and it gave me some points on how to become a stronger person/mom for my child. Plus we can pray to God to hear our prayers.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 23 2018 at 3:26 pm

Who is to say the abuser is male and not female? Facts. Look them up. Men are almost always the abusers, and here abuse does not mean bad behavior, it means a pattern of needing to exert power and control over your wife and probably children to the point t where you hurt them. Men have this sense of entitlement in our patriarchal society. They are bigger and stronger. And yes, the abuser is more thsnn92% likely to be male. Get a grip. The second wave of feminism did nothing for us but steal our babies.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Sin D
January, 15 2019 at 8:39 pm

Emma... You obviously didn't read the last words she said... She said "You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized."

December, 7 2012 at 7:59 am

Thank you so much for posting this. Generally, I do everything I can to never contact my ex husband unless it is in regards to the children but I have a hard time hanging up the phone when he puts me on the defensive and insults, insinuates and tries to intimidate me. Although I have a hard time with protecting myself, I have no problem with protecting my children but your blog is really helping me to see that I'm not alone in these matters, that I'm not crazy and that, even though my children are young, I need to be doing everything I can to protect their minds and continue to foster good relationships with them so that they have a safe place to go to if/when something bad happens. We are pretty close but educating myself more will allow me to be better for them in the future. Thank you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 16 2018 at 11:54 pm

I communicate with my x via a free website "" . Once someone posts a message they can not take it back. It logs the day and time it was sent and it also logs the day and time the message was viewed. It was a fantastic resource during our divorce. It trains people to think before they press send.

September, 12 2018 at 3:43 am

I love talking parents! It has helped me and I gained sole physical custody!

October, 18 2018 at 10:34 am

Thank you for sharing this resource. I hadn't heard of it and believe it will be safer and beneficial to both myself and my daughter's father going forward.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 16 2018 at 11:54 pm

I communicate with my x via a free website "" . Once someone posts a message they can not take it back. It logs the day and time it was sent and it also logs the day and time the message was viewed. It was a fantastic resource during our divorce. It trains people to think before they press send.

Allison Holt
December, 7 2012 at 5:38 am

Protecting yourself means protecting your children. When they see this happening, children assume its normal and loose respect. Respect is a viscous circle.

December, 6 2012 at 8:18 pm

Thank you for this.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 14 2018 at 7:41 pm

I don’t but...
I b hearing everything from moms, from my mom, my step mom, and on tv
But it’s always about “you know your dad loves you he’s just trying to protect you, he doesn’t want anything bad to happen.” But if they really (which I know mine does he just has a temper) if they really do then we are they yelling at us, hurting us mentally, and breaking us down, I feel like I’m gonna cry every time he raises his voice. What’s with male figures in the home yelling and emotional abusing others and it could even b the mom yelling but why they be doing that? I have such a low self a steem because of this??

M Wilson
February, 13 2019 at 6:59 am

He is causing bad things to happen though...but causing emotional stress. That is Not loving or protecting you. I know this is a huge energy drain and no one should have to live with that treatment. Please know and completely believe that you are Not the one who should be held in low esteem. Praying you will be living free from this soon. God Bless!

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