"Just know that your son loves you and you will receive justice in your case against your ex," were the kind words muttered by a curious stranger in the jewelry shop that day. She immediately caught my attention, as my thoughts shifted to the court hearing scheduled the following week. I would never have sought a psychic, but I was oddly comforted during the few moments I allowed her to share a more hopeful vision of my future.
I prayed for justice during the ongoing custody and visitation battle that began six months after my son was born. The journey had been long and arduous, and with each year, I had gained new scars. But, it also became easier to let the love I carried for my child influence the way I communicated with his father and how I responded to new attacks.
A new mother once again, I was happily involved in what would become the healthiest romantic relationship of my life. Though it was tempting, I knew ignoring the problems with my ex would not make them go away. Experience had taught me that I could not change him, but I could alter the way I reacted to his negative behavior and develop the skills I needed to parent amid conflict.
The following steps can help you survive joint custody with a combative ex:
1. Let go of unrealistic expectations.
Accept that you may never be able to please or understand your ex. In fact, that probably led to the demise of your relationship. The sooner you let go of the dream of a positive co-parenting experience, the sooner you will learn how to function in reality. You must develop coping skills in order to successfully navigate parenting in a high-stress, high-conflict custody arrangement.
2. Maintain your privacy.
Resist the natural urge to participate in casual conversation and limit your discussions to topics pertaining to your child. Your ex is not your friend and may actively be collecting information to harm you. Good parents have found themselves in court addressing information revealed during intimate conversations, with a manipulative ex trying to get the upper hand in visitation/custody matters.
3. Disengage from the drama.
Take the high road and practice emotional intelligence. Parents that put the best interests of their child first are less likely to instigate or entertain petty drama. Stay positive, remain focused on your child, and work on your own personal development. In time, you will be so self-confident that there is little your ex could do to bully you into a negative reaction.
4. Know your legal rights and don't be afraid to enforce them.
Familiarizing yourself with state law will empower you and help prevent additional hardship. If your ex is harassing you or interfering with your parental rights, there is legal recourse. Document what is happening, consult with a local attorney and contact the local authorities for direction. Carry a copy of your custody order and visitation schedule at all times to eliminate confusion if you have to involve authorities during exchanges. Move forward with any legal action that enforces your parental rights.
5. Never give up.
You may live through years of aggravation while sharing custody with an ex who does not share your values and fails to put your child first. Breathe. Keep going. It will get better. As your child gets older, they will know you fought your hardest to protect them and raise them the best you could. They will one day understand your struggle. Trust that there is nothing that your ex could do to permanently damage the bond you share with your child.