Most people believe that we don’t have control over who we fall in love with, weather we do or don’t isn’t for me to judge. Sometimes we find ourselves falling for someone who has children from a previous relationship. Learning how to navigate such relationships is a real challenge at times. Probably the biggest factor that causes loads of stress and complications can be the other parent of the children, be it the ex wife or ex husband, ex boyfriend or ex girlfriend, or the one night stand or fling. Some people are fortunate and the other biological parent is a logical, rational and reasonable person, and everyone gets along and puts the best interest of the children at the forefront. Sometimes the other parent is a nightmare, for any number of reasons they are high conflict, jealous, vindictive, manipulative, borderline personality disordered, mentally disordered, abusive, spiteful, and/or any other form or disordered that doesn’t allow for any logic or rational to be applied.
Today I will share with you some tried and true tips that can help you survive the step parenting role when dealing with a high conflict parent.
First and foremost, give up any idea of the high conflict person being capable of normal. It’s just not going to happen. And if it does, it will be temporary and only to serve their own agenda. It’s best for you to not attempt to communicate with the other parent. All communication should be through the birth parents of the children only.
Second, all communication should be conducted through documentable means, there should be no direct contact. What are documentable means? Email, Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, Google Voice, or by text and backed up and saved. Documenting communication helps keep confusion minimal, and prevents “he said, she said” issues, because proof can be presented.
Third, communication should be conducted as though conducting a business transaction, always with consideration as to what a judge would say or think of what is being said, because you never know, they may read it some day. Also, communication should be kept minimal and only be about the children.
Fourth, documentation reaches so much farther than communication. Documentation is how facts are kept straight, observations are recorded, and important information doesn’t get forgotten. Documentation becomes an excellent tool should court become necessary. Documenting the facts and not opinions on a routine basis is something that a court will look at as evidence.
Fifth, get on the same page with your partner and back each other up. At first disciplining the children should be deferred to the birth parent. If the child is in your care, you need to know what you and your partner have agreed to as acceptable punishment you can give. In our house, I give time outs and/or take a privileges and allow for my husband (the birth parent) to hand out discipline as he sees fit.
Sixth, too often in high conflict situations there can be involvement from courts, child protective services, and police. It’s best to learn and know how to reference laws in your state. Once you know what the law says about all the topics you will feel much better and can make informed decisions. Here is a great legal resource website that has divorce laws listed for the United States, you can also look up laws about other issues here at Legal Information Institute . This is another site you can use to research about laws called Justia. HG.org has some good information about family law and parental rights and obligations and is another legal resource. Another good resource is this UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION AND ENFORCEMENT ACT (1997) it covers jurisdiction questions when more than one state is involved. While I am speaking about the law, I feel it important to make sure that it is known that even if/when you marry the parent you are in a relationship with, you have zero legal right or obligations to the children.
Also from a legal standpoint if there is no court order spelling out parenting time, it’s best to encourage the birth parent to obtain one. Often time one can be drawn up in mediation and as long as both parties agree, it can be signed by a judge with out much hassle. Having a legal agreement helps in high conflict situations more than anything else.
Finally, seventh, remember to take care of yourself. Don’t agree to doing any more than you want to do. Remember that you have permission to disengage as needed. Use the support groups and gather information and helpful cooping tools. Consider counseling for yourself or the family, counselors can be a great help in blending families and giving cooping skills.
Please remember that communication is key and so very important in all relationship. And also, this step parent/ blended family stuff is often challenging. All relationships take work, blended families with a high conflict other parent takes a lot of work. Do what you have to do to keep you and your partner on track.