Ways professionals can assist those who must co-parent with a sick person
It is very easy for the non-PD to be drawn into emotionally-charged emails with the PD. PD’s are master manipulators and can suck even the most exhausted person who has sworn “never again!” into the vortex.
But non-PDs must be encouraged by their therapists, friends and family to NOT engage with the PD. No matter what he or she says, accuses them of or how many knives they are sticking in their back and turning, DON’T ENGAGE!
Boundaries are difficult for most people. Whenever anyone sets a boundary with a boundary crasher, chances are the crasher “ups the ante” or rebels in passive aggressive ways. A boundary crasher, or even someone who isn’t used to respecting boundaries (or isn’t used to you having boundaries), will try to defy boundaries and see if the boundary is real or a line drawn in quickly shifting sand. Setting boundaries, especially new ones with old foes, is always challenging. With a disordered person, it’s extremely taxing. With PD’s it seems intolerable to them.
The PD wants attention and for the world to understand that he or she has been wronged and that the non-PD is a selfish, horrible monster. The PD wants the world to perceive him or her as the great parent and the unwitting victim. The PD wants a bully pulpit from which to bully and stew.
Boundaries and brief, business-communication strip the PD of this attention-getting forum. When the non-PD puts boundaries up as to time, content of emails and/or refuses to respond to non-essential emails or rants, the PD becomes extremely upset. When the non-PD stops playing, the PD explodes, internally, in rage.
Unable to contain their vexation, the PD dons the overcoat of the unfairly rebuked. They whine and whimper. Though filled with anger they know they have to play the victim part as they complain to the lawyers, the judges, the parenting coordinator, the social workers, the therapists and anyone else who will listen, that the non-PD is being uncooperative, violating the parenting plan, causing strife in the Middle East and disrupting the Earth’s ability to orbit around the sun.
When the non-PD attempts to contain the attacks by minimizing contact, the PD explodes in full-fledged victimhood. This is an important time. As stated, the PD is a master manipulator and will complain that “co-parenting” is not possible if he or she is shut down even though it isn’t possible and will never be possible with a PD. The “monster-ization” of the non-PD continues.
Even if an ex is full of anger, unless they are PD, eventually the anger and bitterness disappears and child visitation and support goes as smoothly as possible. Brief and business-like communication is the method by which healing happens and good co-parenting begins. You have to get used to saying no.
You have to understand that you can’t switch weekends to appease a child. You have to know that they take kindness for weakness. You may upset your child by saying you can’t go to “whatever” this weekend because it’s my weekend with you, but caving in will not be rewarded. If parenting coordinators and therapists don’t understand that you cannot play in the sand with the PD, that is too bad. Trust me, there are many clueless ones out there. You cannot try to prove anything to anyone. Sometimes you will feel like you are shoveling against the tide and sometimes you are, but you have to remain strong and firm and committed. You have to continually tell yourself that the PD cannot be trusted with your good will. Never. Not at all.
An unskilled parenting coordinator will side with the PD. Instead of recognizing that the non-PD must keep communication to a minimum to sidestep the eternal barrage. The issue is that many simply don’t see the manipulation and don’t know where the truth ends and the lies begin. Too many fail to set boundaries around this sort of thing. This leaves the non-PD feeling helpless and hopeless because the “person in charge” has co-signed the insanity.
There is no reason for any co-parents to be in constant communication. Schedules should not change too often. Things should not “crop up.” All visitation arrangements run smoother when there are few changes and little disruptions. Most parents should disallow changes to the schedule except for the very rare occasion. That keeps everyone sane and life runs better. Being sane and having life run smoothly is NOT an objective of a PD so they will attempt to make changes. A non-PD should resist the changes and parenting coordinators should support that decision.
There should be very few reasons for any co-parents to communicate more than once or twice a week, if that. Visitation should be on a strict schedule, finances should be spelled out clearly and any issues, doctor visits, teacher meetings, etc., should be the purview of one or the other parent. There is no reason to turn these normal occurrences into an anguished argument. There should be minimal issues where normal parenting situations are concerned. As time goes on, there should be nothing to argue about. Responsibilities should be spelled out in custody/support/visitation agreements. Everyone should fulfill the responsibilities. If they don’t, the other may need to file a contempt charge or let it go. Fighting about it isn’t healthy.
Sometimes one will just acquiesce and do what the other was tasked to do. A couple that had different insurances agreed that the one with the better medical benefits would insure the children and take them to the doctor. The other had better dental insurance and would insure the children and take them to the dentist. The parent with the medical went to the doctor and paid all co-payments like clockwork. The one with dental did not. After two arguments about it, the co-parent took the children to the dentist, paid the bills and then filed for reimbursement with the court. My suggestion as a lawyer would have been to file the contempt motion first as most judges frown on self-help. As a therapist, I would suggest asking twice, in “I” language (“I would appreciate it if you took the children to the dentist as they need their teeth checked.”) After two requests, I would suggest that the person seek the assistance of the court.
For the PD these situations are bait. They purposely skirt their responsibilities and argue over the smallest matters, convinced that, as they taught us in law school, “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” They will build up enough trifling situations that the non-PD becomes frustrated and aggravated and, against their better judgment, confronts. That is exactly what the PD is waiting for. There is, absolutely, a method to their madness.
A parenting coordinator who does not recognize the good and healthy boundaries being drawn by the non-PD actually enables the sick PD behavior. If the parenting coordinator is unskilled, the non-PD has to do an end run around the parenting coordinator and take the manifestos and entrapping situations to the judge. It’s time to end the assault and if the parenting coordinator can’t assist, the judge must.
I have witnessed non-PD parents complain about the never-ending flow of critical emails laced with invective only to be met with the hand wave of a parenting coordinator playing it down as “understandable anger.” Even when the anger is misdirected, unfounded and clearly out of place years after the ink is dried on the divorce decree, parenting coordinators, attorneys, judges and social services personnel may fail to recognize it for its abusive and corrosive nature.
PDs are not stupid. They will lace the emails with “concern” and horror at the non-PDs behavior and mockingly remind them they are beholden to a parenting plan. By echoing certain phrases, they craft the communication in a way to garner the approving nod of the parenting coordinator. The difference between a skilled and unskilled parenting coordinator becomes clear at this point. An unskilled coordinator falls for it. An unskilled parenting coordinator does not see abuse when it’s abuse and that is very dangerous. By failing to call out a PD on abusive tactics or, even worse, labeling abusive tactics “not abuse,” the parenting coordinator becomes an advocate for the PD which will only work against the non-PD parent.
Allowing the PD to continue this behavior is tantamount to saying to an abuse victim, “You know what? We don’t care.” If the PD drove to the non-PD’s house and punched the non-PD in the face, the same professionals would lock the PD up and be issuing restraining orders. Yet, they will allow these figurative punches in the face day after day in the name of “parenting cooperation.” Unless and until these verbal assaults are recognized for what they are — abuse — these PDs will continue to make a mockery of the court system, the parenting coordinator, the attorneys and the non-PD. The monkeys are running the circus.
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Copyright 2017 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
“I Teach What I Know. I Have The Degrees, but I Have The EXPERIENCE and I don’t ask anyone to do anything I have not done.”
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