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  • Sam Tetzlaff, MS, Counseling Intern

Navigating Co-Parenting with a "Difficult" Ex - Part 2: Taking Care of Yourself

Part 1 of this blog series looked at setting boundaries with a difficult ex. It became obvious that this is far from easy at times and inevitably brings up the topic of: taking care of yourself.

This might seem simple enough but what does it really entail and why is it so important?

Here are four main points that have come up in my own personal life AND I encourage you to figure out what feels most relevant for you:

1. Focus on What’s in YOUR Control

You can control only you.

You can control how you parent. Give your children as much consistency and stability as you can when they’re with you. Have fun and laugh when you have time with your children.

You can’t control how your ex decides to parent. It’s easy to worry about how your ex is managing such and such with your child, but ultimately all you can do is have a clear agreement (often mediated by the courts) and address concerns in a neutral fashion, with a mediator if necessary.

Save yourself some precious energy by directing it toward things you actually have control over. And as problematic as your ex might be behaving, you can’t control it. But, you can control how you respond (i.e. boundaries—see Part 1 of this series) and you can control the battles you pick.

2. Practice Regular Self-Care

Developing a self-care routine that works for you is going to be crucial! It’s important for all of us AND it’s especially relevant if you’re dealing with a difficult ex, all while trying to parent and live your own life! One perk of not having your children all the time is that you get a break! Use at least some of this time to practice self-care.

So, what does self-care mean for you? [Click here to read about starting a self-care routine.]

Well, it depends, but basically it needs to be something that makes you feel good and leaves you feeling recharged and/or more balanced.

Now, cultivating a self-care routine can be easier for some of us than others. [Read this post if you find yourself hesitating to prioritize yourself].

Keep in mind that it's a lot harder to take care of your children when you're not taking care of yourself! **Flashback to when you were getting 2 hours of sleep at night with your newborn and somehow had to be patient and attentive to others…remember that? Yeah, not easy.**

If you think about it, taking care of yourself IS taking care of others.

We're much happier and present with the people in our lives, namely our children's lives, when we practice self-care.

And, of course, I think you'll also find that it's much easier to maintain boundaries and remain calm while dealing with your ex if you feel balanced to begin with.

Find what works for you, and repeat.

3. Tend to Your Mental Health

This goes hand-in-hand with self-care, but I think it deserves to be a main point of its own. Attending to your mental health while co-parenting with a difficult ex is oh-so-important. The good news is you’re no longer in a relationship with that ex and that takes a lot of strength in itself! You’re already doing a lot by reading up on how to co-parent, too.

What else is relevant when it comes to your mental health? Well, only you can decide. However, some especially common challenges that divorced/separated parents face are:

  • Unresolved grief. You may feel that you are past this stage (and this may be true), but know that grief is often disguised by anger and/or can look like depression. It may be easy to label your ex as “the crazy one” (and this may also be true), but that doesn’t resolve the fact that, at one point, you had hoped for a different relationship with them than the one you have now. At some point you presumably had feelings of love for your ex and decided to have children with them. You had an idea of what your future together could be. As the relationship deteriorated, there was likely profound disappointment and sadness. This needs to be felt and processed with people you can trust and/or a professional. If not, it’s going to make co-parenting that much more difficult.

  • Guilt. You may internalize feelings that you’ve “failed” at marriage or a relationship. Or if your relationship with your ex was abusive, you may be particularly prone to feeling guilty for leaving them. Furthermore, if left unprocessed, you are more likely to harbor these feelings of guilt when it comes to your children: You may feel guilty that you’re not able to be with them all the time or that they have your ex as a parent. Understand that parental guilt can lead to overindulgence—giving your children everything they ask for without limits won’t help them in the long-run: Research shows that this style of parenting can lead children to become self-centered, lack empathy, and feel entitled to getting what they want from others.

  • Co-parenting. (Ha). It's super common for people to see a counselor for co-parenting purposes alone (or a mediator). Use the resources you have available to you.

​While grief, guilt, or anxiety and depression are common and understandable responses to dealing with a difficult ex (and co-parenting), these feelings can’t go unnoticed.

You didn't ask to be feeling these emotions AND you're the only one that can address them.

Find the healthy outlets that you need to take care of yourself to, at the very least, take care of your children. It's important to note that: Anxious parents tend to raise anxious kids. (You get the idea).

4. Cultivate Supportive & Healthy Relationships

Lean on your friends and family that do give you support. Sometimes we get so focused on our difficult relationships that we forget to nurture the ones that are great!

Make sure you're spending time with people that make you feel good about you and give you the space to vent when you need to.

This might be solely a counselor at first and that's okay! The main thing is that the relationships you cultivate are healthy (as opposed to the one you likely had with your ex).

In terms of starting a new romantic relationship, there’s a reason this one is last on the list—give yourself time to heal and adjust to co-parenting before beginning a new romantic relationship. Particularly if your ex was abusive. I know for me, personally, I had to examine why I tolerated my ex's abusive behavior/accepted it as normal. I sought out counseling and then consciously considered what I wanted to be different in a future relationship.

Essentially, what I'm saying is: it takes two to tango. We all play a role in our relationships and it's important to know what your role has been when attempting to cultivate different, healthy relationships going forward. Of course you want to choose someone that will not only better your life, but also that of your children.



P.S. For more guidance on co-parenting, check out to download their app, and/or check out their blog, which focuses exclusively on co-parenting.


If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Sam, you can reach her via email:

or call our intake line: 608-709-6972

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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]

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