Effective co-parenting requires communication and compromise on both sides.
Unfortunately, when these vital elements are missing, co-parenting can quickly dissolve into a war zone fueled by harassment tactics and bullying strategies used to manipulate, intimidate and control you.
Of course, a broken relationship can cause a lot of tension and hostility; that goes without saying, but how can you tell when this has evolved into abuse and harassment?
This article looks at typical signs of harassment a co-parent may experience.
1. Abusive or Threatening Language
Does your co-parent regularly berate you via text, email, or phone calls? Do they use demeaning language or profanities to insult, ridicule, or scare you into doing things their way?
If so, you are being harassed! Verbal abuse and the use of threatening language are never okay in any relationship, even a co-parenting one!
2. Endless Phone Calls or Messages
They consistently phone or message at inappropriate times, such as late at night or when you’re at work.
Often they disguise their reason for contact by demanding to talk about the children or simply use the opportunity to insult and aggravate you.
3. Intimidating Behavior
Invading your personal space when speaking to you, kicking objects, slamming doors, yelling, punching walls, and throwing things are all examples of intimidating behavior.
Should your co-parent exhibit these behaviors when speaking to you, it’s time to end the conversation until they have cooled off!
4. Direct Threats
Some co-parents are happy to threaten you openly. For example, they may threaten to hurt you or the kids and even themselves.
When a co-parent threatens to cause harm or put the safety of you or the kids at risk, always take their threats seriously and contact the police immediately.
5. Physical Violence
Hitting, shoving, punching, pinching, or physical contact that causes you pain constitutes physical violence.
If your co-parent physically assaults you in an effort to demean, humiliate or control you, it’s time to call the police. Physical violence is never acceptable, no matter what the circumstances!
6. Social Media Bullying
Also called cyberbullying, social media bullying is when someone, or in this case your co-parent, uses platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat to post hurtful or untrue things about you.
They may even hack your social media accounts and impersonate you to embarrass or shame you publicly by sharing your private information or spreading rumors.
7. Attempts To Humiliate You
Humiliation is one of the hardest harassment examples to explain because it can be done in so many ways!
Techniques like making judgmental statements about you or your parenting skills, directly insulting you, and putting the blame on you when things go wrong are all possibilities.
Unfortunately, some co-parents use humiliation to destroy your confidence and gain control of the co-parenting relationship.
8. Offensive Jokes
We’ve all been the proverbial butt of a joke at some time or the other; that’s life, but when your co-parent consistently makes offensive and derogatory jokes about you or anything that undermines your abilities, self-worth, and happiness, that’s harassment.
Of course, they may say it’s just friendly banter, but if you feel humiliated or intimated, just how friendly is it?
9. Constant Ridicule and/or Criticism
If your co-parent constantly makes it seem like your parenting decisions are stupid and foolish or don’t meet their high standards, they are undermining you.
This can be especially upsetting if they do this publicly or in front of the kids. However, constant ridicule and criticism are never acceptable, even in private.
Calling anyone, including your co-parent, insulting names such as fat, nerd, retard, or idiot is a direct attack on their self-worth and abilities.
Name-calling can also include using swear words or derogatory euphemisms to describe you, your religion, or your ethnicity.
11. Spreading Rumors
Some co-parents may be so bent on revenge they resort to telling your friends, family, and co-workers lies about you.
For example, they may tell your co-workers they’ve heard via the kids you are actively looking for another job. This rumor spreads, and eventually, your boss hears about it and calls you in for a meeting.
Rumors can alienate you from friends and ruin your reputation!
Stalking is much like harassment but worse! Often co-parents who stalk their ex are obsessed with them.
Stalking tactics typically include arriving at the house unannounced (repeatedly), checking your emails or phone regularly, spying, following you around, interfering with your property (gates, alarm, car), or hanging out in places you visit regularly.
13. Badmouthing You to Your Children
It’s hard enough being a co-parent without your efforts constantly being sabotaged by your ex!
Examples of badmouthing include saying negative things about you, telling lies about you, blaming you for problems, calling you names, and even telling biased stories about your past together.
Gaslighting is an extreme form of abuse that causes a person to question their memories, sanity, and perception of reality. Often co-parents who experience gaslighting feel anxious or confused.
Why? Because the gaslighter is an expert at causing their co-parent to question their memory, doubt their ability, and challenge their credibility while refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.
For example, the gaslighter may say things like:
“Are you sure you asked me to collect the kids from soccer? You often forget things.” (Making you doubt your memory)
“That’s rubbish. You saw that on TV; it’s not real.” (Destroying your credibility)
15. Intruding on Your Private Life
Everyone has the right to privacy, including the co-parent invading yours!
Examples of intrusion include listening to your phone calls, reading your text messages, going through your emails, taking photos/videos of you without your knowledge, or disclosing private information about you online or via social media.
They may even feel they have a say in whom you date or socialize with.
What To Do When Co-Parent Is Harassing You
While some co-parents can easily slip into friendship mode for the sake of their kids after a separation, many can’t or won’t as their relationship has deteriorated too far.
If this is you and your co-parent is harassing you, there are ways you can protect yourself.
1. Call The Police
Physical abuse, stalking, and violence (even threats) are valid reasons for calling in the authorities.
Acts of physical violence can lead to charges being brought against the abuser and protection put in place to prevent future incidents.
2. Don’t Retaliate
It’s difficult to keep your temper under control in the face of constant harassment, but remaining calm can mean the courts will see your situation in a favorable light.
Keep your communication respectful, especially when texting or emailing, as these can be used against you in court. Additionally, keeping the situation calm means further friction is avoided.
3. Set Boundaries
Setting communication boundaries is a good first step to regaining control.
This doesn’t mean not communicating with your co-parent but rather finding a better way of doing so, for example, via a third party such as a mediator or attorney.
If your co-parent doesn’t agree, suggest using a parent app to communicate. These apps help keep things civil and allow you to keep a record of all your communications if they are required in the future.
4. Keep a Record
Use a journal to record the dates and times you have experienced harassing behavior from your co-parent.
You should also save any documentation (emails, texts) that may prove useful should you decide to take legal action against your co-parent.
Remember, the judge will prefer specifics (date, time, place), not guesstimates!
5. Don’t Involve the Kids
As much as you would like to have your kids on your side, it’s not their place to get involved with the harassment you are experiencing at the hands of your co-parent.
After all, they have had enough to deal with, and their emotional well-being should be protected.
6. File for a Restraining Order
If you are experiencing severe harassment, a restraining order may be your only option.
Depending on the state in which you live, you can apply for a co-parent restraining order that will require your co-parent to stay away from you.
7. File for Custody
While courts are often reluctant to award sole custody to one parent, they may be convinced to modify your custody agreement if you can prove the harassment is severe and that it’s in your child’s best interests.
It’s not an easy realization to accept that your co-parent is harassing you. After all, this was once someone with whom you envisaged a long and happy future.
Unfortunately, the reality is that harassment is very real, and you are not responsible for an abusive co-parents’ behavior.
Furthermore, the likelihood of you changing their attitude is slim to none. That said, it’s best to try and keep things civil and maintain communication as much as possible via text, email, or a parent app.
Jayme is a professional writer, vegan nutritionist, and relationship & communications counselor. As an avid reader, researcher, and writer, she is constantly expanding her interests and looking into new avenues of mental health awareness and self-care. She lives with her two rescue dachshunds in Hampshire in the United Kingdom.