The best books for co-parenting with a toxic ex after divorce
Divorce sucks. Sometimes parenting sucks. Parenting after divorce really sucks. It’s hard enough anyway, having to deal with differences of opinion that have already reached a cataclysmic event don’t make it any easier. Co-parenting with a toxic ex becomes nearly impossible and can lead us to despair.
Thankfully, there are a lot of books out there. Written anywhere from decades ago to last week, they all cover different aspects of life and several deal in particular with co-parenting with a difficult ex after divorce.
If you’re concerned about the impact of the divorce on your children, whether parental alienation is a risk or just looking to make sure you deal with things in the best way you can for the benefit of your children, you’re in the right place.
Personally, I’m concerned about all of the above. I’ve seen a period of a few months where my relationship with my daughter was strained and I felt that her other parent was either doing as much as possible to break it, or at best as little as possible to support it.
I made myself a promise to make my time with my daughter as entertaining, engaging and educational as possible – without becoming a “Disney Dad” – and to find a way to effectively co-parent with my difficult ex.
Starting at the library, I borrowed and read books on parenting, co-parenting and divorce. I’d never read one up until this point, as I had a bit of a preconceived notion that they’d be 80% breastfeeding – which is something I can’t do – or how toxic ex husbands should be punished and how to do it.
I realised, however, that the information would be useful in defending myself in court if things got that far (it looks like they will), and that some professional insight into the psychology of children would allow me to be the kind of dad I wanted to be too.
Honestly, I find that there is a lot of bias in them, particularly against men, but so long as you can look past that there are some useful nuggets and practical tips to be found. Be aware though that you may find some humbling examples of how you too are inflicting damage on your children, and their relationships with both you and the co-parent.
Here are my recommendations for the best books on co-parenting with a difficult – or toxic – ex after divorce:
This book by Karen & Nick Woodall is full of useful advice and case studies that include, thankfully for the dedicated but separated parents out there, examples of parents who’ve realised that revenge and conflict are not in the best interests of their children. There is also a heartbreaking example of a parent who lived on beans on toast during the week so they had enough money to feed their kids properly when they were in their care.
The chapters cover the emotional journeys of each parent after separation, your relationship with each other, the children, what family means to them and their changing needs, and dynamics of the new families amongst other things.
There are some practical exercises as well as do’s and don’t do’s throughout the book. My only disagreement with this book is their stance on 50/50 shared parenting. Humans tend to align themselves with rules or perceived norms – even when breaking them. When people speed they drive at 80, not 70 or 90.
While 50/50 won’t work for everyone, I believe that if this was the norm – the starting point – the masses would find their own balance at say 60/40 or 70/30. Even this would be a significant improvement for the children who are currently restricted to only seeing their dad every other weekend, possibly for only a few hours, by perceived social norms & our prehistoric family legal system.
Prevention is better than a cure – so even if you don’t think this applies in your case (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t), this book is definitely worth a read.
The book contains a number of exercises and some sound advice. The main focus is really on parenting, rather than dealing with the ex – the point being that instead of entering into conflict with the ex, focus on the children.
It also delves into the reasons the ex, and the kids, may be acting in the way they do and how to develop strong bonds, independence and critical thinking skills in order to prevent unwarranted rejection of a loving parent or grandparent.
It is worth reading to make sure you keep your own emotions and actions in check too, so you aren’t the one inflicting unintended but severely damaging emotional trauma on your child and their relationship with their other capable and loving parent.
Written by Dr Richard A Warshak, this book contains some great, detailed strategies and guides you to creating an action plan to address, reverse and restore affected relationships with your children.
What is and what is not alienation? This is covered in detail as an area commonly misunderstood and inappropriately reacted to. Importantly, it also offers some challenging guidance on self-reflection to check your own motives as well as considered approaches to tackling those of others.
This book will help you to recognise and respond positively to your child’s behaviours, knowing that they are not truly their own, and avoid validating the seeds of fear that may have been planted by others.
A comprehensive book and practical guide that starts with a reminder that “it won’t be easy” and glides seamlessly through topics such as change, loss and legalities, do’s and dont’s as well as common problems.
The four sections of the book address in detail and answer the many questions parents consider through this period of significant and often guilt-ridden change. Importantly, the link between stress and parenting is addressed early on – making clear that our own responses can have a profound, lasting and detrimental impact not only on our children but ourselves as well.
Practical examples abound that any parent can relate to and the effect of different approaches is compared for children of varying ages. The focus is on what is going to benefit the children rather than the “rights” of each parent.
This book has been produced from the most common questions asked of the OnlyMums & OnlyDads Family Law panel.
While it isn’t so much focussed on parenting, it does tackle the practical aspects and questions most parents are likely to have during divorce.
Each question is answered by one of the solicitors or mediators on their hand picked panel, so the book is packed full of useful, relevant advice and at a fraction of the cost of asking a solicitor directly.
Importantly it does include insights and tips on handling the psychological impact of separation on both children and parents, as well as directing readers to sources of further help.
While not new, this is a great book with sound advice that hasn’t really changed over the years.
It focusses on child first ideas instead of parents’ rights, and discusses the huge effect that verbiage can have on interpretation, reaction and outcome when dealing with your ex. These can serve as a good reminder that perhaps they’re not being difficult – and that it is as much your responsibility to communicate clearly as it is theirs to understand.
Philosophical and practical tips throughout help separated parents and their children to separate and live in two homes – comfortably and successfully.
Due to the age of the book there is some bias against men, but if you can look beyond this there is definitely useful content that can be applied equally.
This second edition written by a psychologist and child custody expert uses simple and direct, non-judgemental language and centres on coaching parents to put their child, and their needs, first.
It is a good starting point for divorcing parents, touching on all areas in enough detail to get an understanding of what to expect, what happens when things go wrong, what emotions to anticipate and how to address them.
It isn’t a book to “win” custody battles – none of these are, but it does contain plenty of advice and practical tips, including schedules to make everyone’s live easier.
The author also includes thoughts on collaborative divorce, fathers’ rights and electronic devices – topics that many disagree over.
I’ll be adding more books as I read them – please let me know your recommendations in the comments too. I hope we can each find a balance that allows us to raise happy and successful children, despite the difficulties of co-parenting with a toxic ex.