Co-Parenting with Your Abuser During a Pandemic

By Jessica M. Corvo

Globally, we are experiencing a historical event. Personally, I feel society is going through a collective awakening. Everything is being amplified. The good is great. The bad is worse. The ugly is unbearable. Some days I am thanking the clouds and other days I ask myself, ‘how is this my reality?’ Pandemics are scary, overwhelming and an opportunity for abusers to create problems. 

Co-parenting with an abuser is difficult. Co-parenting with an abuser during a pandemic is a delicate space to navigate. The goal of this article is to empower you with co-parenting common risks, themes, and best practices. Everyone is doing the best they can. Hopefully, after reading this article, you feel empowered to navigate this pandemic with grace (and confidence). Knowledge is power! 

*This article is under the assumption co-parenting is happening from different households. The advice might be slightly different if you are co-parenting under the same roof.

Emotional Hijacking

The abusive parent might use the pandemic news to create additional fear. Fear creates stress. Long term effects of stress can cause health problems. Understanding this process is powerful. Empowering yourself with useful news on your health, your children’s health and best practices are encouraged. We suggest putting limits on your media consumption and ignoring any news the abusive parent tries to share. If possible, try to monitor your emotions before engaging with the abusive parent. Abusers know it’s easier to control victims when they are emotional. For updated health news, we recommend the United Nations.

Abusive parents will try to extend visitation and claim the child needs to rest or is not feeling well. Abusive parents might challenge your care and insist the child is in better hands with them. Remind yourself you are a good parent. Also, remind yourself the visitation is fixed and should be followed to maintain a sense of normalcy for your child. Accepting that it is difficult to be reasonable with unreasonable people, please know visitation is an area to tug on your heartstrings. Again, abusers will try to create a sense of “Am I a good parent?” (Just in case you need a reminder: YES! YOU ARE AN AWESOME PARENT!) 

Gaslighting

A dear friend and I were talking about challenging my intuition. She stopped me mid-sentence to say, “Jess, stop gaslighting yourself.” I know my reality. I was emotional and I started justifying behaviors. I was reframing an incident and assuming a positive intention. My friend caught me rewriting my reality in real-time. Be aware, this is normal and part of the [continued] healing process. Everyone is triggered by something. When triggered, it’s normal to reframe a situation. It’s normal to justify behavior. It might not be healthy, but it is normal. We encourage you to recognize your triggers. Be aware when others are gaslighting you. More importantly, be aware when you might be gaslighting yourself.  

Victims of domestic violence protect their sense of reality by talking with trusted friends about their experiences with abusers. A trusted friend is useful to help clarify what is healthy versus unhealthy. During the pandemic, we are experiencing many situations that are stranger than fiction. Constantly changing norms is an opportunity for abusers to create confusion. Pandemic confusion plus abuser confusion can be extremely problematic, mentally, and emotionally. 

A moment of uncertainty might encourage victims to confide in the abusive parent. This is understandable. It is also mentally and emotionally dangerous. Sharing concerns or details of your life to an abuser can create an opportunity for games. Try talking to a trusted friend to validate your reality. If you do not have a trusted friend, we suggest keeping a journal. Take simple notes to track changes. For example, I’m very particular about my schedule. For years, I shared a digital calendar with an abuser. Many times, I felt I was losing my mind because appointments were different in my mind than what they appeared in my digital calendar. My abuser was playing with my schedule. I solved this problem when I started keeping a paper calendar. In addition to maintaining my paper calendar, I added motivational quotes and would sometimes document what I ate. When I’m stressed, I can go hours without eating. Writing things down helps. Shifting to a paper calendar helped me maintain my reality. Try it!

Boundaries

During the pandemic, I’ve been susceptible to being pulled out of my peace. Realizing this, I’ve been more firm on my boundaries. This pandemic has offered survivors a beautiful opportunity to channel our Jane Fonda. “NO” is a complete sentence. If the abusive parent is acting up, you do not have to entertain it. Feel confident in simply saying “NO.” For me, this has been difficult as I tend to offer explanations with my “NO.”

If the abusive parent is texting, address the message when you are ready. Their emergency is not your emergency. If the abusive parent is calling, utilize voicemail. If the abusive parent likes to test boundaries in person, prepare yourself before meeting them. The pandemic is challenging for a lot of people. When abusers lose control of their world, they will make attempts to control people (you). Be prepared and intentional. Practice ways to disengage quickly.  

Self-Care

Co-parenting is stressful under normal circumstances. Changing your lifestyle, working from home, being (mostly) indoors is not normal. Your priorities might not include self-care. Saying “NO” to others is sometimes the same thing as saying “YES” to yourself. Maintaining healthy boundaries is a form of self-care. In addition to maintaining healthy boundaries, we hope you can spend time honoring yourself. Especially now. This is hard. Pandemic life is super hard. You are not alone. Time Magazine stated, “abusers have tried to leverage the pandemic to further isolate their victims from people and resources that could help them.” Please remember you are worthy. You are doing the best you can. You are a strong parent who needs to be healthy so you can look after your children. Abusive parents might not want to see you looking after your own health. Abusive parents might try to make you feel shame or guilt for looking after yourself. Self-care is not only necessary, it’s essential. 

When in doubt, say YES to something for you. Indulge in the sweet snack. Take the 30-min online fitness class. Get dressed up just because it’s Tuesday (or whatever day you happen to read this article). Have a conversation with a plant in the garden. Do something, anything, which makes you feel confident and at peace. 

Parental Alienation

This is a difficult but important topic to acknowledge. According to Psychology Today, parental alienation “occurs when one parent attempts to turn the couple’s children against the other parent.” This is another way an abusive parent will try to inflict pain. If you notice a shift in how you are able to connect with your child, be aware of parental alienation. Signs include emotional outbursts, aligning with the other parent, thinking one parent is good and the other is bad. 

Co-parenting is not easy. We give you all the credit in the world. You are doing awesome and we are cheering for you. Just remember you are loved. Take everything one day at a time.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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