I hope you had a blessed Christmas even if things at home were not that great. I’ve been struck this year in new ways on how God used two women, Mary and Elizabeth, in a patriarchal culture, to speak his truth. The feminine voice is important to God, even if it hasn’t been valued in your church or home. God has come. He is with us, for us, and loves us. How are you doing with that truth? Are God’s words truer than the words of your spouse, your parent, or even your own internal words?
This week’s question comes from a response to last week’s blog question about healing and writing a new story ending.
This week’s question:
What do you do to heal when a person cannot get away from an abusive situation and person? She can’t get free because she must co-parent, and he constantly creates lies and havoc and stress through the kids. How can this person heal?
Answer: This is a common problem among the women we work with. You get frazzled and worn out trying to communicate, cooperate, and co-parent with someone who doesn’t do relationships in a healthy way. When you are married to someone who always has to be right, always has to win, and there is no compromise or mutual problem-solving, peaceful and cooperative co-parenting is impossible. He wins, you lose. He’s right, you’re wrong. Arguing only makes you look like you are disrespectful and unloving – especially when he highlights that narrative to the children, or it’s happening in front of them.
Imagine trying to heal from toxic mold when you continue living in a toxic moldy house. Or trying to heal from a car accident but you keep getting into repeated car accidents. Women who stay in abusive or toxic marriages for the sake of their children have sincere and noble motives. It’s understandable and maybe necessary for a season, but if there is ongoing abuse, you cannot heal and there is no real co-parenting. You can try, but if you live with a toxic person, you will keep getting injured over and over again.
Therefore, understand your most important first step is to get yourself safe so you can heal. The body and mind cannot heal if it’s still afraid, under great duress, or continually in fight or flight mode. Most mothers believe it’s best to stay in the marriage “for the sake of the kids”. And there are times, especially when children are very little, when that might be the best option because of concerns for a child’s safety when not with her. But let me ask a question: What kind of mothering is happening when the mother is worn down, unsafe, and keeps being maligned and lied about to her children?
You mention that this person cannot get free because she has to co-parent, and her husband constantly creates lies, havoc, and stress. The truth is, as long as they share custody of their children, they will be co-parenting whether they live together or not. Therefore, why must she continue the marriage? Wouldn’t she be a better parent if she and the children had a safe home to live in without the stress of his interactions with the children in front of her? Or is contradicting her parenting? Or undermining her in front of her and the kids?
I believe all children need at least one healthy parent. We already know that the toxic parent is not healthy. But what happens when the mother isn’t healthy either? Now both parent their children from an unhealthy place and that’s a lose-lose for the children.
Is there another reason besides her children that this mother doesn’t leave? Perhaps she’s not prepared financially. Perhaps she feels scared to live alone. Perhaps she is under some spiritual teaching that makes her feel guilty for separating. Perhaps he threatens to take full custody of the children. These are separate issues, serious for sure, but things she can begin to investigate, work on, and solve so that she is empowered to leave, heal, and parent her children from a place of love and health instead of defensive fear and reactivity.
Co-parenting even while living separately will still be a challenge and separating doesn’t necessarily mean you will do your work to get healthy. But at least the children get a break from the constant stress of hearing him malign you when they are home with you. You also get a break. As you get stronger and healthier you can put boundaries around how you communicate about the children and their parenting needs. For example, the app Our Family Wizard, has all communication go through this app, which is also able to be read by family lawyers and court if needed. Restricting communication to solely parenting issues can also cut some of the drama. Even if he texts or leaves messages, you do not need to read or respond if they aren’t regarding the children. You also now get to parent your children in your safe space and from a place of love and health. When you do your own work to get healthy, over time your children will experience the difference between your parenting style and his. Your house and his. And the words he says about who you are will lose some of their power because your children will be able to see for themselves, that is not who you are. You will also be at a different place where you can share, in a healthy age-appropriate way, why you could no longer stay married to their father.
I’d encourage anyone who feels stuck in this dilemma to make one decision this New Year and that is to do something different. Get help to solve some of your fears on why you continue to stay stuck and decide right now to write a new ending to the story of how you showed up as a mother in 2024. Our Empowered to Change six-month coaching group still has some openings and this may be just what you need to become empowered to make the changes so desperately needed. Learn more here.
Friend, if you have experienced this dilemma – either as a child watching your mom try to co-parent while staying in a toxic marriage or if you’re a mom who has gotten out, please share with this person how you co-parent differently now that you’re no longer living in that toxic marriage and… how you got yourself from stuck to freedom.
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