Do you ever wonder what happens to your child when they are with their other parent and come back to you completely possessed by the devil? Today I am going to teach you how to manage a counter-parent.

My client’s 2 year old came home from a visit with dad and gave her the finger. Yes…the middle finger. She had know idea what it meant but seemed delighted to show mom what she learned from a cousin while at Dad’s place.

Welcome to the wonderful work of counter-parenting.

What is counter-parenting?

Counter-parents continually act in a way that goes against the parenting techniques and philosophy of the other parent. Counter-parents prioritize punishment and hatred for their ex over the well being of the child.

Here are some examples of counter parenting:

  • telling the child that the potty is bad when the other parent has started potty training
  • exposing the child to known allergens so they go home itchy
  • telling the child not to speak Chinese when the other grandparent speaks Chinese to the child at home
  • saying things like “Mommy won’t never lets me spend Christmas with you”
  • showing the child social media pics of you with your new partner and asking personal questions

Counter parenting is one of the most egregious forms of antagonism in a high-conflict divorce. It cleverly exploits the pain point of the healthy parent (the child’s best interests) and in my opinion is covertly abusive.

How to manage a counter-parent

Step 1: Expect the Assholery

When you are dealing with a counter-parent, the first thing to understand is that you cannot control the things that they say and do. I wish you could – but you can’t. So, step one is acceptance that your ex is a first class A$$HOLE and will engage in A$$HOLERY. Stop expecting otherwise. Your frustration and despair is optional. When your ex engages in counter-parenting please stop saying: I can’t believe s/he did that and instead say: Of course s/he did that. What else would I expect?

Step 2: Grab the gifts of evidence

When your child comes home and tells you what was said or done, write it down or photograph it. Keep a spreadsheet to factually document the shenanigans that occur during the other parent’s access time. You will use this information to arm your lawyer. My client has a beauty pic of the child giving her the finger.

You can also create a record through strategic communication with your ex. It can be a question like: Did Sofia make any poos on the potty this weekend?  Which weeks are you off work this summer? The is key is not to accuse. Just be curious and open. You may receive a lie but you also could get a pearl. This record can be helpful when the counter-parent is accusing your of alienation.

Step 3: Don’t give it oxygen

When your child indicates the counter-parenting behaviour, you actually don’t have to get upset. Remember, we expect this so no biggie. Here is the word to say when they drop a bomb: Interesting.

If the child is exhibiting a newly learned behaviour that is unacceptable in your home, assert your boundaryWe don’t give the finger in this house, and if you continue to do this you can sit in your naughty chair. 

Take your power back

Remember, a counter-parent is trying to punish you. But no one can punish you without your participation.  Disengage. Drop the tug-of-war rope. Let go of “s/he shouldn’t do this thing”.  You are wrong about that. Apparently s/he should do this thing – I know that because they do that thing . It does not have to be a problem for you.