Hi friends & welcome back to the blog! Today I want to open my heart and soul a little and share with you my 6 tips on co-parenting with a birth mother who has mental disorders.
If you are new to my blog & are a stepmom, please head over to The Stubborn Stepmom section where you can find lots of resources and help and advice for stepmoms.
Co-parenting is not easy. Period. In fact, it’s one of the hardest parts about being a stepmom, in my opinion. When you add to the fact that the birth mother with whom you are trying to co-parent has mental disorders, it makes things nearly impossible (or at least, seemingly so).
However, through my nearly 5 years of being a stepmom and co-parenting with a birth mother like this, I have learned a few tips that really do help, and I want to share these with you.
How to Co-Parent with a Birth Mother Who Has Mental Disorders
Before we get started, I want to disclose something: throughout this post, I am by no means implying that I think it’s “ridiculous” that some people have mental disorders – or that “they can help it.”
As frustrating as it can be dealing with someone who has a mental disorder (whether it is a birth mother, a spouse, or another family member or friend), I completely and fully understand that they by no means can help their mental state.
Yes, there are plenty of resources out there and sometimes even medication that can ease the effects of said mental issues, but I understand that this is simply how this person’s genetic makeup is (or some type of occurrence in their life or environmental factors could be to blame) and that is just that.
I don’t ever want anyone to think I am being insensitive to people who have mental disorders. I never will be. I have friends and family members with severe mental disorders and I totally get it.
Background on Husband’s Ex-Wife
While I definitely do not want to share too much personal information about my husband’s ex – I will simply say that she is undiagnosed bipolar and narcissistic.
Things with her have never been easy – ever. Nothing is ever as simple as it should be. Not pick ups, not drop offs, not school supplies, not soccer games – nothing. It is always difficult.
While I have only been in the picture for 6 years, according to my husband, it has always been this way with her – since he can first remember.
Since I have come into the picture, often times the “outbursts” are directed towards me (whether or not I have had anything to do with them.) She often times thinks that I am the whole reason why everything is “wrong” – or she thinks my husband is the reason why everything in her life is so “screwed up.” I wish I could give specific examples, but let me just say: we are not the reasons for anything like that in her life – she is.
Anyway, I digress. The whole point of me saying this is to say that, throughout her adult life in which my husband has known her, she has always had mental issues – and these mental issues have made it extremely hard to navigate around while trying to peacefully and successfully co-parent.
Bipolar & Narcissistic Personality Disorders
Although my husband’s ex is not formally diagnosed (she will not see a therapist or psychiatrist in order to be), she has all of the DSM-5 criteria needed to be diagnosed with both Bipolar I Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
For those of you unfamiliar with Bipolar I Disorder, head here to read about some of the signs and symptoms of it. If unfamiliar with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, head here to read the same type of information on it.
Bipolar 1 Disorder
The BLUF (bottom line upfront, a Navy term) on Bipolar 1 Disorder is that Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. (source)
Bipolar 1 Disorder is defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible. (source)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The BLUF on Narcissistic Personality Disorder is that the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also have grandiose fantasies and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. (source)
What This Means For Co-Parenting
In a nutshell, what this means for co-parenting is…it is hard as hell. Period.
6 Tips on Co-Parenting with a Birth Mother Who Has Mental Disorders
So, now we are at the point of this post that will probably be most useful to you – the part where I share some tips I have learned regarding co-parenting with a birth mother who has mental disorders.
These are tips that I have learned through trial and error over the course of 6 years (one year of dating and nearly 5 years of marriage).
1. Parallel Parent With Your Spouse
Parallel Parenting with your spouse is one of the best things you can do when dealing with a birth mother who has mental disorders.
Things are going to get out of control sometimes – heck, a lot of times they will – but because they do, you want to stick to the course your spouse, the parent of your stepchildren.
It is not easy to do this – especially if you are outspoken or somewhat of a control-freak (like I can be), but it is necessary that you do this.
You have to remember: your spouse is the parent of your stepchildren, not you – and they have the ultimate and final say in things. Sticking to their determined path is helpful when dealing with a birth mother who has mental disorders.
And remember – they probably know her better than you do, so there is typically a reason why they are choosing the path they are choosing.
2. Make Arrangements & Stick To Them
This is something I am a stickler for – making arrangements and sticking to them.
This is a tough one, though, especially when dealing with a high-conflict birth mother or a birth mother with mental disorders.
But you have to do this. Make plans – in advance, and when she is in her best mood possible, and stick to them. Try not to falter. Try not to let her falter if you can help it.
Try sticking to a co-parenting calendar – for some, this works.
If a calendar doesn’t work, try putting the ball in her court and asking her to decide between one of two things (this will make her feel as if she is in control and will help). We do this sometimes and it works.
There isn’t a perfect solution to making arrangements and sticking to them – but you have to know that this is an ultimate goal & that this is something you should be striving for every day in your co-parenting journey.
It will help keep things as normal as possible.
3. Set Communication Boundaries
This is probably my number one suggestion for anyone dealing with co-parenting with a birth mother who has mental disorders.
Setting communication boundaries is vital to peaceful and successful co-parenting, regardless of the mental state of the birth mother.
In order to set communication boundaries, determine how it is best to communicate with the birth mother; for some, email is easiest, for others maybe text is best. For some, using a co-parenting website is the only way it will work. Whatever works best for you, stick to it.
You will also need to determine if you are allowed to communicate with her and vice versa – for some blended families, it is best for the dad and the ex wife to communicate together, without the stepmom being involved.
Bonus: if you can get communication boundaries written in a court order, do it! This is one of the best ways to ensure she sticks to them and does not falter when times get rough.
4. Stay the Course
What I mean by this is – try not to react to her extreme highs and extreme lows. Stay the course. Don’t fall to either side (this is easier said than done).
If she is having an episode, remember that it is just that – an episode – and that you have to remember what is best for the children and for you and your husband and you have to stick to that course.
Do not let her pull you to either side. This goes for the highs, too – sometimes there will be times where she is elated with joy and happiness and wants to be your best friend – don’t do it. I repeat – don’t do it.
Your role here is not being your husband’s ex’s best friend – your role here is to be the best partner to your husband that you can be, and to be the best stepmom that you can be. Period.
5. Put The Children First
This is something that should be considered within any co-parenting or blended family situation.
I don’t think I need to write too much about this one – other than to say, when times are getting hard, just remember that the goal here is to do what is best for the children – period.
When she is swaying from side to side, and making things difficult, remember what it means to do what is right by your stepchildren and do it.
6. Stand Your Ground
This last tip is very important – just because you are dealing with someone who has mental disorders does not mean that it is okay for this person to hurt you or do wrong by you – you must stand your ground.
It can be hard to do this with someone who has Bipolar 1 Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (trust me, I know) – but it is crucial to your own wellbeing that you do so.
You can have boundaries and limits even with someone who has mental disorders – and it is actually especially important to have boundaries and limits with these people.
Ensure that you speak up for yourself when need be, take a step back when you need to, and sometimes, completely disengage when you need to.
You can’t be a partner to your spouse or a parent to your stepchildren if you are not taking care of yourself – remember that.
I write more about that in a recent blog post on “falling back” – check it out here.
Co-parenting is hard. Being a stepmom is hard. Being in a blended family is hard. Doing all of these things with someone who has a mental disorder makes them way harder.
I see you – I hear you – I understand you. I am here to help you and support you, friend!
Just remember – you are not alone throughout all of this. I promise you that you are not.
I’m so glad you came by today to read this blog post. If you’re new to the blog, you can read more about me, Leslie W., here!
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Thanks again for reading, friend, and please, take care!