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How do you know if your ex is a toxic parent?

When couples with kids divorce and begin to parent across two households, their individual parenting styles often emerge. When they were together, one parent may have simply gone along with what the other parent did, so that spouse's parenting style was the one the kids got used to.

Some divorced spouses are better equipped to parent than others. You may feel that your co-parent is doing or saying things that are emotionally -- or even physically -- harmful to your kids. However, are you being overly critical because you have a good deal of animosity toward this person or are your concerns justified?

There is such a thing as "toxic parenting." It's not the same thing as being a disciplinarian or even occasionally losing your temper and saying things to your children you later regret. Toxic parents don't respect their kids. They never apologize for or even acknowledge their own bad behavior. Their emotions are often out of control. Their anger, hostility, negativity and even cruelty towards their children is relentless.

Not all toxic parents are screamers. Some parents use silence as punishment when they're angry with a child. Others are manipulative. They may use guilt to control their kids.

Some toxic parents use "jokes" as a way of criticizing or belittling their children. They may call them demeaning names or make fun of their appearance. They justify their behavior by saying that they're just kidding around. However, demeaning "jokes" can erode a child's self-esteem to the point where they never fully recover.

A parent may be behaving this way because they're still overwhelmed by the divorce and the stress of the changes it's caused in their life. They may be parenting the way they were parented as a child. They may even have a substance abuse or mental health issue. One key component of any type of toxic parenting is that the parent puts their own feelings and needs ahead of their children's. They may have no interest in their kids' feelings.

If you suspect that your co-parent is engaging in toxic parenting based on things your children or others have told you or because they're displaying signs of some type of abuse, it's important to find out what your options are to protect them. Let your attorney know of your concerns so that they can advise you if you feel you need to seek custody or visitation modifications.

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