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How do you handle a bully coparent / HCBM?

kinda_figuring_everything_out's picture

Hi StepTalk community,

Long-time lurker, first-time poster. Hopefully I'm in the right category. I'm so happy to have found this community, I don't have any step-parent friends (they all have biokids) and sometimes when I vent to them I feel crazy, so it's nice to be validated in this challenging role!

I love my husband, we recently got married after 4 years together and I have a lovely SD10 now.  My husband is a good dad who fights to see his child and be involved in her life. He's in court right now trying to get more time.

The ex is manipulative, a drunk, vindictive and knows he'd do anything for his daughter and she takes severe advantage of that to the point where she bullies him and he seems to let her as long as he can see his child. The bullying consists of verbal abuse, putting down his parenting (while she displays signs of neglect) and just general negative comments and then threatening time with his daughter if he doesn't do what she says (hence why he's in court again). This HCBM also bullies my SD.  They were never married, it was a relationship long enough to produce a child and it ended 9 years ago so I don't understand her bitterness, TBH. Their dynamic was like this long before he met me. 

DH and I met in a boxing gym and both used to be fighters so this "retreat and roll-over" kind of attitude from my husband towards her is something I'm not used to seeing and TBH it's giving me "the ick" towards him. It also brings out an instinct in me to protect him to the point where I'm not allowed at drop-offs (SD only goes to the door then and HCBM is NOT allowed at our house). He tells me she's not bullying him and it makes me more mad at the situation that he denies it. I don't have any biokids of my own so maybe this is just the harsh reality of coparenting with a HCBM? I'm happy he's in court but I can't deal with her bullying of him and him not putting down boundaries. I try to journal, exercise, pray, vent to friends and I still want to punch her!

Anybody else ever feel this way? How did you overcome it?



CastleJJ's picture

My DH is a good Dad. He spent years fighting for SS11, paid CS on time and in full every single month, and has tried to stay as involved as he can. Our BM has spreading the narrative of "Deadbeat Dad" since SS was born, despite her being the only barrier to DH's full involvement. 

My DH was (and is still to a point) abused by his ex/HCBM. They were only together as teenagers and har SS when they were 19. BM has obvious mental health conditions along with noticable narcissism. DH tried to "coparent" with her for almost 5 years. It was constant - BM not sharing information, BM informing DH of important events the day of and then bashing him for being unable to attend, several lengthy and abusive emails daily belittling everything from his work to his family to his housing to his finances to his parenting. When DH would try to put boundaries in place, telling BM that certain topics were inappropriate and off limits, BM would argue that they weren't because it all "affects" SS and therefore she has a right to be involved in it. She felt that she had to right to meddle in every aspect of DH's life. When DH put boundaries in place, suddenly SS was "no longer comfortable" visiting and BM would withhold visitation. BM has alienated SS to a point and made SS feel like BM and her family are SS' only family and DH is nobody. SS still loves DH and knows he is his Dad, but BM's behavior has made an impact to where SS does not see DH as a parent or a significant part of his life. It became harder when BM moved SS 4 hours away, limiting our visitation to 6 weeks per year. It felt impossible to deal with BM due to her constant behaviors. She was never wrong, was a pro at gaslighting and making us feel like we were at fault or terrible, always had to have her way and being full control, etc. Oh, and don't even get me started about the DOUBLE STANDARDS. It was like talking to a brick wall until we realized that BM was never going to change, so we had to change how we dealt with and reacted to her. 

My DH took BM to court in 2019 to try to stop the abuse. While a judge did tell BM she was wrong for her meddling and over involvement in DH's business, the judge did not grant DH more time or access to SS, therefore giving BM what she wanted. The court is allowing BM to continue her abuse through limiting visitation. Once court concluded, DH made the conscious decision to essentially stop fighting. We have visitation and call SS on the phone as the CO orders, we respond using BIFF method to BM, and we pay CS (not a penny more). I stopped all communication with BM - text, email, seeing her at pick ups, etc. DH doesn't try to get overly involved with SS' stuff unless he can access it himself. He reaches out to school, sports, and other entities directly to obtain information and if he can't do that, due to lack of information from BM, we just leave it alone. When BM emails DH, he responds "thank you for the update" or keeps it as short and businesslike as possible. BM HATED this in the beginning and tried everything she could to get DH to engage with her or react, but it didn't work. DH stood strong and now, BM rarely engages with him. BM still does petty and stupid things out of spite, but it isn't nearly as bad as it used to be. 

I recommend DH seek counseling. It was the only thing that gave DH the power and understanding that he wasn't wrong and that he was entitled to emotional and psychological safety from BM. This empowered him to create boundaries that he felt he couldn't have due to losing SS. It also gave DH "permission" to give up fighting for SS, since it was a fight he would never win. For you, seek therapy, vent on here, block BM on all medias including text, email, social media, etc. Do not give BM the headspace she doesn't deserve - it is hard, but must be done to save your sanity. 

kinda_figuring_everything_out's picture

Thanks for sharing, I can relate to so much of your story. I'm glad to hear your situation has calmed down, hopefully our situation will soon too. I assume it's bad again right now because DH and I just got married and that stirred things up for HCBM. DH and I are in marital counselling and I think individual therapy is a great suggestion, as is not giving BM my headspace. I also remind him he doesn't need to take her BS to be a good dad, that doesn't need to be part of it, hopefully that will sink in soon. Thankfully he has a mean lawyer now that can help with that too 

CastleJJ's picture

And your DH is going to have to play a song and dance until court wraps up. My DH had to "play nice" with BM until the court order was signed. Once signed, he flipped from overly friendly and agreeable to following the court order strictly. I still remember BM emailing DH after court saying "I am glad to see that your friendliness and ability to compromise and coparent was only an act for court." Damn right it was because we needed BM to sign the agreement so we could finally establish some boundaries. 

You are likely correct that BM is ramping up due to your recent wedding. BM did the same around the time of our wedding and then again last spring when I gave birth to our DD. When BM felt that her hold on DH or his life was slipping, she would always try harder to make herself relevant. But if your DH doesn't fall for it, it will be a failed attempt and she will eventually learn that she won't get anywhere.

Rags's picture

an extent that removes any benefits they get from bullying.

A bully X, or SO's X, is no different than dealing with a bully in childhood.  Being bullied hurts. It is going to hurt whether we confront the bully or not, so send the bully to the hospital bleeding and in need of reconstructive surgery. If they do it again, send them back for more surgery.  Figuratively of course. Unless they make the mistake of attempting to be a physical bully on top of being a philisophical bully. In which case, they choose to need the reconstructive surgery.  If they limit their bullying to the philosophial, destroy them legally, financially, socially and with their children.  

Kids need the facts associate with a toxic parent's toxicity. Those facts provide a kid with the tools needed to protect themselves from a toxic parent.  Not only as they are growing up, but also so they can protect themselves in adulthood.

A toxic parent or toxic half of a blended family equation is not going to just stop being toxic because a kid reaches adulthood.  The odds of that are slim and none.

IMHO of course.

If your DH will actually do anything for his daughter, it is time for him to find some testicular fortitude and destroy the X breeding partner BM.  Protect his daughter. By ending the X legally, financially, socially and using any effective and not illegal means necessary. 

Time for him to stop talking about doing anything to benefit his daughter and actually man up.

I had my DW's back for our 16+ year battle with the SpermClan.  But she was the one that destroyed them one idiot SpermClan move at a time.  We met when SS-30 was 15mos old and married the week before he turned 2yo.  Looooong story shorter, he is a man of honor, character, and quality who is a successful adult and of standing in his community and profession.  His SpermClan? Not one of them is even close.  His 3 younger also out of wedlock Spermidiot spawned half sibs include one on the dole, one in prison, and the third not far behind the inmate.  

My DW, truly did deliver on her promise to do anything for her son, to raise him to viable adulthood, and to protect him from the shallow and polluted end of his gene pool.

Just my thoughts of course.

thinkthrice's picture

BMs are seldom if ever held accountable for their alienation tactics in "family court. "  Biodads, on the other hand are villainized whether deservedly so or not.

Rags's picture

But... smacking a toxic opposition parent with a contempt motion each and every time they twitch out of compliance with the CO, keeping the kids abreast of all pertinent facts including a regular review of the CO, supplemental jurisdictional rules, State Regs, a toxic parent's arrest records, court recordings, ranting opposition phone call recordings, etc, etc, etc..... 

IMHO, the side that knows the facts, the CO, etc... inside out, upside down, and backwards will have an advantage over even a toxic CP BioMom. Add in age appropriate review of the facts, etc.. for the kids... and... it is possible to back a toxic dipshit into a corner and beat them enough to keep them there. For the most part.

I completely agree that NCP Men are at an extreme disadvantage.  

CastleJJ's picture

Yes, but contempt of court proceedings against BMs rarely do anything. The judges are barely inclined to give a slap on the wrist. And when BM gets away with contempt time and time again, it no longer acts as a deterrent and makes her feel even more invincible. 

And... A lot of COs nowadays have stipulations in them that state that neither party can discuss current or past litigation, hearings, depositions, etc. or their outcomes in front of the child(ren). This is actually one of those generic blanket statements that I have seen added to the bottom of most standard COs recently. So by ensuring that the child(ren) know ALL the facts, that parent may also face contempt charges, and if that parent is the Dad, the consequences may be more significant. 

Rags, I have always valued your opinion, but I must point out that you were fortunate enough to not only be the custodial household, but also (well rather your wife was) the BM in this situation. Had your wife been male in your situation and SpermClan the female, the outcomes may have been different. Your situation is more privileged than others on this site simply due to your household being custodial BM. 

kinda_figuring_everything_out's picture

Your phrase "testicular fortitude" made me laugh out loud! You make a great point that bullying hurts no matter if we confront it or not, just an unfortunate part of life and dealing with crappy people, I guess. My DH has a lawyer to fight for him now so I think that's a great step in the right direction as I agree HCBM needs to be put in her place legally. It's early in the process so it feels overhwhelming.

I'm glad to hear your SS turned out so well, gives me hope with my SD. Sometimes I feel like our positive environment isn't making any difference for her but hearing your story gives me some hope that she'll see BM toxic ways as she gets older

strugglingSM's picture

There is a playbook that HCBMs all seem to follow. 1) They are only ever looking out for the "best interest of the child(ren)". 2) They are always the victim and dad is just bitter and out to get them. 3) They can lie with a straight face and often do to anyone who will listen to feed into the narrative in #2. 4) No matter what dad does (give BM everything she wants, ignores BM, follows the parenting plan exactly, etc) he will always be "wrong" and "difficult", according to BM because he "doesn't care enough about his kids". 

My DH was also a complete pushover when it came to BM when I first met him. I think he had successfully convinced himself that she was not abusive, despite the fact that multiple counselors had told him that she was...including the marriage counselor they say before they finalized their divorce. In my case, this was because DH has a domineering mother who also has abusive tendencies, so to him that behavior was normal. He also didn't believe that men could be abused. That could be behind some of your DH's behavior. It could also be embarrassment that he's found himself in this situation or guilt that leads him to feel like he deserves it. That doesn't excuse his behavior and I think your reaction is normal. In fact, a counselor DH and I saw before we were married (because BM really kicked up a bunch of drama after we got engaged), asked me if I had a difficult time respecting DH when I watched him fold to BM's demands. 

As far as how I/we handle it, I have gone full no contact with BM. I am not in the same room with her if I can help it and if I am, I completely ignore her. I don't have time for that BS and I don't see it as my responsiblity to validate another woman. DH basically ignores and avoids her, too. Skids are now 17 and we rarely hear from her, unless she wants to cause drama, but that happens less frequently now that Skids come around less. The next drama fest will be demanding that DH pay for college...even though neither kid has any business going to college. 

kinda_figuring_everything_out's picture

I swear all these HCBMs read from the same book, it's crazy how many of us steps have the same story! No contact has definitely been my requirement from the start and she's not allowed at our home even for dropoffs but it's still hard hearing him talk about how she treats him. Thankfully they just speak on a court suggested parenting app, so I'm sure that's been better for his mental health. Great point about the denial bit of abuse and the embarrassment, I hadn't thought about that factor. 

ESMOD's picture

To a certain extent.. you have to be able to disengage from his EX.  While you can be supportive of him.. he also may feel that the juice is not worth the squeeze by taking too hard of a line with his EX.  Because, barring horrific action on her part.. the likelihood of her having her parenting cut back is probably slim.  I'm not sure what you mean by "more parenting".. whether he is looking for 5050.. or whether they did not have an official order and he is attempting to get that in place.  The unfortunate reality is that men still are often handed a shorter stick with the courts.. even when the mother is a less than stellar human being.

So, you can set boundaries for your home... for your personal financial involvement.  But, your DH is a big boy.. he had a relationship with her and now he has to deal with the fallout that resulted from them having a child together.. you can't protect him.. and you can't prevent her from being high conflict.. in most cases.. there is little bite to anything that could be done.  And.. as you know.. if he pushes too hard back at her.. she cuts off access to his child.. so.. he is likely walking that tight line of letting her "run her mouth".. but not taking it personally and doing it so he can see his child.

Now.. if her treatment of him makes him act or behave differently towards you?  in your home? if his acquiescence to his EX causes issues in your home? those are lines you draw with him. And.. maybe part of what needs to happen is that he just not share every aggravating thing she says.. because it isn't productive.

kinda_figuring_everything_out's picture

Yes, he's currently pursuing 50/50 custody and has a lawyer which is a good step, however I'm very aware that dads are still second class in many family courts still. We'll see how this court battle plays out over the next few months. I think setting more boundaries with DH and me stepping back a bit so he deals with it is a great suggestion, I'm at the end of my rope hearing about her BS and his surprise over it. He's always surprised the snake bites him and I'm over it *eye roll*

CLove's picture

Get ready for a long hard and expensive road.

Good luck!

Id say disengage. You are not alone, we have all gone down the resentment rabbit hole. 8 plus years and Im still going down it. Ill have to post!

Lillywy00's picture

Don't "handle" the ex, let the spouse / partner do it because it's too much wasted energy on your part  

Do hold FIRM boundaries!

Like mentioned above, disengagement helps too.