Co-parenting is hard. Co-parenting with a narcissist is even more difficult and overwhelming. However, whether you and your partner are still together, separated, or divorced, you can protect yourself and your children by being proactive and equipped with ways to safeguard your family.
15 Proactive Ways to Deal With a Narcissistic Co-Parent
Those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) believe that they are perfect, have a strong need for authority and admiration, and lack the ability to empathize with others. This often comes from hardships they dealt with in childhood, such as extreme poverty or abuse. Therefore, at the deepest level, they have extremely low self-esteem, which they try to compensate for by demanding authority and regarding themselves as perfect. Doing the following can help protect you and your child from a narcissistic parent.
Commit to Your Child's Safety
Some individuals with NPD can be abusive mentally, emotionally, and verbally to others in the household. This is because of their need for power. They probably misinterpret your assertiveness as an attack against them. When children are the targets of their abuse, it is often because they misinterpret some normal child behaviors as being disrespectful.
If you observe your partner yelling at or degrading your child, immediately work to defend them and remove them from the situation. Otherwise, this can also strain your relationship with your child, because lack of protection can be more traumatic than the trauma itself. Speak up and tell your partner that what they are doing to the child is unacceptable, and take your child into another room. Apologize to your child for what they had to deal with, and tell them you will try your best to protect them.
Be sure to document all instances of abuse as much as possible, such as the type, date and time it occurred, the circumstances, and how you responded.
It is important that you seek counseling, preferably by someone who deals with abusive relationships, to help you cope and problem-solve. Should you choose to separate or divorce your partner, consult with a lawyer who specializes in such cases as well. It is also very important to discuss with your counselor how to safely leave your partner.
If you and your partner are no longer together and you suspect they might be abusing your child during their visits, file a police report and document information such as the date your child told you about the incident, date or date range within which the abuse occurred, where it occurred, and what you did to respond. This information could be helpful in court.
Utilize Parallel Parenting
If you and the narcissistic parent are no longer together, things will be much easier on you if you think of them as a parallel parent rather than a co-parent. Co-parenting means that you work as a team in raising your child. However, someone with NPD is not able to engage in teamwork due to their need to be powerful and the most important. Thus, while co-parents might attend their child's events or parent-teacher conferences together, parallel parents do those things separately. This is important to do so you can minimize contact with your ex and protect yourself from unnecessary conflicts.
Have Your Documents in Order
It is not possible to rationalize or compromise with a narcissist. If you are co-parenting with a narcissistic ex, have a detailed custody agreement and parenting plan drawn up by a lawyer. Be as specific as possible in these documents. As per parallel parenting, for example, spell out what events you will attend, and those your ex will attend, a few neutral, public places where drop-offs and pick-ups will take place, and the specific days and times during which they will occur.
If you go to court to work out a custody agreement, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interest of the child, and provide information for a judge on which to base their ruling.
Avoid face-to-face contact with your ex as much as possible, and use phone contact only when necessary. You can use emails for anything that needs to be communicated, and keep them strictly to the topic of the children. If phone contact is necessary, keep the conversation focused on the child. If your ex continues to change the subject or be abusive, end the phone call as quickly as possible.
This can also apply if you and your narcissistic partner are still together and they spend a lot of time at work. If they attempt to call, avoid answering the phone. If, for instance, they leave a message requesting information, email them your response to avoid potential conflict.
Get Confirmation in Writing
Another benefit of limiting communication to emails is that you want to get as much in writing from the narcissistic parent as possible. You can't take a narcissist at their word since they often break promises. They may promise to pay child support but actually see doing so as giving you money, not helping to support your child. Email communication can serve as evidence of inconsistency between what they say compared to what they actually do.
Prepare Yourself for Each Interaction
Those with NPD do not forgive and forget; they hold grudges for a very long time. They thrive on revenge because their ego is their main motivation. Therefore, you want to prepare for interactions with them by planning what to say. In any interaction it is important to:
- Keep your statements short and to the point.
- Stay calm because narcissists thrive on bringing out emotional reactions from others.
- Not expect an apology, because for someone to apologize genuinely, they have to have empathy, something narcissists lack.
- Know you are not at fault.
- Stick to the issue at-hand, and do not dignify their negativity with a response.
Bring Little or No Attention to Your Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, and it might be natural for you to admit yours and apologize for them. However, by doing so, you could inadvertently give the other parent ammunition against you. They could blow a small mistake out of proportion and try to use it against you in court. Therefore, you want to avoid saying "I'm sorry" and "It was my fault." Quickly address your mistake and move on, or don't address it at all.
Keep Your Kids Out of Fights
It is not uncommon for a narcissistic parent to use their child as a pawn in a battle with you. If you two are fighting and your ex or your partner brings the child into it, say something like "This is not her fault, keep her out of this." Your child needs to hear you stick up for them as much as possible.
In general, if your child is in the same room while you two are fighting, stop and take the child to a different room and direct them to an activity before continuing the argument. While your child could still hear the fight through the door, again, you are showing them that you are trying to protect them as much as you can.
Avoid Berating the Narcissistic Parent to the Child
This can be incredibly difficult to do, especially if the child has already witnessed so many negative or abusive behaviors from the parent. At the same time, bad-mouthing them to your child lowers your credibility. Children can figure out on their own who is trustworthy and who is not. Remember that the narcissist is still your child's parent. Berating them to your child is modeling immature and inappropriate behavior.
Foster a Healthy Relationship With Your Child
People with narcissistic traits generally do not have strong emotional connections to their children. Due to this and the fact that they don't put their children's needs before theirs, kids can feel emotionally neglected and hurt by this parent.
As a result, you have to compensate for the narcissistic parent. Make sure that you very frequently show your child you love them. Also hug them often, as physical contact is important for their development. Utilize authoritative parenting in order to teach them healthy behavior and relationships.
Having a narcissistic parent affects children in various ways such as low self-esteem, lack of ability to stick up for themselves, depression, and anxiety. By getting your child into therapy as early on as possible, damage can be minimized through the support and guidance of a mental health professional. This also gives your child another safe space with a trustworthy adult.
Also seek therapy for yourself. When you are in the midst of a storm, you are focused on weathering it, so in that moment, it is hard to see that a difficult romantic relationship can have long-term repercussions on you. Addressing your own needs and emotions will also make you a stronger parent for your child.
In addition, the narcissistic parent has some impact on your relationship with your child. And there is no doubt that your partner or ex will either refuse to go to therapy or if they do go, they may monopolize the conversation by telling the therapist how everything is your fault. Therefore, it may be best for just you and your child or children to go to family therapy. A therapist can help you:
- Express your feelings
- Understand each other's feelings
- Learn how to communicate difficult sentiments to each other
- Learn coping skills
Support Your Child's Interests
Whether you are with your partner or separated from them, they probably do not pay attention to your child's interests because they are always focused on themselves. Or, they might even criticize your child for doing something good, such as reading. Someone with NPD is frequently criticizing others for almost anything, as an attempt to maintain power and high regard for themselves.
Therefore, you will have to take the initiative to support your child's interests. Encourage your child's interests by allowing them time for those activities or enrolling them in classes or programs. This is important for their development well into adulthood. Also, specify the activities and the logistics as much as possible in a parenting plan.
Constantly dealing with a narcissist is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. You can use some self-care strategies to care for yourself, and in turn, to better care for your child. By taking care of yourself, you also model the importance of self-care to your child.
Plan for Emergencies
Someone with NPD often physically abuses those in the household as well. If you and your partner are still together and they have a history of being verbally or physically violent, or you worry that they could be, establish a plan to get you and your child to safety. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), where a trained advocate can help you put together a plan.
Talk with family or friends you trust about how you can alert someone, and what they can do to help. For example, you can agree on a short code that you can text them. Always have your cell phone on you with their numbers (and those of the police) at the top of your contact list. This way you can access them quickly and easily. The plan could include folks driving you to a shelter or to a family member's house. Also, keep a packed bag handy with essentials and important documents (birth certificates, passports, bank statements, record of abusive incidents), should you ever need to leave quickly.
Don't Give Up & Don't Give in
The thought of planning for the worst can be disconcerting. At the same time, it is best to be prepared with a plan that you don't have to use, rather than being stuck in a painful situation. The more proactive you are, the easier it is to protect you and your child.