Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

When co-parenting with a narcissistic, toxic or difficult ex, you’ll want to have minimal contact and communication. Follow these tips to make co-parenting a smoother and more enjoyable experience.

The Challenges of Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Co-parenting is hard on its own, but co-parenting with a narcissist makes it that much harder because they may:

  • Not agree on custody/placement.
  • Talk behind your back.
  • Be unwilling to be agreeable.
  • Ignore ground rules and break boundaries.

After a divorce or separation, coming into contact with your ex while co-parenting is unavoidable, so here are some tips on how to make it work successfully.

How to Co-Parent With a Narcissist

Prioritize the Children Above the Co-Parent

By doing what is best for your children, you are putting their needs above yours. A narcissistic person will often put their needs first. While you cannot change your ex or make them aware of their problem, there are things you can do to create boundaries, protect yourself, and protect your children.

Set Ground Rules for Communication

By setting specific communication boundaries, you are able to stick to the facts when dealing with your ex. Leave emotions out as much as possible because narcissists often enjoy having the ability to get a reaction from you. And, they may try to use those reactions against you to portray you as the “bad guy.” Communicating through email or text rather than over the phone can mediate this issue as it gives you more time to think about and review what you're going to say.

Come up With a Parenting Plan

Coming up with a parenting plan can be as simple as a child custody agreement, or it can go deeper into the rules and values of how you want your child to be raised. The best time to set up a parenting plan is during the divorce process where you have family law professionals helping you address some of the issues that go into a plan–Attorneys here at Sterling Law Offices know the value of a clean and thorough parenting plan. However, if your divorce left only a shell of a parenting plan, you are still able to hire a parenting coordinator to help develop a successful plan.

Set Firm Co-Parenting Boundaries

After divorce, you are left to enforce the structure that you and your ex agreed on. The easiest way to do this is positive reinforcement when your ex complies with the plan. Narcissists often seek validation, so when you are able to reward the good behavior you might be able to get them to continue to do that behavior. When positive reinforcement fails, the next option could be resorting to legal intervention. The key is to use it as a threat before actually going through with it. Although a judge may reassess the terms of the divorce, even if the ex parents really poorly, judges often believe it is in the best interest of the child for them to regularly see both parents.

Parent With Empathy

Avoid Speaking Ill of the Other Parent in Front of the Kids

Speaking negatively about your ex to your child can make the child feel guilty for wanting to spend time with the other parent. This can cause a strain on the relationship between the other parent and the child or between you and the other parent. Children learn how to act from their parents, so setting a good example for how to act in any relationship will positively impact them. If they see you negatively interacting with or speaking to the other parent, that may influence what they think is okay in their own relationships.

Protect the Children

Being a part of a broken family will have an effect on any kids involved, so it is important to protect them. This doesn't mean you should completely shelter them and avoid telling them what's going on because they are probably already confused or frustrated with the current situation. Kids often lose that sense of security most kids need and cling to during a divorce or separation. To help them cope, it is your duty to create an open environment where they can share their emotions and know they will be listened to and heard. Make sure they know you are there for them and always will support them.[1]

Remove Your Child From the Middle

Your child does not need to know every detail of the breakup because there are some things that would only hurt them to know. Even teenagers, who might be more aware of what happened, do not need to know exactly what caused the divorce or how it played out. They don't need to be entirely in the dark, but there needs to be a balance where they aren't a pawn in the aftermath. Putting your child in the middle of problems with their other parent causes a lot of stress for the child that they should not have to deal with.

Control What You Can Control

Control what you can through your actions and emotions. You will not be able to control your ex, so start the change within yourself. Narcissists feed off of frustration and emotions, so don't give them what they want. Find a healthy outlet for your frustration such as therapy, physical activities, or positive distractions.

Use Counseling to Your Advantage

Having a good therapist or strong support group that you can lean on will ease the issues that may arise when co-parenting with your narcissistic ex. Narcissists can make you feel like you're crazy, they even try to make you feel that way, so you need someone to keep you grounded. Counseling or therapy is a great option for this situation or for anyone who wants to better their coping skills. Furthermore, speaking with a trained professional can help you better understand your situation. You need just as much support after a divorce as you did during the divorce.

Legal Considerations

It is important to understand your position legally. A detailed custody agreement can be a lot to understand, so it may be worth it to have an attorney walk you through exactly where you stand. These custody agreements can be modified if you meet the requirements, but any revisions are likely to be contested, especially when you're working with a narcissist. If you do go to court, it will likely be in your favor to have a Guardian ad Litem appointed because they will advocate for what is best for your child.

Start Preparing for Co-Parenting

Check out our main page on tips for successful co-parenting.

Be Prepared

Educate yourself so that you know what is and is not helpful when dealing with a narcissistic co-parent. In general, limiting contact and keeping interactions short protects you and those involved.

Plan for the Worst

Take some time before interactions and think about how it will go. You know this person, you know the things they say and do that bother you the most, so be prepared to deal with them. Preparing responses ahead of time allows you to better control yourself in the moment and not lash out at them. 

Sometimes there is also the option to have drop-off and pick-ups in safe locations such as police stations. This may be something to think about implementing.

Get Everything in Writing and Keep Records

Work with a lawyer to have as many details written into a court order as possible. Make sure to get everything in writing. The other person might agree verbally to give you a certain amount of money each month, but if it isn't in the order to pay child support, they can change their mind at any time and there's nothing you can do. It’s situations like these that having everything in writing will save you a lot of struggle and grief.

Also, if the other parent ever sends you nasty messages over text or social media, be sure to screenshot or save them in case you need them as proof in a future court hearing.

When to Pursue Full Custody

If you have a custody agreement in place, your ex is legally obliged to follow it. If they ignore it and keep you away from your child, it is within your power to take them to court for breaking the order.

If your child is afraid of your co-parent or is violent, it may be a good idea to persue for sole custody. If you have reason to believe that the child is in psychological or physical danger, then it is up to you as a parent to protect them. The easiest way to protect them may be to have full custody of them.

Considerations

Consider Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is not a legal concept, but a parenting style. Parallel Parenting is a strategy in which co-parents limit direct contact with each other in order to protect themselves and their children from parental conflict.

In parallel parenting, each parent raises their kids independently of each other. The parents have their own set of rules for the kids, basically parenting in their own way. This is a means to stay out of each other’s business.

Parallel parenting plans must be very specific and are usually set up in the court custody agreement. As with any legal document, talk to your attorney about any additional stipulations you want.

Consider Counter Parenting (Where Appropriate)

Counter parenting is when you attempt to undo the damage done to your child by the narcissistic parent. Counter parenting can be as simple as being attentive to your child's individual needs. It can be an effective method in combating low self esteem and high anxiety within your child. If you put your best effort to make your child feel loved and protected, you should have a healthy relationship with them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do narcissists love their children?

If someone actually has narcissistic personality disorder, they have difficulty with most forms of relationships and likely lack empathy. Each case is unique, but someone with this disorder will value themselves over anyone else. So, they may love their children, but they may not value them as much as they should or may not have a good relationship with them.

How do you stay out of court with a co-parenting narcissist?

The best way to stay out of court is to have a detailed custody and placement order from the beginning and make sure you know exactly what is in it. This way they cannot take you to court for contempt because if they try, they will fail. Otherwise, the only thing you can really do is make sure you have an attorney to help you if they try to get the custody order modified.

How do you win a custody battle against a narcissist?

Specifically when the opposing party is a narcissist, it is really important to have an attorney fighting for you. A family law attorney knows how to move through court and how to defend against the tricks of a narcissist. They will know what evidence to bring forwards and how to best use a guardian ad litem to your advantage.

What are the symptoms of narcissistic parents?

Common symptoms include manipulation, inflexibility, lack of empathy, possessiveness, neglect, and superiority.

What is it like having joint custody with a narcissist?

Everyone has a different experience, but once you are able to stop reacting to a narcissist, they typically get bored. Keep your distance and only communicate with them about your children. Keep yourself grounded and mentally strong.


References: Video by youtube.com/c/sterlinglawyers | 1. 10 Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist. Sarkis, Stephanie. (2016, Jan11). Psychology Today.


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