Co-parenting is hard work by itself; it can be daunting most of the times. Co-parenting with a narcissist is a different ball game altogether, and can even seem to torment at times. While it’s a relief to end your relationship with a narcissistic partner, their need for vengeance makes them use every opportunity to hurt you or use your child as a weapon against you. If you are stuck co-parenting with a narcissist ex, there are a couple of things you can do to set clear boundaries to protect yourself and ensure your child grows up with both parents.
Signs You Are Co-Parenting With a Narcissist
If your ex has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), he/she will show a number of behavioural indicators. Narcissistic partners often display these tendencies:
- They believe they are special. Narcissists project an image of themselves where they’re better than everyone else and more capable. The stories they tell end with how they emerged as a hero. They would also tell people about how amazing their family is. While it can make them seem like a great parent, they are really putting themselves on the pedestal as the cornerstone of an amazing family.
- They completely lack empathy. At first, you are swept away by their charm, but soon you realise that they don’t really get you at a deep level. You would notice how inaccurate they are about understanding the intentions and motivations of other people and even close friends.
- Their lack of empathy means they have great superficial friendships. They can also seem immature and behave like teenagers, even when middle-aged. They are very particular about their appearance at an age where their peers are a bit relaxed.
- Narcissists believe they are above the law and have a sense of superiority which makes them treat boundaries as a challenge. If they cheat on you, you are expected to forgive them because it was your fault that they cheated.
- They are constantly challenging authority, and quickly dismiss people who are at the top or are experts. If a psychologist diagnosis them, they might refuse to accept that they are narcissistic because they know themselves better than the psychologist. Because of this, counselling seldom works on narcissists. They would also belittle their bosses or anyone they don’t agree with in front of others.
- Narcissists use Gaslighting to maintain dominance. It is where your ex challenges your perception of reality where they spin a different version of the events. This makes you question your own perception and memory since they are always coming out in the positive light.
- Their hearts are full of envy for anyone who is better than them. If your ex is constantly putting you down and finds it impossible to support your success, it is a clear sign of narcissism. They view anyone who does better them as a threat.
- Your narcissistic ex has no respect for your boundaries. They feel they are entitled to the things they want and will use anyone to get it. They have no regard to your things, privacy or even feelings. Anything that is yours is theirs by default.
Challenges of Co-Parenting With a Narcissist
When you are sharing custody with a narcissist, these are the challenges you can expect:
- They may not agree to the custody and other arrangements.
- They would try to use your children against you.
- They are unwilling to be agreeable or nice even for the child’s sake.
- Your partner might interfere with the child’s routine, belongings, appointments.
- Your narcissistic partner is not capable of loving your children the same way as you do as they lack empathy which is needed to love someone unconditionally.
- They perceive your children as an extension of themselves who exist to serve their needs. If the kids don’t comply, they will be ignored or cast aside as a hindrance.
- They would talk behind your back to your children or criticise you in front of them.
- They would ignore your ground rules and break boundaries and even undermine your efforts at co-parenting.
Tips to Deal With a Narcissist Co-Parent
Since it is unavoidable to come in contact with your narcissistic ex while co-parenting with them, here are some tips on how to deal with it successfully and make it work:
1. Set clear boundaries for communication.
Your narcissistic ex thrives on winding you up and then turn it around to blame you or call you unstable. Ensure you never give them a chance for this by communicating with them through mail-only or texts. Getting on a phone call would mean they might rope you into an argument by bringing up the past or making an untrue accusation. Communicating on mail or text will give you enough time to think about exactly what to respond to stay on the topic and avoid arguments.
2. Work out a detailed schedule and maintain your distance.
Write down the specific days when the children will get to spend time with each parent. Pay attention to detail as any grey area is an opportunity for the narcissistic co-parent to deviate from the agreed-upon rules. Include info on the appointments of children and even vacation time. You will interact with your ex only to keep the commitments of the schedules and not get into conversations or arguments otherwise. If they’re trying to bait you into a conflict, choose not to engage. If they break the rules on purpose, do not feed their expectations by getting into an argument.
3. Have as few expectations as you can.
Spend your energy into becoming the best parent that you possibly can and have zero expectations from your ex. Since the narcissist cannot instil any useful values in your children, it’s up to you to become the bedrock. This also means saving your children from the negative influences of your ex. Set examples of how to take challenges constructively and not fly off the handle and scream at everything.
4. Get a parent coordinator through the court.
If you are co-parenting with a narcissistic father who is heavily abusive or your case is high-conflict, then seeking a parent coordinator is a very good option. Since neither of you can agree on anything, the communication is bet left in the hands of the coordinator. In most states, the parent coordinators are specially trained and certified to handle communications in high-conflict cases. They can reduce stress for you and your child as well by setting up things smoothly. Speak to your attorney about appointing a parent coordinator if you need one.
5. Do not turn your child into a pawn.
Although sometimes you may feel the need to do so out of spite for the ex or concern for the child, keep your side of the street clean and avoid using the child to wage a cold war. Therefore, do not use your child as a messenger to convey messages or taunt your ex. Venting about the other parent should be avoided strictly. If you feel the need to vent, do it with friends or see a therapist. Spying on your ex or trying to extract information about their lives out of the children should also be avoided. Do not ask your child about what is going on the other side. However, pay attention to your child’s words if you believe your narcissistic ex might be using them as a pawn. Since it is most likely to happen, avoid indulging in unnatural conversations where you see red flags pop up.
6. Maintain detailed records
Narcissists are pathological liars and manipulate the court system to use them as a weapon. If you are co-parenting with a narcissist person who is prone to tantrums, impulsivity, false accusations and missing visitations, make a record of it by writing it down. Get the details precise on phone calls, timings and precise quotes as these are documentation your attorney will require. If you are planning on recording phone calls, check with your state laws and ask your attorney first.
7. Get counselling for your child.
Children are incredibly perceptive to your emotions and behaviours. In a high-conflict co-parenting situation, they can easily pick up on the behaviour of parents and can even blame themselves for the conflict. It is highly likely that your narcissistic co-parent will show the same attitude towards your child, further driving the confusion. In such cases, it is essential that your child sees a counsellor who is specially trained in working with children from high conflict parenting situations.
8. Build a support system.
You will need all the support you can get from your family and friends. Your narcissistic ex will work to destroy your confidence in your ability to raise your child alone. In an attempt to anger you, they would also disappoint your child’s feelings or hurt them on purpose. They might miss out on important moments in the child’s life or be absent when they are needed. Having a support system will help you and your child to cope with the damage your ex is trying to inflict.
9. Keep your emotions in check.
You will inevitably have days when your narcissistic ex will send you inflammatory messages to trigger your emotional reaction, at worst they’d hurt your child to garner an emotional reaction from you. An instant outburst is exactly what your ex would be expecting, and that is precisely what you won’t give them. The best way is to not respond, rationalise or justify anything to them. They would love nothing more than dragging you into the mud for a fight and gain the attention and validation they desperately seek. They will eventually get tired and move on to their next prey.
10. Focus on self-care.
To seep the stress of co-parenting with a narcissist from getting to you, take preventive measures to always stay relaxed and not ruin your peace. Maintain a journal, talk to a trusted friend or take up the practice of meditation and mindfulness to stay calm.
It is essential to understand that narcissists will never change and reengaging with them will take you through endless emotional rollercoaster rides that will eventually ruin you. Therefore when co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-partner, have your ground rules firmly set and contain any attempts of damage by them through proactive measures.