co-parenting with a narcissist

How to Help Your Children When Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Co-parenting with a narcissist is definitely not fun for you, but it may be doubly difficult for your children.

Narcissists lack empathy and genuine love. They see the people around them as commodities to be manipulated and maneuvered for their own benefit.

With children, this can be disastrous.

You can, however, mitigate the negative effects of your partner’s or ex-partner’s narcissism on the children. This can be challenging, however, no matter the age of your children.

Young children are emotionally vulnerable, of course, but even your adult children will need some protection.   

The Danger of Narcissism for Children

There’s no way to soft sell it – a narcissistic parent can cause deep emotional damage in children.

It’s not dissimilar to the negative effects that alcoholism or other types of addiction have on families.

This is because, at its core, the emotional wound for children is the same – an emotionally absent parent that loved something else (themselves, alcohol, drugs) more than their own children.

Adult children of alcoholics, for example, develop very common and typical coping mechanisms as children, which end up as dysfunctional behaviors when they become adults.

Dysfunctional behavior might include literally looking for love in all the wrong places, self-sabotage, and poor coping skills.

According to Sharie Stines, Psy.D., “It is advised that time spent with any narcissist be limited because it engenders confusion, dissociation, brain-washing, desensitization to abuse, emotional dysregulation, and destruction to one’s sense of reality.” She further says this can actually contaminate the child’s “inner-working” model, which is still developing with regard to how relationships work.

Moreover, don’t be surprised if your children, especially as adults, end up siding with the other parent over you.

Narcissists are often master manipulators.

One of the biggest problems you may have when you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is dealing with the emotional cancer of the narcissist poisoning your relationship with your children.

For this reason, limiting time spent with the narcissist can be paramount, both to you and your children.

Maintaining a Healthy Distance from the Narcissist

If you are still living with or married to the narcissist, you may need to get out in order for things to improve.  Staying in an abusive marriage, especially when young children are involved, will not lead to a happy ending.

Read:  Long-Term Narcissistic Abuse Can Cause Brain Damage

There’s an idea about marriage that you should “tough it out” for the sake of your children. It’s one thing if the spouses in question are relatively healthy emotionally and are just going through a rough patch. In those cases, a marriage might be repaired.

Barring a miracle, this isn’t going to be possible with a narcissist.

In order for a failing marriage to be fixed, both parties need to acknowledge the problem and be willing to work on themselves as well as the marriage to improve things.

Narcissists won’t ever admit they are wrong. Or, if on some rare occasion they do, it’s usually an act of manipulation, not a genuine emotion or regret.

So, don’t wait for your narcissistic partner to have a “come to Jesus” moment, especially if they are abusive to you and/or the children.

Get out as soon as you can (call domestic abuse hotlines for help).

Co-parenting with a narcissist involves high-conflict parenting, and this is simply going to create scars in your young children that may take years to heal when they are adults later.

Dealing with Child Custody and Visitation with a Narcissist

Make sure you have a good lawyer if possible. You will want to try to get custody of the children, with only limited and supervised visitation with the narcissist.

If you are already divorced or separated, and you have joint custody, or worse, the narcissist has custody, you might want to talk to a lawyer about adjusting these arrangements.

Leaving the bulk of the parenting to a narcissist is a minefield you want to avoid, if possible.

As you may already know from experience, the narcissist may pull out the stops to win over you in court, including lying and manipulating the law to his or her advantage.

Be prepared.

Once the legal requirements have been fulfilled with regard to your co-parent seeing the children, you should protect yourself by giving the narcissist a wide berth.  

Consider Parallel Parenting Instead of Traditional Co-Parenting

If you want to avoid high-conflict parenting, one good option to consider is a type of parenting called “parallel parenting.”

According to Edward Kruk Ph.D.: “Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other.”

Dr. Kruk explains this involves limiting the direct contact in instances that they’re no longer able to respectfully communicate with each other.

In order to truly engage in this type of parenting, you will need strict boundaries set up and adhered to. You should get a neutral third party to help with this process. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a lawyer or a therapist. A professional divorce mediator may be able to help set up this type of parenting structure. 

3 More Ways to Mitigate the Negative Effects of the Narcissistic Parent on Your Children

Once you have set up the appropriate legal boundaries with the narcissist, you will still need to troubleshoot the issues that come up.

If you’re still in a living situation with the narcissist, being proactive about handling problems is even more important. Here are a few tips:

1. Don’t Get Sucked into the Narcissist’s Games

Narcissists thrive on attention, including negative attention.

They will likely try to do things to purposefully push your buttons and make you lose your cool. Do not give them the satisfaction of responding to their bait.

If you do get sucked into the narcissist’s trap, you are helping create drama that will impact the kids, either directly or indirectly. As difficult as it might be to avoid reacting to the malignant narcissist in your life, do your best to respond to challenges with grace, poise, and equanimity.

2. Avoid the Temptation to Say Bad Things About the Narcissistic Parent

Unless your children are older and have asked you to be honest with them, don’t delve into the narcissist’s psychology with your kids. This may be particularly tempting if you are in one of those periods where the child is caught up with the narcissist, desperately trying to win their love, and siding with them over you.

The problem with badmouthing the narcissistic parent is that it is likely to backfire. If your kids are in denial (even as adults), this may cause them to be mad at you. And the narcissist can spin this to make it look like you are the bad guy.

Having this type of anger and contempt won’t help you or your children in the long run. Working on emotionally detaching from the situation will be beneficial for all involved.

3. Focus on Building Up the Self-Esteem of Your Children

Deep down inside, your kids may be feeling lost or confused as to why one of their parents doesn’t truly love or care about them.

While you shouldn’t go overboard and spoil your children as a compensation mechanism, they will need a lot of love from you.

Help your children by supporting them in developing their skills, enjoying unique hobbies, and cultivating their own creative voice.

With the Right Approach, Your Children Will Ultimately Be Okay

The reality is that, no matter what you do, the narcissistic parent will likely have some sort of negative impact on your children.

Do not take this as a death sentence.

If you offer them healthy emotional support and get them into therapy as soon as possible, their chances of developing emotional resilience greatly increase.  It’s important to realize, however, that doing nothing will not help your child.  When a child grows up in an abusive and traumatic environment, the developmental impacts can have long-term implications.

Your children will probably have some trials and tribulations, like all kids do, but with your help, they can grow up and learn how to heal, especially when you remove them from toxic environments and give them your full love and support.

Copyright 2017 Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach

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  1. Lyn

    My divorce after a 30 year marriage to a narcissist was final in February. I found navigating “gray rock” difficult (as true “no contact”, in the midst of legal proceedings, was not possible, even though that is what I desired most). This was complicated by an obvious (and confessed) profound jealousy that my ex harbored in regards to my relationship with our two college aged daughters. I felt I had to be honest with them about the unhealthiness of our marriage and the reasons for my as-close-to-no-contact-as-possible behavior, and that I intended for it to remain that way forever, which I warned would make “life events” in the future awkward at best. The first life event we had to endure was the college graduation of my youngest. Because she has a degree in psychology, I felt comfortable with the fact that she could comprehend the complexities of the situation, yet I am cognizant that even though the girls are adults, it may precipitate their own journeys into some painful truths in their pasts, and that dealing with the new family dynamics wouldn’t be easy. The decisions I made and the example I set for them by not leaving the marriage is the biggest demon I have to battle. I just have to trust in all of our individual healing journeys, and in their wisdom, strength, and high emotional intelligence to heal and learn from the past and to have healthier relationships in the future, including implementing healthy boundaries with their father.

  2. Holly

    This is tough, I got slightly more time with the kids than he did. Now he is claiming that I am evil for withholding the children, he is sparking a campaign via the kids about how I am actively taking them away from him. He appealed the court decision and lost, then tried to take it to the state supreme court (it was denied). He is part of several fathers’ rights groups, going so far as to lobby state legislators for a change in laws because he was so unfairly treated. (Never mind that we had a 50/50 mediation that he turned down, thankfully; that I offered 50/50 to settle out of court that he turned down, thankfully.) I am grateful that we have the decision we do now, although I would like him to have even less time with the kids. I do my best to follow these tips, but it is difficult to stay the course. We have a long road ahead of us, with him threatening to go to court every few years until they are adults.

  3. Calinda

    I am newly divorced from an off-the-charts narc. His young adult children (still college age) are so upset with his outlandish behavior that they have not spoken to him in over a year. He destroyed our finances and left me holding the bag. Now, I am presently struggling to make ends meet – mainly because as a family unit we do not want to accept his financial help since it will most certainly come with strings or abuse. He, on the other hand, is enjoying a large salary free from all of the costs associated with his old life – house, family etc. He just offered to buy my youngest child a car; he thinks that he can use the car to weasel his way back into her life. Thanks for this post – it reminded me that the money or his help for that matter is just not worth it.

  4. Melissa

    Reading exactly what I have been going through this year with my 12yo son. I was never married to his father.& only dated a couple of times.but he has made my life hell.especially since he became a reformed alcoholic & claimed inheritance off his late mum. I am his next head hunt.he has brain washed my son & given him everything a 12yo would want not to mention getting my son to take his t.v & Xbox I bought him last Christmas out of my home when I wasn’t there.soo many dictating emails written like a true narcissist..thankfully I have had great friend support or I wouldn’t know where I would be I am praying for the strength in 2018 to find a good lawyer.somethings got to give!!!

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