Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

There is no such thing as co-parenting with a narcissist as they have no concept of teamwork or even cooperation. Perhaps the title would be more accurate if it read, “Parenting In Spite of a Narcissist”. Most often there is little to no “co-parenting” that occurs when your ex-spouse is a narcissist. You spend your time and energy undoing the damage that the narcissist has done to the children. Narcissists see their children as extensions of themselves and are simply objects meant to fulfill the narcissist’s needs. Keep your expectations low for them as parents. They don’t have “normal” maternal or paternal instincts and are incapable of putting their child’s needs first.

Stop drinking the Kool-Aid that every divorced couple should be able to co-parent. If you have a relentlessly high-conflict ex, try parallel parenting instead: different houses, different rules, and as little contact as possible.

Virginia Gilbert, licensed marriage and family therapist

7 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissistic Co-Parent

Luckily, there are a few things that you can do when you are forced to co-parent with a narcissist. They aren’t co-parenting tips per se but rather ways of minimizing the damage done to you and your children. You can’t change your ex, but you can change the way you interact with them. Here are some things that you can do to protect you and your children:

1. Minimize communication: Disengage! Communicate with the narcissistic parent only when it regards the children. Ignore emails that are just ranting, attention-seeking, or expressions of self-aggrandizement. Do address any issue that relates to your child; remember to attack the problem, not the other parent (even if he or she has attacked you). If you must respond, keep it brief, to the point, and business-like.

Example: you get an accusatory, blaming email from the narcissist but in the middle of the email it says you will need to take Johnny to his swim practice. Ignore the accusations and blaming and politely respond, “I will take Johnny to his swim practice at 2pm this Saturday. Thanks.”

Disengage from conflict: do not worry about anything unless your children are in danger. If the narcissist stuffs them with junk food all weekend then feed them healthy during the week when they are with you. In the grand scheme of things, this is minor and not worth engaging in a conflict about.

Do not engage:  Limit your communication to emails or programs such as Our Family Wizard and keep all communication brief, emotionless, courteous and focused on the children. If you feel emotionally charged, do not respond for 24-hours until you’ve had time to calm down or have a trusted friend review your response before hitting the “send” button.

Tina Swithin, author “Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle”

2. Don’t take it personally: “Projecting” is common with narcissists. They will project their own unacceptable thoughts and behaviors onto you. It can be difficult listening to negative, demeaning comments about you and not react to it. Don’t take it personal and remember that they are projecting.

Example: Your ex hostilely exclaims “You’re fat and unattractive and no one will ever want to be with you.” Remember he or she is projecting and realize that what you are hearing is “I (ex) am terrified that I am fat, unattractive and no one will want me.” It is much easier to ignore when you understand they are projecting. Create an emotional buffer, an emotional shield for yourself from your ex. Try your best to ignore, pretend they don’t exist, or focus on the good in your life.

3. Don’t swing at every pitch:  A narcissistic ex needs to connect with you – even if it is negative- in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply. So he may escalate hurtful remarks, constantly change what he says or repeat unwanted behavior to get a reaction from you (Example: consistently picking up the children late). It is common for them to ‘go for the jugular’ and threaten to try to get custody.

Ht””Pick your battles: If you don’t want every single little thing to be a fight, pick and choose your battles. Who cares if little Johnny gets too much sugar at dad’s house or little Katie gets to stay up later at mom’s house?  Let the little things go. If you find drugs on junior — time to be serious.

Marina Sbrochi, author, HuffPost Divorce blogger

4. Do not deviate from the schedule: Narcissists have difficulty with change. If you change the schedule just once, they will claim you are ALWAYS changing it and use it to their advantage (“that is why I am late”, or will arrive/not show up and retort “well, YOU are always changing the schedule whenever you feel like it).

5. Don’t always protect your children from their emotions: NPD people see their children as an extension of themselves. Your narcissistic ex may dress up the children his/her way and use them to show off an image he or she wants to portray. The children will resent this as they get older as he/she won’t listen to their preferences. This is their lesson in life to learn, not yours. Learning to cope and successfully interact with a narcissistic parent is the lesson that they have in store for them. After all, they will need to deal with this parent for the rest of their lives. As long as they are not in danger, you can work with them to minimize the emotional impact.

6. Maintain firm boundaries: It is imperative to draw clear boundaries with your ex and consistently maintain them What exactly are boundaries? They define what’s acceptable to you. They include such things as respecting other people’s property, space, or time. Time is a common boundary that is broken (Example: The ex is supposed to pick up the children at 6 p.m. every Friday but is consistently late. He or she is being disrespectful to your schedule, which is your boundary). People with NPD have a hard time relating to others, understanding what’s appropriate and understanding boundaries.  Your ex will not like the boundaries you set, where you draw the line, and even the fact that you drew a line. Understand that they are responsible, not you, for how they feel or behave when you set boundaries. They are likely to rant or tantrum initially, but if you maintain your boundaries firmly, they will succumb.

7. Use their narcissism against them: Try to make it seem like every decision is his and/or benefits him more than you. Play up to his need for public admiration (“Everyone will see you at the park with the kids and know what a good dad you are” or “Everyone knows what a good father you are, so I know you wouldn’t mind doing such-and-such”). You have to be able to say these things without sarcasm in your voice or it won’t work. Sometimes it is about the end result, not how you got there.