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How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

Co-parenting with a narcissistic ex is not easy. Your child/children have grown up believing that narcissistic behavior is acceptable and they love both of their parents. A narcissistic parent will never love their children as much as a non-narcissistic parent and they may simply be unable to put their childrens’ needs ahead of their own.

Co-parenting with a narcissist is close to impossible because it takes teamwork. A separate parenting style that has been applied when a parent is a narcissist is known as parallel parenting. Parallel parenting is a minimalistic parenting plan that is designed to reduce parental conflict allowing you to gain some control and reduce your vulnerability to manipulation. Under parallel parenting, the parents do not try to have a consistent set of rules for the children. Each parent has their own parenting style. This type of parenting is designed so that each parent can stay out of the other parent’s business as much as possible.

When parenting with a narcissist, it is important to understand the tactics you ex will use to manipulate you and your child/children:

  • Narcissistic parents engage in “Disney parenting”. One of the first tactics a narcissistic parent is likely to engage in once custody is settled is to become what is known as the Disney parent. A Disney parent is the always fun and exciting parenting. This form of parenting helps draw the child toward the narcissistic parent and away from the other parent.
  • Narcissistic parents engage in parental alienation. Your narcissistic ex may try to alienate children from you by pointing out flaws, inconsistencies, over discipline and hurt caused by the other parent. This may cause a child to shy away from the other parent in favor of the narcissistic parent.
  • Narcissistic parents pick favorites. In order to create conflict between siblings, a narcissistic parent often picks favorites. When one child does not conform as the narcissistic parent wants, the narcissist will single that child out as being disrespectful, irresponsible, ungrateful and/or rebellious. The narcissistic parent will then shower the other child/children with praise, gifts and attention.
  • Narcissistic parents engage in projection. Parenting by projection for a narcissist ex involves telling children that it is really the other parent who is the narcissist. The negative narcissist traits are projected on to the other parent; positive traits are preserved for the narcissistic parent.  The narcissistic parent is only concerned with twisting the truth to look superior to the other parent.
  • Narcissistic parents engage in unnecessary generosity and excessive discipline. Unnecessary generosity involves giving lavish gifts and is generally done at random times so that the narcissistic parent gets maximum attention for the act. The child is left with a feeling of gratitude and obligation toward the narcissistic parent. Once this immediate devotion is gone, the narcissistic parent comes angry and may take the gift back. The child then is prompted to give even more praise and adoration towards the narcissistic parent. Excessive discipline is the opposite of unnecessary generosity. Discipline is given even for minor infractions. The combination of these two tactics is referred to as push-pull.  While the unnecessary generosity pulls the child toward the narcissistic parent, excessive discipline invokes fear and pushes the child away. The narcissistic parent knows this mentally abusive conduct aggravates the other parent. Thus, by engaging in push-pull tactics, the narcissist parent is able to maintain control over both the child/children and the other parent.
  • Narcissistic parents may be dream stealers. Dream stealing occurs when the other parent expresses a desire to do something with the child/children, such as an exciting vacation. The narcissistic parent will claim the dream was his/her idea and make it happen.  Any complaint by the other spouse comes off as sour grapes and serves to only make the narcissistic parent look and feel better.
  • Narcissistic parents may use joint custody as a weapon against you. If you share joint legal decision making, a parent may withhold consent for treatment, programs, schooling issues, etc. This is especially hard if you have a child with special needs educationally or medically. You may want to obtain resources for your children and be blocked by the narcissistic parent. You must document exactly what is happening and how this behavior is not in your child’s best interest. Eventually, you may need to ask the court for sole legal decision making or final decision making authority, but avoid doing so until you have ample evidence over a long period of time.
  • Narcissistic parents engage in gaslighting. A favorite tactic of narcissistic parents is telling a child that the other spouse is making things up and is crazy, rewriting history and using the push-pull tactic to cement the narcissistic parent’s revisionary version of events. If the other spouse complains, the narcissistic parent simply blames the child for exaggerating. The child is confused and stuck between parents, causing anxiety issues.
  • Narcissistic parents utilize silent treatment. Narcissistic parents are experts at using the silent treatment to get what they want. While the narcissistic parent will demand the other parent contact them when the child is away, the narcissistic parent will not do the same in return. If the other parent complains, the narcissistic parent complains the other parent is demanding, controlling and overbearing.
  • Narcissistic parents engage in wrongful punishment. A narcissistic parent may punish a child when he/she becomes upset with the other parent. This conduct is so blatant that the child can easily recognize it. Instead of becoming upset at the narcissistic parent, the child will become resentful of the other parent for his/her lack of protection.
  • Narcissistic parents make custody threats. Threatening to change the custody agreement is a tactic narcissistic parents engage in when the other spouse does not agree with the narcissist or his/her parenting. The narcissistic parent does not want more time with the children; he/she is simply trying to hurt the other parent and exert control.

Knowing what to expect from a narcissistic parent will allow you to have some control over the situation and help you make better parenting decisions for your child/children.

As during the divorce, whenever communicating with your narcissistic ex for parenting purposes:

  • Put everything in writing.
  • Keep your comments and reactions to a minimum.
  • Keep your emotions out of the co-parenting process.
  • Be direct and stick to the facts.
  • Do not engage in “he said; she said”.
  • Be truthful.
  • Be friendly.
  • Control your emotions.
  • Do not depend on your narcissist ex.
  • Ignore what your narcissist ex does at home.
  • Set emotional and physical boundaries and be firm.

It is helpful for children who have a narcissistic parent to see a therapist knowledgeable of narcissistic conduct to help them understand what is going on, which can prevent years of unnecessary anxiety.

As a final note, when parenting with a narcissistic ex, it is important not to make comments about your ex in front of your children or to others who also interact with your ex. Doing so will likely result in your narcissistic ex getting wind of these statements, spurring retaliation and further gamesmanship against you.

The upside of being divorced from your narcissist is that you can now parent your children and run your household the way you would like. Your ex may have interfered with your relationship with your children, your style of discipline, or other ways you wanted to parent. Now that you are out, you can create the world you want with you and your children.