Protecting Your Children from a Narcissistic Co Parent
- Co-parenting with a narcissist
- Tips for dealing with a difficult co-parent
- Protecting your children from harm
Being married to a narcissist is difficult enough, but divorcing them can throw their narcissistic tendencies into overdrive. While you’re glad for the marriage to finally be over, the reality is you may still need to co-parent with them.
How do you survive co-parenting with a narcissistic ex, and how can you keep your kids’ mental health in check amid your ex’s manipulative behavior?
Co-parenting with a narcissist
The torment of living with a narcissist is real. And even when you finally extricate yourself from your destructive marriage to them, you’re still in the thick of a co-parenting relationship with them if you have kids.
While co-parenting is difficult in general, co-parenting with a narcissist is “difficult” on steroids. Unfortunately, your divorce may have only further fueled their anger and need for revenge.
Not all narcissists have an official diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, or (NPD). Further, not all people with narcissistic traits have NPD.
Keep the kids safe
What tactics may you have experienced at the hands of your narcissistic partner while you were together? Your ex may have demonstrated a lack of empathy, an inflated sense of entitlement, a self-centered attitude, an excessive need for validation, or gaslighting behaviors, to name a few. Now, you may be free of their narcissistic abuse, but your child – who likely has time with them as part of your custody agreement – is not.
Does your ex’s behavior present any danger to your kids? Their control and manipulation may have been centered on you while you were married, but now they may try to punish you through your children during their parenting time. Pay attention to red flags, and take action the minute you think the kids may be in danger.
Tips for dealing with your difficult co-parent
If your ex exhibits narcissistic traits, there’s not much you can do about it. After all, you couldn’t change them while you were married. The chances of you changing them now are remote. Keeping as healthy a co-parenting relationship as possible with them will require a lot of restraint on your part.
Set firm boundaries
When your ex tries to maintain control over you, start by creating firm boundaries. When you establish what’s okay and absolutely not okay, you can let go of the small stuff and concentrate on the stuff that matters. And when you’re co-parenting, what matters is the health and welfare of your kids.
Create a highly specific parenting plan
Chances are, your ex will still try to manipulate you post-divorce. Develop and stick to a concrete parenting plan with little wiggle room. Without precise rules in place, your ex has plenty of opportunity to read into gray areas according to their agenda. Anticipate anything that could be misinterpreted, and create a co-parenting rule around it. The more specific you can be, the better.
Free downloadable worksheet: Create Your Co-Parenting Plan
Use direct and impersonal communication
Communication with your ex may yield more conflict than resolution. The more verbal communication you have with your ex, the more opportunities they have to manipulate or anger you. Limit your contact as much as possible to texts and emails that deal with the nuts and bolts of parenting. Stay calm, and consider the source when they do succeed in pushing your buttons.
Consider parallel parenting
Limiting your contact with your ex may not be enough. If there is still a lot of conflict in your communication, you may want to consider parallel parenting. Parallel parenting takes a more individual approach to co-parenting children. As parallel parents, you and your ex agree to stay out of each other’s parenting. While some critical decisions about your kids will still need to be made together, parallel parenting leaves the day-to-day decisions to be made independently of the other co-parent.
Protecting your children from harm
While your ex's narcissistic behavior affected your marriage, it could also affect your children. In fact, narcissists are often the offspring of their own narcissistic parents.
Your co-parent may use the same toxic guilt, fear, and criticism to control your children that they used to control you. And, like you, these behaviors can harm your children’s emotional and physical well-being. How can you protect them and offset any harm they experience at the hands of your narcissistic co-parent?
Unfortunately, protecting your kids from a toxic co-parent isn’t always straightforward. Make sure that your home is a place of safety, stability, and nurturing for your kids to take refuge.
Look for these red flags
Learn to recognize any red flags that your co-parent's behavior may be harming your kids mentally or physically. Signs may include a lack of self-esteem, depression, acting out, regression, and even self-harm. While you can’t keep your ex from your children unilaterally, if you believe your kids are being emotionally abused by your ex-spouse, keep records of the behavior you’re seeing. Document any suspected abuse. You may also want to reach out to your children’s teachers or pediatrician to get more insight into what may be happening.
If you have evidence of abuse, contact an attorney immediately to file changes to your existing court order to limit your children’s contact with your co-parent. Find a therapist who can talk with your children and make an evaluation to inform the court if they believe abuse is occurring. You will also want to make a formal report to your local child protective agency.
Read: What Is Gaslighting?
Co-parenting with a narcissist may even be more difficult than being married to one. While being controlled or denigrated by your spouse is one thing, considering that your children are being harmed while they’re not with you is another.
Unfortunately, emotional abuse is not always apparent and may take time to surface. Get support from others who may be dealing with similar circumstances. Keep vigilant, and provide a safe haven for your kids when they are with you. Having one loving and stable parent is better than living in an emotionally unstable household full-time.
Reconciliation can help patch up a damaged parent-child relationship in the wake of divorce. What is reconciliation counseling? Learn more here.
Divorce is complicated and can be especially so when one partner has serious emotional issues or a personality disorder. At Hello Divorce, we believe that the more support and information you have, the better you’ll fare through the divorce process. Schedule a free phone call to learn how we may be able to help.