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Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Five tips to preserve your peace while co-parenting.

Marrying and divorcing a narcissist is rough, but co-parenting with a narcissist is almost impossible. The demands, attacks, threats, and attempts to inflict guilt are so skillful, they rattle a parent, sabotaging his or her mental health.

However, awareness of the narcissist’s dysfunctional tactics protects the parent struggling in this situation. Once these relational patterns are identified, it is easier to co-parent with a narcissist.

1. Expect nastiness and ignore. Backhanded comments and character attacks are a narcissist’s favorite pass times. Expecting these attacks prepares a person. They become easier to ignore. Otherwise, when a narcissist blindsides you, it feels like an emotional slap in the face, which evokes a knee jerk reaction. This is the narcissist’s goal. They want to elicit an emotional response, so they can accuse you of being “out of control.”

2. Be aware of triangulation. A narcissist loves to align one person, or group of people, with them and against another person. In other words, efforts to align the kids against you, hoping to put you in the position of “bad guy," may be frequent. Deflect this attempt by following a few guidelines:

  • Decide if the situation is safe or unsafe. For example, if the narcissist allows the kids to eat ice cream for breakfast, he is not risking their safety. Although this is not ideal, do your best to ignore it. However, if the situation is unsafe, for example, the narcissist allows the kids to ride in a car without seat belts, it is important to act.
  • First, appropriately educate your kids on safety. Empower and encourage them to be safe at all times, especially when you are not present. Next, document the date and time the incident occurred and save this information.
  • Next, calmly email your ex and politely ask him to be safe in the car with the kids. If he responds angrily and attempts to start a fight, ignore him. You have documented the incident, which is critical.

3. Do not succumb to threats or guilt. The narcissist wants to rattle your cage when you are enjoying your kids. Ignore his calls. Most likely, the narcissist refuses to return the grace or flexibility extended to him, so absolve yourself of guilt. Resurrect a healthy boundary and protect your time with the kids.

4. Be aware of the narcissist’s tendency to play favorites. Although it is upsetting to watch this unfold with your kids, confronting the narcissist is not productive. A narcissist has minimal ability to understand another person’s perspective if it differs from his. Instead, encourage the kids to share their feelings. When they do, empathize with their feelings.

5. Parent with empathy. Often, a narcissist lacks empathy, which is what a child needs to thrive emotionally. They are able to sympathize because they become the powerful saver and rescuer, which strokes their ego. Yet, pity strips children of their self efficacy and teaches them to play the victim.

For this reason, the parent without a narcissistic personality, will need to compensate for the narcissist’s lack of empathy by ensuring they are remaining emotionally attuned to their child, honoring their feelings, and empowering and encouraging.

Remember: Believe in yourself, parent with empathy, and stay calm. Narcissists will often eventually trip over their own ego.

More from Erin Leonard Ph.D.
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