Is the Carpool Swimming With Narcissists?

Or anxious, insecure or troubled people doing the best they can.

Posted Sep 04, 2012

Parents are bombarded with books about how to parent, but what dealing with other kids’ parents? We're talking the lot of them: the mavens, the bossy ones, the rude ones, the passive-aggressive ones, the competitive ones, the organized (and disorganzied) ones. And what about the parent-sized teacher's pets?  

With school starting, every parent knows that kids are not the only ones who have to deal with seemingly “difficult” peers. There are plenty of parents who get out of control, too. They are typically referred to by others as control freaks, are categorized as annoying, might even be termed narcissistic (with very strong traits), and said to have blind spots when it comes to their child’s (and their own) ill treatment of others.

School is starting again—or maybe your kids have been back for awhile.  I’ve overheard conversations and spoken with parents who indicate that dealing with the parents of their kids’ friends seems to be as complex, perplexing and aggravating as the situations their kids (of all ages) are dealing with: competitiveness, one-upmanship, snubbing, over-anxiousness that leads to being cold and terse, broken promises, self centeredness--the list goes on. The more forgiving parent might call the other parent “intense” (wink, wink); the less forgiving might label the other parent a narcissist.

In Narcissism: Surviving the Self-Involved, I write about groupings of traits related to narcissism (traits we may see in parents, and, sadly, even earlier in their children). About these traits I write: “One such characteristic that stands alone likely does not an n make.” Still, when you are dealing with any amount of these traits, a little taste goes a long way, and often lingers for way too long. These traits can include an unpredictable way of relating, withholding, lacking empathy, critical, envious, entitlement issues, shallow, inflicts pain (often emotionally, through the above mentioned behaviors, though not limited to them), and rigid.  

But a difficult parent, narcissist or not, remains a challenge (not only for their child) but for other parents.

With adult children now, I’m relatively removed from the tension of car pools and classrooms, of fundraisers and sports teams—and other parents in a school setting. But given the time of year, I thought it would be interesting to get perspective on this issue  from those who are raising kids currently, in real time, and, from others who have the benefit of hindsight. So, I sent an email and asked:

What is your best remedy for dealing with difficult parents of your child's friend? How do you help your child, and yourself? Is there a singular thing you've found that helps? Backing off? Gaining perspective? Taking your own timeout? How do you explain a parent like this to your child? How do you help them to cope?

And readers, how do you cope, or how have you dealt? Please share your solutions to help other parents.


Monica Bhide is a food, travel and parenting writer. Her work appears in Parents, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, AARP- The magazine, Four Seasons magazine and many other outlets.  You can see her work at 

“I find that my kids take cues from how I react to people. We do have one parent who is very, well, hyper, and is sometimes very difficult to be around. This parent can be very overwhelming. I think what has helped us is understanding that this parent is a terrific person who does have one side that is hard for us to deal with. So we do see the family, but on a very limited basis. We go out to dinner with them or see them at the movies but have cancelled all activities that involved us just ‘hanging out’ with them with no agenda. This parent is fine when there are ‘planned events.’ My son and I talked about this and it really has worked for us.” 


Barbara Bietz is an educator, writer, blogger, and book reviewer who has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. She is the author of the award-winning chapter book, Like a Maccabee (Yotzoret Publishing)

“As parents, we know our children will be influenced by numerous adults outside of the family unit – school teachers, coaches, instructors for music and dance, etc. Most will be positive role models who will help build character in our kids. Still, few of us escape the nightmare of the coach or ballet teacher who plays favorites, damages a child’s spirit, or humiliates through intimidation.  When do we arm our kids with the skills to handle difficult people? How do parents get involved without constant rescuing? It’s a delicate dance. Parents need to talk to their kids and to each other, without fear. If a child is miserable because of an unreasonable adult, it behooves the parent to step in.  In my experience, I have had to keep my own emotions in check so I could best support my kids.”  


Hollye Dexter is a mom of three, author of two memoirs and co-editor of Dancing at the Shame Prom.

"My child, who is six, had a friend since toddlerhood. For four years they played together at weekly play dates, until the child’s parent became paranoid, convinced that I and some other parents were "against" (sadly, a repeated motif for this person) and cut off the play dates. My child  has been so upset by this, asking me over and over why he can't play with the other child. I tell my child that this is a choice by the other parent, that in life we can't control the choices other people make. The good news is that in our own lives we always have choices. My child can choose to play with the other child at school, and play with other friends at play dates. Unfortunately, sharing the planet with difficult people is a hard fact of life, and sometimes a loss accompanies it. It's never too early for a child to learn that lesson."

"ASK: 'IS IT ME?'"

Marian Henley created the comic strip Maxine, and is the author of three books: Maxine! a graphic novel (1987), Laughing Gas, a collection of her Maxine comic strips (2002), and The Shiniest Jewel, a graphic memoir (2008) of becoming a parent through adoption 

“Difficult parents.  Hmm.  The first thing that comes to mind I one of them?  No, in all seriousness, I am a much older mother, having adopted an almost-two-year-old as I was turning fifty, and what I've lost in raw vitality I've gained in perspective.  In the few instances where another parent and I have clashed, I repeat this mantra:  both of us want what's best for our child. This reminds me that my seeming opponent and I share common ground and common cause.  It calms me right down every time.”


June Sobel is an award-winning children’s book author. Her titles include B is for Bulldozer: A Construction ABC , Shiver Me Letters, and The Good Night Train.

If the parent of a child's friend has a difficult personality my tendency would be to back off from interaction with them but I would not suspend my child's friendship. When my son was younger I was more concerned with the parenting style of his friend's parents with regards to safety. I would certainly opt for a friend with a more overbearing parent than one who was neglectful. Some of my son's early friendships ended due to the child's behavior, not the parents.