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Forget Co-parenting With a Narcissist, Round 3

10 parenting habits emotionally stable adults practice, in spite of a toxic ex.

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As the writer of Forget Co-Parenting With a Narcissist: Do This Instead, and its Round 2 counterpart, I spend a good amount of time helping weary co-parents navigate high-conflict divorce and contentious parenting plans. As awful as it is to deal with the toxic atmosphere of family court, it is possible to implement emotionally stable habits so you can distance yourself from the drama.

Here are 10 ways to do just that.

Caveat: The suggestions below offer guideline support, but are not covered in detail due to the platform herein. The information below is expounded upon within my online course, Co-Parenting Without Chaos.

1. Emotionally stable co-parents accept that their ex is not going to change. And they stop wishing that this person one day wakes up and sees the impact of their frivolous, mean-spirited, and sociopathic behaviors. Instead, emotionally stable co-parents recognize that they chose a partner who, in hindsight, may fit the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, or sociopathy. They educate themselves on these mental health conditions to better understand the characterological manifestations.

2. Emotionally stable co-parents don’t complain about their ex. This is not to say they don’t have reason to feel outrage or experience random thoughts of skipping town with the kids, but they accept the game for what it is. They recognize that as adults, we are willing participants in relationships. When we complain, other people may be wondering, "Hmmm . . . didn’t you see the signs when you were dating?" As a psychotherapist, I assure you, there are always signs. I can also confirm, no kid on the couch ever says, “Thank goodness for all the badmouthing my parents did in front of me — that really helped me move forward and learn the basics of healthy relationships.”

3. Emotionally stable co-parents use therapy wisely. They recognize that they need to heal first in order to help their kids recover. They grow confident in their ability to guide their children once they’ve processed why they chose their co-parent in the first place. As my clinical supervisor used to say, “All issues with children are issues in the parent. The connection is not always linear.”

4. Emotionally stable co-parents do not waste time on co-parenting forums, because most are not helpful and, more often, are used as a platform for emotional vomiting and out-catastrophizing other people’s experiences. Rather, they spend their time and energy on hiring professionals. Emotionally stable co-parents do not write dramatic, autobiographical emails or post like-minded commentary, nor do they leave lengthy phone messages expecting free advice. They respect the ethical and legal restrictions of mental health and legal professionals for responding to non-clients.

5. Emotionally stable co-parents recognize that the job of a single parent is a lot easier when kids are held accountable for their behaviors. All children need discipline and guidance. Some may argue that children of divorce need more stability, consistency, and accountability due to the erratic and conflicting practices from the other side.

6. Emotionally stable co-parents speak to their kids about divorce in an honest and age-appropriate manner. They recognize that while they may not have the answer to “Why does daddy’s new friend sleep over at his house?” they refrain from angry, knee-jerk reactions. When stumped, they reach for books, such as Growing Up With Divorce by Neil Kalter or Divorce Poison by Richard Warshak.

7. Emotionally stable parents accept the tall order known as “bad parenting.” This may look like feeding him donuts and chocolate milk for breakfast, to cutting off all her hair one weekend just because, or criticizing you for grounding him when he told the football coach to "Go to hell." Because what’s the alternative? Spend $300 in attorney fees to hear that your issue isn’t "bad enough" to file a motion in court? Sadly, the nuances of emotional abuse can be hard to prove to those in power.

8. Emotionally stable co-parents don’t blame judges, attorneys, mediators, and therapists for their situation. This is not to say the family court system isn’t largely broken and in need of reform. But it is what it is, and none of its players are directly at fault when your ex doesn’t comply with the court order. Mentally stable co-parents view court as a place to be avoided for all non-emergency matters.

9. Emotionally stable co-parents teach their kids to be independent thinkers by inspiring them to question events that don’t make sense and to listen to their gut. If their co-parent tells them not to trust someone, they are encouraged to look for an alternative explanation.

10. Emotionally stable co-parents rise above the chaos and focus on nurturing their child’s mental and emotional well-being. They go to therapy, work their calm plan, relaxation routine, and mindfulness practices daily so they can parent with love, warmth, safety, and presence.

Even when the other parent does the opposite.

Copyright 2018 Linda Esposito, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author.