10 Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

How to cope when you are forever tied to a narcissist.

Posted Jan 11, 2016

After posting Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 on signs you are in a relationship with a narcissist and what to do about it, I received emails and comments asking what to do when you have children with a narcissist.  

While walking away from a narcissist is difficult enough, it is even more of a challenge when you are forever linked to the narcissist via your children with him or her. 

If you have children with a narcissist, be prepared for what is known as a high-conflict parenting situation.  These are custody cases where a parent, or parents, are antagonistic.  For the narcissist, getting you riled up is a way they can get attention and continue their hold on you.

In many of the co-parenting tips below, it is recommended that you seek the assistance of an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, the American Bar Association has information on your state's pro bono children's rights programs. you can find attorneys that will work with you at no cost at www.probono.net

I do custody evaluations and have also worked with families with high-conflict custody issues.  I also have training in parent coordination.  Here's what I've learned works for people who are co-parenting with a narcissist. 

1.  Set boundaries about communication.

Narcissists can live for the ability to get you riled up.  They then may turn it around and portray you as unstable.  Do not give them ammunition.  Communicate with your ex-spouse through email rather than over the phone.  This gives you more time to think about what you say before you say it, and it establishes a paper trail.  

Establish set times that the parent calls the child while you have visitation.  Do not be surprised if the narcissist parent must speak with the child several times during visitation with the other parent.  Be especially cautious of this if your child has a cell phone. 

Stick to facts when talking with your ex-spouse.  Try to leave emotions out of your part of the discussion as much as possible.  Narcissist feed off your emotions.  Do not feed them.

2.  Seek a parent coordinator through the courts.

Judges can appoint a parent coordinator in high-conflict cases.  Scheduling and communication is done through the parent coordinator.  In many states, parent coordinators receive special training and certification.  Parent coordinators not only reduce your stress, but can also reduce your child's stress as well.  Speak to an attorney about getting a parent coordinator appointed. 

3.  Have a Guardian ad Litem appointed for your child. 

If you are having a custody dispute (more common when your ex-spouse is a narcissist), you can have a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) appointed for your child.  A GAL (GAL) looks out for your child's interests while you are involved in the court system.  A GAL acts as an advocate and support person. They can be requested by your attorney, and are appointed by a judge. 

4. Refuse to make your child a pawn. 

Keep your side of the street clean.  Do not use your child to convey messages to the other parent.  Do not vent to your child about their parent - if you need to vent, talk to friends and see a therapist.  If you find that your ex-spouse is sending messages to you through your child (more likely to happen if you have set firm boundaries regarding your communication with them),

Do not use your child to do "reconnaissance" or "fact-finding" missions.  In other words, don't mine your child for information about what is going on at the other parent's house.  If your child wants to talk about it, a simple "How are you?" will usually get the ball rolling. 

5.  Have a detailed custody agreement. 

See a family law attorney.  Let the attorney know that your ex-spouse is high-conflict. Have every detail written out - who pays for what percentage of medical costs, establish firm visitation days and times, and spell out visitation for all holidays.  Your attorney can =give you advice on how to handle high-conflict situations when they arise.

6.  Keep detailed records. 

If your child's parent did not show up for visitation, write it down.  Also write down the date and time of phone calls and use direct quotes.  If you meet with an attorney, they will want this documentation.  

If you are considering recording phone calls, keep in mind that state laws vary regarding recording conversations.  In many states, you must notify the other party before you record. Seek the advice of an attorney first.

7.  Have your child attend counseling.

In a high-conflict parenting situation, your kids pick up on more than you think.  Even children of a young age can be very perceptive to how their parents are behaving.  It is natural for a child to feel that they are the cause of their parents' poor behavior.  It is also more likely that the narcissist will start exhibiting narcissistic behavior towards the child(ren) - for that reason it is important for your kids to see a counselor.  

There are play therapy counselors who are specially trained in working with children. There are also counselors that are trained in handling high-conflict parenting cases.  Check your custody agreement about if both parents have to give the okay for the child to see a counselor.  Don't be surprised if the narcissist either doesn't want the child in counseling, or once your child has started going to counseling, the narcissist takes the child to a counselor that they feel is "better".  

8.  Do not argue with the narcissist.  You will not win.

Never let them see you sweat.  Narcissists feed off of keeping you off-kilter and upset.  Repeat to yourself, I am calm, cool, and collected.  Do what is in the best interest of your child.  I cannot stress that enough.  If you are faced with a situation where you really, really want to tell your ex-spouse what you think of him or her, ask yourself, what is in my child's best interest?

9.  Be aware of narcissist triggers.

When your child starts showing independence, this can be an issue for the narcissist.  To the narcissist, an independent child brings up feelings of abandonment.  Be aware that your child's new-found independence may trigger behavior "flare-ups" with the narcissist.  Also, as you learned in Part 2 of the narcissist series, narcissists tend to ruin holidays.  If you know that the narcissist may act up around these dates, you can take preventative steps to protect yourself emotionally.

10.  Practice good self-care.

It can be extremely stressful co-parenting with a narcissist.  For that reason, make sure you are taking good care of yourself.  Good ways to relax and let off steam include exercise, journaling (password protect and encrypt), meditation, and spending time with compassionate friends.  In order to be the best caretaker of your child, you need to take good care of yourself first.  Seek your own counselor - it is very helpful to air your concerns to a neutral third-party.

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