Co-parenting with a narcissist seems like an impossibility. But, truthfully you’re not really going to be parenting with them, it’s more like you’re going to be parenting around them. There’s a difference between co-parenting, and parallel parenting. With someone who has strong narcissistic tendencies, it’s almost impossible to co-parent.
Why Is It So Hard Parenting With A Narcissist?
Part of what makes it so hard to parent with a narcissist is they tend to burn the emotional house down as they walk out the door. If you reject them, you reject their worldview. If you reject their worldview they perceive you as a direct threat. It is possible to divorce a narcissist or someone with narcissistic tendencies and not have this be the result. It requires understanding their worldview and crafting your communications so that they fit with their worldview. This can be done in such a way that you and your children win as well. It isn’t easy!
Co-parenting vs. Parallel Parenting
Co-parenting is a process where both parents share the same values, principles, and ideas about what’s best for the children. They have agreements about what time the children go to bed, what they’re going to eat, what kind of kids are going to play with, when they’re going to do homework, etc.
Parallel parenting is where each parent has differences in some or all of these areas. In a parallel parenting situation, the child is faced with different ground rules and different routines in each household.
Naturally, this can be confusing for the child or advantageous depending on their point of view. The ideal is to co-parent. When parenting with someone who has narcissistic tendencies, there’s going to be little room for agreement. Particularly if they leave angry and feeling threatened.
Some of The Dangers
Children want and need consistency in their lives. When parents are parallel parenting, at the very least children will experience discord and disharmony. Having inconsistency in households can lead to emotional instability on the part of the children. In plain English, they don’t feel safe.
This sense of lack of safety can be compounded when each parent has a very distinct worldview. In the case of a parent with narcissistic tendencies, they will very much want the children to buy into their worldview. In fact, someone with a narcissistic tendency is going to feel threatened when any worldview other than theirs is presented. They are highly likely to emotionally bully and/or gaslight the children.
Criticizing the narcissistic parent to the children will increase the lack of safety for them. Finger-pointing never works, even when you’re right. The trick is to create a safe environment in your home so that the children can see the difference between the two ways of living. You want the children to have a safe haven where they can be themselves.
Co-parenting with a narcissist is complicated. Some actions as criticizing the narcissistic parent to the children will increase the lack of safety for them. Finger-pointing never works, even when you’re right. The trick is to create a safe environment in your home so that the children can see the difference between the two ways of living. You want the children to have a safe haven where they can be themselves.
Here are seven tips to co-parenting with a narcissist:
1. Manage Your Own Triggers
Because you’re creating a safe environment for your children, it is vital that you manage your own triggers. Triggers are the little things that make us go from 0 to 60 emotionally. Feeling like our children are being threatened? Major trigger! Even though the desire to protect your children is natural and normal, you’re going to need to reach channel it. You can’t get rid of the other parent. Criticizing them won’t work.
Managing your triggers looks like identifying what they are. Once you know what they are, you get to work on staying calm even when you feel triggered. Great tools for this are mindfulness, meditation, and prayer. Brain studies show that when we engage in one or all of these practices four times a week or more, we will be less triggered over time and more rational.
The key is to stay rational even when you’re feeling fearful, angry, or upset.
2. Set clear boundaries.
Setting boundaries means creating a safe space for yourself. You will not change the other person. Boundaries are not meant for that. Boundaries are a way that we define for ourselves what we will and will not tolerate. When the narcissist launches into gaslighting with us, is that something we’re willing to tolerate? No that’s why we got divorced! A boundary here would be to say to yourself “every time they start gaslighting I’m going to take a time out”. Or some similar action.
We’re looking for ways to manage our own triggers, keep ourselves feeling safe, and not be affected by the other person. This is vital in every aspect of our lives but especially when dealing with people who have narcissistic tendencies.
3. Document Everything.
Create written documentation for any areas of agreement. Make sure that you both have access to them and can refer to them. The more clearly defined and transparent the areas of agreement are, the less likely you are to be gaslit about these particular things.
If you’re concerned about the well-being of your children, again you will want to document every incident that is of concern to you. If in the future you choose to go to court, the court system honors written notes and journals above verbal recollection.
4. Kids First
Though your partner will give lip service to this concept, you will need to live it. The well-being of the kids will come before all else. When you live by this principle, you’re going to be less reactive overall.
This is a form of keeping your eyes on the prize. The prize is the health and well-being of your children. When we have our eyes on the prize, our egos and being right become far less important. When we have our eyes on the well-being of our children, we will find ways to frame solutions so that the other parent is more likely to receive it.
When we put our children first and have our eyes on this prize, we may even find ways to help the other parent claim ideas that we give them as theirs. This is the ultimate win-win, having the narcissist feel that they have come up with the solution even if you spoon-fed it to them a week earlier.
5. Be The Rock.
Your children need consistency. It’s on you to be the one to deliver it. A narcissistic parent will twist reality to their own ends and means. Your children will experience a constantly shifting landscape in the other household. That makes it vital that you are the rock of their experience in your own.
Your children may exhibit behavior that you’ve seen in the other parent. Don’t stress over this.Be the rock. When they see how their behavior stands next to your consistency, they will choose safety and consistency every time .
6. Build Resilience.
The next step to being the rock is to actually build your children up so that you balance out the negative impact of the narcissistic parent on them. Part of building consistency is creating habits and traditions that communicate strong values and lifestyles to your children.
Help them to connect with your extended family. Help them understand where they come from, and what the different influences are in their life. The more they understand all the contributing threads to who they are, the wider the choices they have behaviorally. Remember that behavior is not always genetically driven. Children choose their behavior. As they see the strengths of consistency, of living a life grounded in purpose and value beyond getting their own way, your children will have more options to choose from. Children will always choose environments that feel safe and empowering over the reverse.
7. Build Support.
Leaning into your extended family is one way to begin to build support for yourself and your children. Others include connecting to spiritual communities, particularly of your family if it feels appropriate.
Other opportunities are professional help. Find coaches who are familiar with the problems of raising a child with a narcissist, or who have expertise in resilience. Get therapeutic help. And of course, always have a lawyer you trust in your hip pocket!
Katherine E. Miller is a Divorce Attorney, who is also a certified mediator and a trained collaborative divorce professional. In practice for over 30 years and personally divorced, Miller is the founder of the Miller Law Group, all women’s boutique law firm with seven divorce professionals. Miller is also the Director at the Center for Understanding in Conflict, the organization that teaches mediation, collaborative law and other conflict resolution skills, and she hosts the podcast and radio show, “Divorce Dialogues.” Additionally, Miller is the former president of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals. She is a graduate of Vassar College and Fordham University school of Law. Learn more: Miller-law.com.