Help I’m co-parenting with a narcissist

Okay two points to make;

  1. While every week I hear the words “my ex is a Narcissist,” Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can only be diagnosed through clinical evaluation and is estimated to effect only 1% of the population. It is therefore very unlikely your ex has NPD.
  2. If your ex does have NPD there is not going to be a co-parenting relationship.

It is therefore more likely you may be co-parenting with someone who lacks empathy, a conscience and/or just has deeply entrenched feelings of hatred towards you. This doesn’t make them a narcissist, but it can make them a diagnosed A*%$hole and unfortunately you are left to deal with that.

While my skill set doesn’t extend to diagnosing your ex, I can give you some tips on protecting yourself when your ex is an A&^%hole. This will in turn protect your kids from the fall out.

Minimise contact

High conflict people love to engage in the psychological battle. The hidden agenda is to keep you entrenched in the relationship. The dynamic of engaging in an ongoing battle is simply toxic for your children.

Having a parenting plan that minimises the amount of contact you have with your ex is critical. Think about handovers taking place at school and/or daycare so face to face contact is avoided.

Another scenario in really high conflict situations is handovers at the home of a third party. In this scenario you can pick someone familiar to the children, drop the children off 15 minutes prior to your ex arriving and then collect them 15 minutes after they are dropped back.  This isn’t a long-term solution as it is a big ask for your friends but it can help calm the waters if things have got unsafe.

If you don’t have a third party to help you I recommend you pick a public spot where there will be witnesses. Please note these scenarios are only designed as short-term measures in times of high conflict and/or where you have concern for your physical safety. It is best for your children that handovers are conducted in a normal environment and in a natural manner.

Limit the communication pathways

In this day and age we are available to be contacted in so many ways it can be exhausting and that’s when the communications are positive. When the communications are high conflict it can be stressful and affect your health when you ccan be reached on so many platforms  i.e.  via phone calls, email, text, messenger, facetime, snap chat etc etc..

In your parenting plan, set an agreed method of communication and block your ex from all others.

Make sure there is one direct communication option  that can be used in cases of emergencies such as a hospitalised child. All other communications should be via one agreed channel.

Establish firm boundaries

Making a care plan and sticking to it will provide your child with a safe, predictable and secure buffer from insidious psychological damage. The roller coaster an A&^%hole parent perpetrates can be even more detrimental to a child’s healthy development than overt abuse.

Vow to be calm, pleasant and non-emotional

This is a massive task if ever there was one. BUT if your ex is gaining in their emotional intensity and threatening to drag you along for the ride, one of you has to consider the impact on the kids.

Breathe deeply, hold your tongue, meditate, find a support group…. do all of the above. Take care of your mental and physical well being and Just Stop engaging or reacting to your ex.

Limit phone and text contact with your child whilst in your ex’s care and vice versa

Phone calls when your kid is with your ex is a hot topic. Everyday calls are too much and simply are not necessary. If you really think the child needs a phone call while absent from you then every 3-4 days is usually sufficient.

Think about and plan what you will and won’t say when you have contact with the child via phone/text -especially if the child is complaining about the parent they are with an/or wanting to come home to you (see my blog on refusing and resisting contact)

Allowing your child to contact you about something your ex is doing is to invite triangulation. Triangulation is where the child becomes involved in the parent’s conflictual interactions by taking sides, distracting parents and carrying messages in order to avoid or minimise conflict between the parents.

If your child expresses unhappiness with the other parent when out of your care you must tread with great caution to avoid triangulation and alienating behaviour. Encourage the child to discuss the problem with the other parent and/or let the child know you will talk with them. Be supportive of the contact and highlight the importance of the child’s relationship with the other parent.

The upside of your child learning to assert themselves in the presence of an unwieldly parent is to learn valuable coping skills for dealing with difficult personalities down the road. It also teaches them and models to them social and emotional intelligence as well as nurturing your child’s independence.