Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist
By Sheri Miesner-Phegley
Do not be surprised if your narcissist co-parent often is on the attack. He or she may hurl accusations at you, throw past mistakes in your face – often with a “spin”, and may be full of hostility and contempt. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling as though you must defend yourself or argue false allegations. DON’T! When you make the decision to argue your case or defend yourself, you feed into the narcissist’s sick need to control and you give them the desired “high” which often is simply getting a rise out of you so they can point their finger and show the world how ill-behaved you are.
Pathological narcissists will exploit anyone close to them and this includes partners and children without the faintest glimmer of empathy. You probably already got a taste of this while you were in a relationship with the narcissist as they likely often told you that you would be nothing without them, but yet blamed you exclusively for every shortcoming. They have unhealthy boundary issues and it is up to you to set firm boundaries. This may be difficult, especially if you spent years of your life married to a narcissist.
During your marriage it may have often been easier to keep your own wants and needs quiet and subjugate yourself in the effort of keeping peace. You probably learned that the narcissist couldn’t care less about your wants and needs and if you dared to voice them, you were likely told that you didn’t deserve those things or that you were flawed in some way for neglecting your narcissist long enough to take care of your own needs. I’m here to forewarn you that establishing boundaries will not be met with a warm welcome by the narcissist in your life. Expect a large amount of protest, accusations that you are being selfish and are forsaking the needs of the children for your own interests. Ignore these protests and accusations and stand firm.
Narcissists have attachment issues. Meaning, they don’t know where “you” end and “I” begin. People who have been in relationships with narcissists often feel hunted and feel as though they are never left alone physically or emotionally. You must be available to the narcissist at all times. Failure to comply may leave your phone ringing non-stop, receiving endless streams of text messages or your email inbox full of repeated messages from this person. They believe they are the most important person in the universe and when they ask a question, they expect an immediate response. If this doesn’t happen, all sorts of accusations are made: you’re being manipulative, you’re being uncooperative and more. They do not have the ability to simply leave a voicemail message or wait a few hours (or days) for a reply email if you are not immediately available. Instead they will call relentlessly, email non-stop – often sending the exact same email multiple times, and if that doesn’t work, then they may resort to contacting people close to you – your children, spouse, parents, friends, etc. If you have a differing point of view on a topic, they will often use this same tactic and will contact the people close to you to “talk some sense” into you.
Keeping all of these things in mind will help immensely in your effort to co-parent. In summary:
1. Do not engage, argue or defend accusations. Let the narcissistic parent hurl whatever accusations they please. If they ask you a question which requires a response, just stick to the facts. A simple yes or no. Don’t elaborate because all it will do is spark more conflict. Keep communication simple and to the point. Don’t address accusations, only address facts of importance.
2. Don’t try to win the argument. You won’t. Let the narcissist have the last word. If you insist on trying to have the last word, tensions will rise and the situation may escalate to something you don’t want. If the narcissist accuses you of being selfish, let them continue to believe that if that is what they wish to do. Don’t defend against the accusations. It is more important to provide your children with as much peace as you are able than it is to prove to the narcissist that you are “right” and he is “wrong”. You will never convince him that he is wrong anyway. To attempt to do this is to learn a valuable lesson in futility.
3. Set firm boundaries. Yes, you must continue to have a relationship with this person because you share children, but you do not have to allow this person to use you as a doormat. If you live in the marital home and the narcissist insists on barging their way into your home, change the locks and refuse the person entry if you do not wish to have that person in your home. Insist the individual remain in his or her vehicle for custody exchanges. If you give the person these instructions and they do not listen, don’t hesitate to call the police. Yes, it would be an unfortunate situation for your children to have to witness if you need to call the police, but the flip side is that you are teaching your children a valuable lesson – to stand up for themselves and not allow another person to bully them around. Children learn the lessons we teach them as parents and some of the lessons they learn are not conscious ones we mean to teach. Make sure that all the messages your children learn and receive from you as a parent are positive ones. Always be have in a way that will allow you to look your children in the eye as they grow into adults, when they are older and better able to understand the things they do not understand today.
You must talk to the narcissist on the phone from time to time to discuss schedule changes and the like, however you do not have to put up with verbal abuse from this person. If they cannot speak to you respectfully, let the person know you will not speak to them until they can behave with more self-restraint and respect. If they continue to tirade, hang up.
4. Continue to put one foot in front of the other. Practice meditation or whatever it takes you to find a place of inner calm and strength. You must learn how to have nerves of steel and infinite patience. If you thought being married to this person was exasperating, you’re in for a huge shock when you realize that your marriage was a walk in the park compared to the divorce. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing you were still married to the narcissist for the pure and simple fact that even though the marriage was intolerable, it was sugar and spice compared to your relationship now. Don’t feel guilty for feeling this way, but don’t back down and ruin the awesome freedom you now have for the ball and chains you gave up.
Once you are able to gain some distance, it will be easier to remove yourself from emotionally charged situations and you will be able to view them for what they are – your ex’s childish attempt at trying to continue to control the uncontrollable – YOU. No one controls you except you. Don’t give anyone that power ever again.
After almost 20 years of marriage and four kids together, I think I’ve earned the right to label my former husband, who I’ll call Mr. Hyde. I know it sounds harsh, but it is the truth. I didn’t have a great marriage, but we created a wonderful family. Lots of great memories. I was fortunate enough to stay home with my children for the majority of the marriage. From the outside looking it, I had it all. And truthfully, I was very blessed. What I didn’t realize is the family we were creating was to satisfy Mr. Hyde’s narcissistic needs. I thought he was my protector, provider and best friend. It turns out that he was setting me up to be his future scapegoat for all his failures. It has been a little over two years since our divorce was finalized. He is already remarried, to his mistress. It has been an emotional roller coaster to say the least, with one court battle after another. The worst part of it all is the effect it has had on our children. For me, it has been a stressful nightmare but I refuse to give up.
I’m learning a lot about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how difficult it has been to co-parent with someone suffering from this. If interested in more information about this subject, I’ve created a separate category. It truly is my hope that through learning and sharing, that I will do more than just survive divorce. More importantly to me, is that I can arm my children with the tools they need to enjoy the rest of their childhood and feel nothing but love and support.