How to Co-Parent with your Narcissistic Ex

Co-parenting under the best circumstances can be hard, but co-parenting with a narcissist is especially difficult. You need to make decisions about your child’s education, medical care and other important things with a person who constantly disagrees with you, always has to be right and makes decisions based on their wants and needs and not the best interest of your child.

Is your Co-Parent a Narcisisst?

  • They have an exaggerated self-importance or feelings of superiority.
  • They have low empathy for others.
  • They think that they’re special.
  • They have a constant need for praise, attention and adoration.
  • They need to have special treatment.
  • They feel entitled.
  • They envy others.
  • They assume that others must be jealous or envious of them.
  • They use manipulation tactics to exploit others.

Co-parenting with a narcissist is challenging. Some of the co-parenting challenges you will have include:

The Narcissist’s Needs Come First
Narcissists prioritize their own needs and wants over your child’s needs. Their needs and wants are always going to be their top priority. They may not even be capable of putting your child’s needs above their own. The narcissist won’t be able to stop arguing in front of your child. They refuse to be flexible with you but will push the boundaries of your parenting plan and expect you to make changes based on their day-to-day whims. They will cancel or change your child’s appointments to suit their schedule or sometimes just to be spiteful to you!

Narcissists Are Overly Sensitive to Any Type of Criticism
Narcissists need praise, attention and adoration. In their attempt to be praised and adored, narcissists can be overly sensitive to criticism. They view your constructive feedback as an attack on them personally. Once they feel attacked, the gloves come off. They don’t fight fair and their arguments will seem irrational to you. They spiral quickly down the rabbit hole to name calling, yelling and screaming, all in front of your child. Co-parenting with an overly sensitive narcissist means (for you), you will have daily high conflict even over the simplest of issues.

Narcissists Play the “Blame Game” at Its Highest Level
Narcissists are always right and they always have to win. If they aren’t right and winning, then it’s because it’s your fault. In an attempt to make themselves look better, they will cast you as the “bad or mean” parent in any parenting decision that your child doesn’t like. Narcissists don’t believe they’re ever at fault for something that goes wrong and when you disagree with them, you are the parent that is keeping your child from doing something fun. Narcissist parents have less structure or rules in their home. They are the “fun” parent because they want the praise and adoration from your child. And, because they like to win, they don’t care how this makes you look to your child.

Narcissists Try Manipulate You and Your Child
Narcissists exploit yours and your child’s vulnerabilities to get what they want. Narcissists will talk bad about you in front of or directly to your child, putting the child in the middle and making it difficult for the child to show love and affection for you. Narcissists will offer your kids love and affection but often only as a conditional reward. They always have to win; they always have to be right. They may even punish your child for your child’s lack of obedience or for challenging their authority.
However, there is hope. While it may be challenging, it is possible to successfully co-parent with a narcissist. You cannot change the narcissist, but you can change how you co-parent with them.

Here are some tips and techniques for co-parenting with a narcissist:

  1. Establish a Clear Legal Parenting Plan
    While you cannot foresee every “what if” situation, it is imperative that you have a solid parenting plan that outlines clear and unambiguous rules for you, your child and most importantly the narcissist. Parenting plans always include a regular, holiday and vacation schedule. When you co-parent with a narcissist, your parenting plan should also include (1) pick-up and drop-off locations and times; (2) what happens if one parent is late or doesn’t show up for a scheduled exchange; (3) who may be present at the exchanges and how much notice is needed if it’s not the parent; (4) what happens if the either parent goes out-of-town with the children; and (5) strong structure, boundaries, and guidelines set forth for communication between the parents.
  2. Control Your Emotions
    Narcissists win when you lose control over your emotions and have any reaction to their words and actions. They will try to get a reaction out of you and are likely recording it to use against you in your next court battle or to further manipulate your child.
    Instead, try to stay calm. Address your concerns or issues in either an email or text message. Even though you are talking about your child, try to keep the communication as business-like as possible. In the beginning, it’s helpful to have a friend or family member review your communication before you hit that send button to make sure your communication cannot be objectively seen as being emotional and inflammatory.
  3. Protect Your Child from the Conflict
    Judges absolutely hate when parents bring the child into an adult conflict between the parents. It is important not to engage in an argument in front of your child and that you do not discuss the other parent in front of or directly to your child. If the narcissist tries to engage you in an argument in front of your child, you should politely remind him or her that you prefer to communicate about the issue by email or text. This response accomplishes two things: first and foremost, if the narcissist is trying provoke you in front of your child you just denied him or her that opportunity; and secondly, if the narcissist is trying to provoke you because he or she is recording the event, you just denied him or her a recording to use against you in your next court battle.
  4. Parent with Love, Kindness and Empathy
    The most important thing you can do for your child is to parent with love, kindness and empathy. You cannot change who the other parent is or their behavior but you can control how you parent your child when he or she is in your care. Your love, kindness, and empathy will impact their entire lives. Make your household the home of love and peace because the narcissist’s home is likely filled with chaos, confusion and conditional love.
  5. Consider Individual or Family Therapy
    You may not have all or any of the tools to know how to deal with the narcissist parent at this time. It’s okay to seek the professional help of a counselor or therapist to assist you in dealing with your feelings of anger and frustration. You may even want your child to see a counselor to talk about their feelings and recognize the unhealthy behavior in their narcissist parent.

Our attorneys are here to help you through this trying time. If you are going through a divorce, separation or legal battle with a narcissist, contact Owens & Perkins to discuss your case. Our attorneys have the knowledge, skills and experience to help you successfully navigate your legal issues and provide you with the advice and skills to successfully co-parent with a narcissist.

CLICK HERE to schedule your 30-minute zoom or phone consultation.
If you need to prepare a parenting plan for your children or want to modify your current parenting plan, read our next blog in our Narcissist series, called “Creating a Parenting Plan with a Narcissist.”