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Parallel Parenting: A Solution for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

How co-parents with a narcissistic ex can leverage parallel parenting.

Sarah Jacobs Co-Founder Jacobs Berger, LLC

Individuals who have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have a strong need to manipulate and control situations. This desire for control has the potential to make your separation or divorce an agonizing process, especially if you share children with your narcissistic ex-partner and need to figure out a way to co-parent with them effectively.

Co-parenting ideally requires ongoing interaction and cooperation between both parties to be successful and efficient. Traditional methods of co-parenting frequently fall short, though, when attempting to navigate difficult personalities. What seems like reasonable strategies of good communication and putting your children first can quickly get upended by your ex's toxic behavior.

For parents looking for another solution, parallel parenting may be an effective option. Here is a deeper look at what this method involves, why it could be beneficial for you and your children, and concrete steps you can take when dealing with a narcissistic co-parent.

What is parallel parenting (and how does it work when your ex is a narcissist)?

Parallel parenting is a parenting arrangement intended for high-conflict situations where traditional co-parenting proves ineffective or impractical.

With parallel parenting, both parents remain actively involved in their children's lives, but parents are not expected to engage with one another directly. Depending on how their Marital Settlement Agreement is written or how their custody agreement court order is worded, parents may not be allowed to interact or are encouraged to remain disengaged deliberately. The goal is to reduce conflict and provide a stable environment for children. In any case, co-parents can expect to encounter several common characteristics of a parallel parenting arrangement.

Person typing on computer

Limited topics and avenues of communication

Communication in parallel parenting is confined strictly to matters concerning the child, such as health emergencies or significant educational decisions. This approach is particularly beneficial when you share custody of your children with a narcissist, as it is meant to curtail opportunities for conflict and manipulation.

Instead of attempting to communicate directly, either when the children are dropped off or via meetings, phone calls, or other "face-to-face" methods, you communicate through other more streamlined methods, such as:

  • Emails
  • Co-parenting apps and programs like TalkingParents
  • Text messages

This structure ensures that all interactions are documented and have the intent to be clear and focused. It also safeguards your well-being while staying focused on your child's needs.

Structured schedules and boundaries

While transparency around expectations is key in all parenting time plans, it's especially important in parallel parenting. Your parenting plan should outline your custody and parenting time schedule, locations and times for custody exchanges, transportation responsibilities, anticipated expenses for your children's needs and activities, and how to share those costs. It should also cover the consequences if these obligations aren't met.

An exhaustively detailed schedule has lots of benefits, including helping:

  • Discourage challenging behavior from your ex by establishing accountability
  • Protect your well-being with firm boundaries
  • Increase stability for your children with clear expectations for you and your ex

The process of creating these schedules can be nuanced, though, so it's vital to work with an attorney who knows how to structure and word an effective parallel parenting schedule.

Father reading son a bedtime story

Separate parenting decisions

In co-parenting relationships, co-parents may strive to make joint decisions about their children. Even if they're unable to agree fully, the goal is to respect each other's differing perspectives and come to a compromise.

This strategy doesn't work when trying to co-parent with a narcissist; individuals with NPD or other toxic personalities are unable to compromise or collaborate. Parallel parenting removes the expectation that parents should always try to meet in the middle.

In parallel parenting, each parent makes day-to-day decisions for their child when they have their parenting time with them. This separation reduces battles over parenting styles and decisions. Each parent can decide on things like...

…when the child is in their care, without approval or input from the other. It isn't easy to accept that your former partner may make decisions that frustrate you or that you disagree with. Learning how to parallel parent can take time, but with help from your legal team and support network, it can get easier over time.

Third-party support for communication

In cases where communication is challenging, parallel parenting may incorporate third-party professionals to assist. These professionals might include:

Family in therapy

These professionals help facilitate necessary communication between you and your narcissistic ex-partner. The result? More focused communication strategies that help reduce conflict and frustration.

As a bonus, you get an added layer of support and guidance as you navigate the complex dynamics of co-parenting with a narcissist.

Protecting your parallel parenting plan: how an attorney can help

As anyone who's had a relationship with a narcissist can attest, narcissistic people are experts at moving the goalposts on even the most carefully crafted plans. If you're considering parallel parenting as an option for your family, an experienced attorney who understands these dynamics is invaluable.

Imagine that your ex-partner starts exhibiting new behaviors that could impact your child's well-being or engaging in a manipulative campaign against you. Your lawyer can advise on the best course of action and adjust your legal strategy accordingly.

A lawyer can also provide legal enforcement if your ex-partner violates the terms of your parenting plan. For instance, it's time to involve your attorney if they distress your child by consistently disregarding agreed-upon parenting time. They can help you file a motion to enforce the parenting plan or modify terms that make better sense for your family as your needs evolve.

Is parallel parenting right for your family? Understand your options

Co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-partner is a difficult challenge and often an impossible one, but it's not one you have to face alone. Platforms like TalkingParents keep you connected without having to be face-to-face, with comprehensive features that maintain accountability and security for both parents. Family law attorneys understand the unique challenges you face and have a commitment to de-stress divorce and co-parenting. By working with the resources available, finding the right parenting solution for your family is an attainable reality.

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