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Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Co-parenting with a narcissist poses unique challenges for parents and children. Here are some strategies to help you deal with a difficult ex.    

We all know a person that loves themselves just a little too much. Their love for themselves may or may not make them a narcissist, but it makes them difficult to deal with.

What is a narcissist?

Narcissism is a clinical personality disorder that can only truly be diagnosed by a professional psychologist. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of someone with a true narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and easily feel slighted
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it, and may become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
  • Exaggerate accomplishments and talents
  • Preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations, and may react with rage or contempt if they don’t get what they want
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Are envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner
  • Insist on having the best of everything

Roughly 6% of the population has narcissistic personality disorder. Research shows that more men than women are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder—7.7% versus 4.8%. However, all of us may exhibit narcissistic traits from time to time, some more than others.

Skeptical man

Sharing custody with a narcissist

If you are co-parenting with someone who exhibits many of these personality characteristics, whether they are clinically diagnosed as a narcissist or not, it can be especially tricky. Narcissism often leads to toxic relationships, as well as problems at work, drug or alcohol misuse, and depression or anxiety.

Narcissistic tendencies also directly contradict the skills needed to create a healthy co-parenting relationship. Some of these include being respectful of one another, not criticizing, blaming, or accusing one another, not expecting or forcing your children to take sides, setting consistent routines and rules between households, and above all else, considering the feelings of your children rather than yourself. Read more about the different types of narcissists here.

How to co-parent with a difficult ex

For many people co-parenting with a narcissistic ex, limiting contact is the best way to create boundaries and concentrate on being a role model for their children. It’s not a co-parenting approach, but rather a parallel parenting approach as many experts call it.

  • Keep conversations to a minimum, and well-documented: This is precisely the type of situation in which a co-parenting app, like TalkingParents, can become a lifesaver. Rather than communicating through phone calls or texts, which can quickly become emotional, limiting all communications to a co-parenting app can keep conversations businesslike and focused on the child’s needs. It also provides an essential record of all communications between co-parents, which is timestamped and unalterable. This record may be beneficial if you end up in family court. If you must have a conversation with your ex, keep it businesslike. If your co-parent is trying to escalate the interaction to a fight, end the conversation.
  • Have a structured parenting plan: This needs to be set up from the start, likely with help from an experienced lawyer, especially when co-parenting with a narcissist. The parenting plan must be highly specific, and it should spell out which days children will reside with each parent, how holidays and vacations will be handled, how transportation to and from school events will take place, and more. A parenting plan not only helps keep your life organized but minimizes the need for contact with your co-parent as well.
Angry child

How you can stay in control

  • You can only control you: While you may not approve of your co-parent’s behavior or choices, you cannot change them. When your children are with your co-parent, you must let go. If you say you think bedtime should be at 9:00, a narcissistic co-parent might make it 11:00 p.m. just to spite you. If you get upset because the kids eat junk food at your co-parent’s house, he or she might feed them even more. Many times, it’s a power struggle, and you must recognize that you are only in control of you. The only time you should intercede with your ex’s co-parenting style is when you think your kids are in real physical or emotional danger.
  • Model emotional intelligence for your children: Your children aren’t going to learn emotions like empathy, compassion, and forgiveness from their narcissistic parent, so it’s even more important for you to model these behaviors. Show your children love, stability, and support. These are things they may not be getting with your co-parent.
  • Build a village: Co-parenting with a narcissist takes a lot of support. It’s easy to put a list of tips on paper for how to manage this kind of behavior, but much harder to do in practice. Surrounding yourself with other people who can help you and keep you focused on caring for your children is crucial.

You might need outside help

Getting a therapist for yourself or your children can be a great way to mitigate the negative impact a narcissist has on your family’s emotional well-being. An attorney who has experience handling toxic individuals can help you navigate the legal side of your co-parenting relationship.

A co-parenting app can also help you manage your co-parenting life, keeping all communications accountable and unalterable. Check out our Features page to see if TalkingParents can improve your co-parenting journey.

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