Co-parenting with a narcissist can easily become a high-conflict parenting situation, so you need to take steps to protect yourself and your children. Having a good attorney can help you share child custody with a narcissist successfully, but first, you need to understand exactly what you’re dealing with.
What Is a Narcissist?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by an overinflated sense of self-importance, feelings of superiority, and a lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs. The term, “narcissist,” refers to someone with NPD.
Sadly, people with NPD act the way they do because they are trying to make up for a fragile sense of self-worth. Counseling can help people with NPD make healthy connections, but not everyone gets the help they need.
Signs You Are Co-Parenting with a Narcissist
If you are co-parenting with a narcissist, identifying the signs can be vital to understanding how to handle interactions with your other co-parent. Generally, a narcissist tends to have an extreme desire for attention, a disregard for anyone else's feelings, and a lack of empathy for others. How does that translate when it comes to co-parenting? Here are a few signs that you may be co-parenting with a narcissist:
- They seem to enjoy fighting.
- You're always to blame.
- They lie to you or your child frequently.
- They use your children as a weapon.
How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist
Now that you know what a narcissist is and the signs your co-parent may be narcissist, you may be wondering how to co-parent with a narcissist. If you believe you are sharing child custody with a narcissist who refuses to get help, the following tips may be useful for you:
Narcissists crave attention and love to get a reaction. Limit the amount of attention you give your narcissistic co-parent by setting boundaries and try to keep your emotions out of your communication with them.
Communicating via email gives you the power to respond calmly and carefully – and it can create a paper trail of anything that goes wrong. You can also schedule phone calls and other conversations, so your co-parent can reach you and your children if needed, and you and your child will not have to field multiple calls each day.
Keep in mind that the narcissist may not respect your boundaries right away, and you will need to enforce them. For example, you may need to keep your cell phone (or your child’s cell phone) in another room until it’s time for the scheduled call, so you are not tempted to answer, and so your boundary stays strong.
Ask for a Parenting Coordinator
If communicating with your co-parent feels impossible, you can ask the court for a parenting coordinator. In Missouri, a parenting coordinator is a licensed mental health professional or a licensed attorney who is specially qualified to deal with cases like yours. Judges may appoint a parent coordinator in a high-conflict case to help with scheduling and communication.
Parenting coordinators are especially useful when there are allegations of domestic violence, which can be prevalent among people with NPD.
Make Sure Someone Is Looking Out for Your Child
Custody disputes are more common when your ex is a narcissist. During custody battles, you can have a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) appointed for your child. This way, there is a neutral third party looking after your child’s best interests.
Sometimes, a GAL can detect the signs of NPD and take steps to protect your child.
Similarly, a therapist or counselor will help your child cope with a high conflict parenting situation and watch for signs of harmful parenting. Be aware that your co-parent may want to remove your child from therapy or counseling or try to find someone “better,” especially if they do not like what a therapist or counselor has to say.
Again, the court can help you protect your child’s best interests, so do not be afraid to talk to an attorney if you need help.
Know Who to Talk To
Co-parenting with a narcissist can be extremely frustrating, and you should talk about your feelings. Nevertheless, you should never vent to your child about their parent, and you should never communicate with your co-parent through your child nor use your child to get information about your ex’s life.
If you need to talk to someone, call a trusted friend or relative. You may even want to speak to a therapist.
When it comes to communication, be direct and stick to your boundaries (see above). Try to remember that your co-parent’s life is none of your business – unless it affects your child.
Check-in with your child often, let them know they can confide in you about anything, and trust them to tell you if something is wrong. If you have concerns about your child’s physical or emotional health, ask your attorney for advice, and if you believe your child is in danger, do not hesitate to call the police.
Write Out Every Detail
When you craft your custody agreement, do not spare any details. Write down who pays for what, the exact dates and times your co-parent will visit your children, where exchanges should take place, and what happens during the holidays.
Tell your lawyer that you are dealing with a high conflict co-parent, and they will help you create a detailed and enforceable child custody agreement.
You should also write down any problems that arise. If your co-parent is late or fails to show up, write it down. Keep a log of your communication with your ex, and if they say anything inappropriate on a phone call or in-person, write it down in quotations as soon as you can.
Protect Yourself – and Your Child
Every time you deal with your co-parent, tell yourself you are cool, calm, and collected. Even if you don’t feel that way, repeating this mantra can help you avoid arguments and keep your feelings to yourself. You will never win an argument with a narcissist, so it’s simply not worth getting into one – especially in front of your child.
If you are tempted to fight with your co-parent, stop and ask yourself: “is this benefitting my child?” The answer will almost always be no. The better your relationship is with your ex, the better the situation will be for your child.
Separating yourself from a narcissist gives you the independence you need to stay healthy, but other people’s independence is a trigger for people with NPD. As your child grows up and starts becoming independent, check in with them frequently.
While you should never speak poorly of your co-parent, you can create a safe space for your child to air their concerns. If you think your child may be the victim of your spouse’s narcissistic behavior, have your child speak to a therapist or schedule family counseling.
Don't Face Co-Parenting with a Narcissist Alone
If you are sharing child custody with a narcissist, do not do it alone. Instead, make sure you have a support network (friends, family, etc.) and hire professionals, including a therapist and an attorney.
Co-parenting with a narcissist can be emotionally draining and create legal problems. The Kallen Law Firm, LLC understands. With 45+ years of combined legal experience, we can handle your custody concerns, and our husband-and-wife attorney team can view your case from every possible angle.
We have represented thousands of clients, and we would be proud to represent you, too.