How to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father.
It is one thing to co-parent with a narcissistic ex. It is another thing to protect your children from his manipulations while trying your best to help them grow up with some semblance of a father.
As women who have loved scornful, vindictive men, we certainly have one of the most challenging jobs known to humanity. It can be a roller coaster of a ride, requiring us to balance and calculate almost every move we make around the narcissist, and to always, always be the better parent, no matter how unfair or cruel the situation might be.
But there IS light. There IS hope.
Follow these steps to help your kids cope with a narcissist father.
How to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father
UNDERSTAND WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT
First, we need to understand the vital importance of why we must shield the children. It is easy to feel like running away or to offload the burden on someone else. Maybe even beg the narcissist back, if only to stop his hurtful actions for a little while.
You will never do this, of course, but the thoughts are incredibly enticing.
This is why we must constantly remember our mission as THE parent: The one who is actually there, the one who is consistent, reliable, loving, and unconditionally, positively affirming.
And the reason is this:
Our children, if subjected to the unrelenting control of the narcissist, will become either a narcissist themselves, or bear the pain of codependency for decades. Not to mention a whole host of psychological problems like depression, anxiety, bulimia, anorexia, low self-worth and perfectionism.
You are the only one who can prevent this from becoming reality.
Fear not, as you are not alone. And there has never been a mother who did not become stronger, wiser and tougher after succeeding at this journey.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR SANITY FIRST
Many mothers who are still in their toxic relationships tend to give into their compelling urges to fulfil their narcissist’s insatiable demands. This provides fuel for the narcissist, and these mothers then become a reliable source of energy for them.
And because so much is taken from these mothers, their energy, time and emotional resources become depleted, leaving little for anything else. Exhausted, they can shut down, resulting in disconnection and unconscious withdrawal of love for their children.
This may even have been you. But you must determine that you will no longer be this person again. So always seek to fulfil your needs before anyone else’s, including the children.
In cases of an emergency on planes, you are instructed to put your oxygen mask on first, before attending to your child. You’re of no use to anyone if you are unconscious, after all.
So put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Treat yourself to yoga classes, meditation and general self-care. Be kind of yourself and always acknowledge that you’re doing your very best.
You will likely feel angry when trying to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father. This is something you will need to resolve. Speak to an expert who can help you move forward swiftly and effectively. Surround yourself with compassionate people who know exactly how you feel. Learn to control your emotions before they control you.
CATER TO YOUR CHILDREN’S SENSE OF SECURITY, COMFORT AND IDENTITY
When there is a break or divorce between two parents, the very first thought that comes to a child’s mind is, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’.
When it’s a divorce with a narcissistic ex-husband, that thought soon gets changed to ‘Why doesn’t Daddy love me?’.
This is a key thing you must cater to. The love that comes from you not only needs to be unconditional and reliable but needs to fill up the gap that Daddy left as well.
The children need to be continuously reminded that there is a parent who loves them no matter what grades they get in school or how well they excel at extracurricular activities. Be quick to give positive affirmations for things that they do well in, and comfort for things that they beat themselves up on.
Reframing is a useful way of changing a negative into a positive, such as:
‘It’s OK. Everyone makes mistakes. What do you think you learnt from it?’
‘Don’t worry, Mummy isn’t mad. But what do you think we can do to prevent this from happening again?’
‘Hey, why don’t you be my number one helper so we can get things done together? That way, we won’t take so long to have breakfast and won’t be late for school.’
Allowing children to navigate their way through shame, guilt, anger or sadness helps give them a voice and the confidence needed to make their own decisions away from the controlling environment of their father. Encouraging questions will help them develop their curiosity in a healthy manner.
Similarly, allow them to form their own way of processing the breakup, which might be very different from yours. This is because their perception of the relationship might be different, meaning they have contrasting thoughts and feelings about it, despite how alien it might seem to you.
To help your kids cope with a narcissistic father you can say things like:
‘I appreciate that you brought that up. How do you feel about that?’
‘So, what does Daddy’s new girlfriend being in his life mean to you?’
‘I understand that you feel that way. Do you think this will affect you when you’re at school?’
CONTROL YOUR UNDERSTANDABLE ANGER
Remember that anger is by far the most damaging of your emotions, and the real victims of it are your children. So, whenever you can, try to see it from your children’s point of view.
If you feel like bad-mouthing your ex or taking a spiteful action against him, think about what it might mean to your children. No matter how the narcissist might deserve it, the children do not deserve to be in the middle of a vicious tug-of-war between their parents.
They already have one angry parent, and they do not need another. This is where the work on yourself will matter most.
Your children will likely have been subjected to abusive behaviour that will infuriate you and will make them question their self-worth. For this reason, focus on preventing and rebuilding positive experiences so that the children’s suffering is minimal. You can solidify their sense of identity by assigning individual tasks to them, special little jobs that they can take pride in. This also shows that you trust them.
Taking over the roles of two parents in this manner and to stay calm at the same time is a big ask of someone who is already going through a double heartbreak—one from your ex and another from seeing the children upset—but hang in there, for the journey will be worth it.
How to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father (cont.)
OBSERVE AND HAVE A CONTINGENCY PLAN
One thing that has consistently served my clients well is predicting what their exes would do given a certain situation or trigger.
You’re the only one who knows what he’s really like underneath the mask he presents to everyone else. Mothers who suffer are mothers who do not take advantage of that knowledge.
Understand that manipulations are usually done with a single aim—to draw fuel. The narcissist seeks such fuel in the form of positive attention or a negative reaction, and the children will be the easiest targets.
He will anger, upset and guilt the children in order to keep them as a dependable source of energy to draw from. He might pit two or all children against one another or favour one unfairly over the other.
In a tactic known as triangulation, he might use the children to relay distressing news and plans to you, or twist your words to make them think that Mummy does not love them.
For this reason, you must formulate a plan, preferably with a therapist or a similar expert, on how to prevent or counter the effects of such manipulations. For your kids to cope with a narcissistic father help them to recognise emotional abuse by having an honest and straightforward discussion with them.
Present everything as fact, and let them know that their feelings and experiences are real and important.
With your expert, give the children strategies to help them not get sucked into the ironically childish drama. Help them understand that just because Daddy doesn’t seem to love them, doesn’t mean that they are themselves not loveable.
FINAL POINTS TO HELP YOUR KIDS COPE WITH A NARCISSISTIC FATHER
Remind yourself that the narcissist isn’t your life and that neither you nor the children revolve around him anymore. It can be incredibly freeing to know that he can never again control you without your permission.
Finally, take comfort in the thought that whatever you do now, will have a profoundly positive effect on your children, whilst teaching them to navigate one of the most difficult personality traits they will encounter in their lives.