Crucial tips for co-parenting with a narcissistic ex …
Most people have absolutely no clue what it’s like to co-parent with a narcissistic ex-husband. They are the lucky ones.
It’s definitely not a task for the faint of heart, and if it isn’t already difficult enough, there’s also the painful lack of support from disbelieving people who think the world of him. But it CAN be done. And not only that, do this effectively, and you’ll truly be the mum that your kids will look up to and model their behaviour after.
In this article I’ll take you through suggestions and thought processes to help you navigate one of the hardest arts of all time … co-parenting with a narcissistic ex.
Further reading: Your ex is bad-mouthing you to the kids? Here's what to do ...
THE FIRST TWO RULES OF CO PARENTING WITH A NARCISSISTIC EX
There are two rules you must adhere to when co parenting with a narcissistic ex:
- You must decide that you will no longer be subjected to his control
- You must accept that you cannot co-parent with him
The first rule cannot be stressed enough. A key reason why people fail is because they don’t determine that they have a goal to reach.
Without committing to that mindset, people tend to engage in a lot of unnecessary pacifying and catering to manipulative behaviour that will only get worse with time. You must first determine that you will no longer be controlled, and then figure out the rest.
The second rule seems counterproductive, but it’s simply the acceptance of reality. You can’t co-parent with the narcissist because the narcissist is not an emotionally intelligent partner who wants what’s best for everyone. He is his own person with his own agenda, and therefore, to preserve your sanity, you must put up rock-solid boundaries and change your behaviour in a way that serves YOU and the children, not him.
You don’t co-parent with the narcissist; you simply share children with the narcissist.
And with those two rules in mind, here’s how to navigate this tricky journey.
Crucial tips for co-parenting with a narcissistic ex
1. GET THE BASICS DONE
Hire a lawyer or other professional who is trained and experienced in dark triad behaviour. Make sure a Parenting Order and any other legally enforceable agreements are put in place as soon as possible.
This is a crucial step that too many people do not take seriously enough, until too late. Protect your children and do not delay. Getting the legal documents sorted out in black and white will give you much relief and leverage when your ex becomes difficult with the maintenance payments or with the children.
Additionally, seek out legal counsel on what to expect if and when the ex decides to use the court system against you for his purposes. Being prepared can be one of the most effective tools in your arsenal right now … when you are co parenting with a narcissistic ex you may need them.
2. THE NARCISSIST DEALS IN ENERGY, SO NEVER GIVE HIM ANY
People will tell you that there is no reasoning with the narcissist, and that’s true. However, what they usually miss out on is the reason why.
The real reason is that narcissists deal in energy. They desire and crave for it. They are not interested in any sort of reasoning or logic. Both do not hold any weight in a narcissist’s world.
You can’t win because of the very fact that you’re a logical, empathetic person. Their reality isn’t yours, and you’ll never fully understand it. You just have to accept it and redirect your energy elsewhere so that you can win in the long game. Accept that you and the children will be subjected to unfair, demeaning treatment that won’t make any sense at all. This doesn’t mean that you’re saying that this behaviour is OK, not at all, it’s understanding that there is a much bigger picture at stake here.
Your children will likely be asked to relay distressing information or told untruths about you for no logical reason at all. This is a manipulation tactic known as triangulation. It’s done for the dual purposes of establishing control and creating conflict, leading to a reaction out of you (exactly what the narcissist wants) because it makes no sense to do this.
The best way to be around your ex is to act like a robot. Be cold, unfeeling and as dull as a tin of metal. You can also visualise this as an energetic barrier; threats bounce off you while energy stays safe within you. In psychology terms, this is called grey rocking.
Minimise the face-to-face communication you have with the ex as well, and avoid talking to him on the phone if possible. An emotional voice tone and facial expression can be used against you, so be careful not to get tricked into meeting him, and ask friends or family to help out where possible.
Set up a system where your only interaction is through email, text or co-parenting app. And within that system, only talk about ‘business’ i.e. the children, their schedules, the mortgage, the loans, etc. Refuse to engage if the conversation becomes personal. There are co-parenting apps that allow you to add a third-party professional to your account. Meaning they can monitor your messages and pull up your ex on toxic behaviour. It might even encourage him to behave better in the first place. The best app I know for this is Our Family Wizard.
If you have to pass physical items or legal documents, one good way to minimise contact is to simply drop the items off in his mailbox or at his door when he is not in. Take a video as proof and a timestamp that you’ve dropped off the items and send him a notification that you’ve done so.
Better yet, send important documents through registered mail, so that he cannot claim that he didn’t get the mail because he’ll need to sign for it.
If you react to their manipulations, you’ll supply the narcissist with fuel. You’re now a delightful source to draw energy from, and the abuse will get worse. So, whatever you do, you must protect your energy and deny the narcissist what he wants.
3. DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT
Record any negative interactions with the narcissist frequently in an online journal or diary app that also dates the entry. Screenshot or save chat messages, email and other evidence of the narcissist’s behaviour right after you’ve experienced it.
Install a recording app in your phone to record conversations where applicable, in accordance with the law where you live. Take pictures or video where possible as well. Save everything in a folder on your computer or phone with the date.
Recording and documenting in such a manner will achieve two things when co parenting with a narcissistic ex:
- Show others beyond a doubt that the narcissist’s toxic abuse is real, possibly to your children when they are old enough to comprehend such things
- Being able to present substantial evidence in court should the need arise
Crucial tips for co-parenting with a narcissistic ex (cont.)
4. ADOPT A MIND LIKE WATER
It will pain you greatly to see the children being manipulated and, frequently in such cases, caught in the middle of your ex and his new partner. You might feel like a failure or feel powerless to prevent this. You might feel angry at how highly unfair everything is, and rightfully so.
This is where adopting a mind like water will come in.
Water doesn’t care that there are obstacles in front of it; it simply flows around it. Water doesn’t let anything stick to it; it moves forward no matter what. And you must do the same.
Your real test will be when it comes to the children. You will dearly want to protect them and change what’s happening to them. You will want to speak-out when the ex claims credit for their achievements.
Remember, the ex wants you to engage. So, for the children’s sake, you must remain unshakable and maintain a quiet confidence that this will all pan out in the end.
Respond, not react, by modelling behaviour for the children in positive ways. Focus on providing an environment where they feel safe, heard and validated. Allow them to see you at your strongest and praise them often. Of course, practice a great deal of self-care and meditation to bring you back to calm and a flow-like state.
In time, your children will know which the parent was the one who showed up for them and make their own conclusions. It can be hard to wait for them to reach this stage, but they will. Our kids are more intuitive than we realise.
5. REFRAIN FROM BADMOUTHING YOUR EX
Sometimes this requires a herculean effort, but no matter how much he might deserve it, do not badmouth your ex in front of the children. It will only backfire on you because it will hurt the child and supply your ex with ammunition to use against you later on. If you hear that the ex has made a belittling remark about you, simply change the topic to something lighter.
If your child needs to talk about it, listen to what they have to say. You can even help your child reframe and understand their feelings better by being curious about what they think. Use phrases like ‘I see why you feel that way,’ ‘what does that mean to you?’ or ‘what do you think?’ to facilitate deeper thinking.
All in all, you must understand that the battle cannot be won if you stoop to the same behaviour as your ex. Fighting fire with fire is useless here, so hold strong and persist. The narcissist will eventually lose interest in you and by association, the children. You are unreliable as a consistent source of energy, and he will seek to obtain it somewhere else.
6. ALWAYS, ALWAYS GET HELP WHEN CO PARENTING WITH A NARCISSISTIC EX
You won’t be able to do this alone. I repeat. You won’t be able to do this alone. You need an outlet to vent, to validate your emotions and just be normal for a while. And for that, you’ll need to be around a supportive community who understands.
The kind of help you get needs to:
- Ground you in reality
- Be beneficial to you
Only take advice from people who know exactly what it’s like, or from experts who specialise in dealing with the narcissistic behaviour. Be wary of friends who are well-meaning but just don’t get it.
The rest is noise from people who don’t understand, likely causing you more distress. Surround yourself only with your tribe … your kind of people who will comfort you and validate your thoughts and feelings.
If you are co parenting with a narcissistic ex, it can be a long, bumpy road ahead, fraught with challenges that will test your limits. But again, hold firm, persist and deny the narcissist at every turn. Your patience and strength will pay off, and your family will be so much better for it.
7. STICK TO YOUR VALUES AND KNOW YOU CAN LOOK BACK AND BE PROUD
There will be times when you feel like banging your head against a brick wall, or doing the same to your ex! These are frustrating times.
Always remember your core values and stick to them. Having respect is really important. Even if your ex doesn’t show you respect, always show it to him, simply because it is the right thing to do. This way you can look back and know that in the midst of chaos, you stuck to your values and did what was right.
This stage in your life will end but you will always remember it. You want to look back and be proud of how you handled it.
Not only that, your kids will be watching, and they will be proud of you for being the better person, however the other parent chose to behave.