Co-parenting is challenging under normal circumstances. Co-parenting with a narcissist or a difficult co-parent is even more complicated. I have been divorced twice and have two co-parents. However, I have two entirely different co-parenting relationships with each of them. I have experienced the good, the bad, and the very ugly.
With my first co-parent, it took us a long time to get to a good place, feelings and hurt between the two of us dissipated, and we both moved on. That is when our co-parenting started to run smoothly. It does happen. We were able to put everything aside and work together for our children. It is currently working and has been great for a few years now.
My second divorce, my narcissist co-parent, I filed for divorce when the baby was seven weeks old. Filing for divorce with a baby, hormones raging from giving birth, and dealing with a problematic person, was the worst things I have ever gone through.
I wanted to think that my divorce had something to do with me, but it had everything to do with him. He stole a considerable amount of money on our second anniversary, left us, and ran off to Breckenridge with a female for a vacation on my dime.
I found many women; at my business, he was running—cheating, stealing, pathological lying, mental and emotional abuse, you name it.
People throw around the term narcissist. Being an a-hole (excuse my language) does not equal narcissism. Women and men will show narcissistic qualities during a breakup or divorce but are not necessarily a narcissist. Before you call someone this, please make sure they fit the description and have a long history of exhibiting the behaviors or have even been diagnosed.
My first husband, very into himself, into everything and anything that had to do with himself. Narcissist? No. Just self-absorbed. He was very much into other people, took care of other people, was thoughtful and caring. For eleven years, I was married to him; was always kind, and cared for his family. He was thoughtful and would always put us first.
I threw the word narcissist loosely during our divorce around a lot, out of anger, hurt my 11-year marriage was ending. But narcissism? No. You know the difference when you have experienced both.
My second husband. Narcissist. Exhibits every single quality and behavior of a narcissist; Every. Single. One.
Red flags were waving tall and high when I met him, and I ignored all of them. Why? I do not know. You can judge me, but I was in love; love does some messed up things to you. After my first divorce, I married him way too fast, ignored my gut a lot, and ended up having a baby with him. Now, I must “co-parent” with a narcissist.
Qualities of a Narcissist
- They think they are superior, better than others. They have a grandiose perception of themselves.
- They have little to no empathy for anyone; this may include your children.
- They are manipulative and controlling; they will even use your child to look like an excellent parent for show. Or even manipulate your child for court, brainwash them and turn them against you.
- They have no shame or remorse, or they justify their behavior by blaming you or others. They are never at fault. It is always someone else’s fault and finds a way to make sure you believe you are at fault. Example: My ex-husband told me he stole my money (when I say money, I mean a six-figure amount) on our second anniversary and left because I had post-partum depression. Stealing my money, he somehow found a way to make it my problem. Good guy, right? Stealing your wife’s money, cheating, and leaving your 7-week-old while your wife is suffering from something she can’t technically help, well, that was my fault.
- They have no problem exploiting others for their gain. They will dig deep, poke at you, steal, lie, cheat to get what they want without batting an eye. They have no boundaries in getting what they want. So, you need to be completely prepared and remember that in your co-parenting with them. They will use anything and everything to exploit you. Everything. They like to win at all costs.
- They are entitled to everything. Take note of the boundaries section below. You have heard it once; you will hear it a million times. Boundaries are your best defense.
- They try to ruin things important to you and your relationships—friends, holidays, family, etc. The focus will always be on themselves- positive or negative.
My co-parenting with a narcissist goes ok* some of the time with my difficult co-parent. With my other co-parent, it goes great 99% of the time. It is flexible; we do what is best for the children, we have 50/50 custody, there is no child support, we split everything down the middle. We communicate about the children, that is it. It is easy, friendly, and he knows his place, as do I.
Co-parenting with a narcissist is a whole other ballgame. Traditional co-parenting will not be possible. You will likely “parallel parent,” which is becoming a more prominent term for exes who are high-conflict and need extreme boundaries, including raising their children. You can read about parallel parenting here. For this article, I am sharing my personal experience of co-parenting with a narcissist. It is the basics of how you should handle such a relationship.
I also should state I am dealing with someone that has pathological narcissism. It is an extreme case. I have gone through hell and back, but I can tell you exactly what to do and what not to do co-parenting with one.
I can say I have two quite different co-parenting relationships: one positive, one negative. I have been able to experience both. I can speak on both. I am experienced in two sides of the co-parent spectrum.
Tips for co-parenting with a difficult or narcissistic co-parent.
You will be in court A LOT. I have spent thousands of dollars in court. It is not because he is initiating it; we are in court because I have. He has violated probably every court order or custody order to date. My main concern is my daughter. My main concern is she has a stable home. A routine. A loving environment. I know during her childhood years, I will be providing this for her. I will be the one with stability and a consistent, loving environment.
I am not here to bash. I am here to share my difficult experiences and hopefully help you because I am in a great place and a great place in co-parenting with him, but I have done the work. I listed my child custody provisions for further reading; I made my decree very clear and added extra court-ordered boundaries. Yes, with a narcissist, you will have to do the work, and this is what the work looks like:
- Boundaries. I know you have heard this before. It is a real thing, and boundaries will ALWAYS be your friend when co-parenting with a narcissist. If you let them in just a bit, they think they have access to your whole life and well-being. This means boundaries with communication about your child. Boundaries on the information you share about your personal life aside from your child. Boundaries of them coming into your personal space, in your social media, Anything, and everything, you must have strict boundaries. Once you let them dip one toe in your boundary pool, it starts all over again. Please do not do it. This helps your children out. You may or may not agree with me on this one. They do not need to be caught in the middle of extra stuff that could be avoided. You can be friendly, polite, agreeable with your co-parent but have boundaries. Your children will see that. Boundaries only help avoid conflict that could potentially harm your children.
- Document EVERYTHING. Screenshots, make notes of the dates and times nasty or threatening texts, emails, phone calls, etc. I have a tiny notebook filled with notes. Notes on drop-offs, pick-ups, no-shows, times he was not available or switched custody days. If I need to switch days or have him take the baby one night extra, I document where I was and what I was doing. Why do I do this? For court, in case. I will not be made to look like a liar. Literally, write down dates, exact times of every derogatory experience, if they were late to drop-offs and pick up when they did not take the child, etc. I will make sure all my bases are covered on my end. I even have a folder in my phone every time he has cussed me out. In our decree, there is absolutely no bad-mouthing, cussing. I will not jump at every opportunity to go to court, but I save it all just in case. Why? It is contempt of court orders. I do not like to be emotionally or mentally abused, and a judge does not like it.
- My lawyer told me this, and I will never forget it–you should not forget this either. Always, ALWAYS let them look like the jerk. Let them go off, cuss, berate, call you names while you DO NOT RESPOND. Not responding is your best course of action with a narcissist co-parent. It is SO tempting to respond and defend yourself, DO NOT. For the sake of your child, do not respond. My lawyer had to tell me a million times before I got it. The best response is no response. Unless it has to do with your child, is not urgent, you do not respond. Nothing other than about your child. If you already answered them in full about the child, you do not need to respond anymore.
- Pick up and drop-offs in a public place. I had a family member say that this is not good for the children. Well, she didn’t have to do drop-offs and pick-ups with a narcissist and be berated in front of your children each time. I chose to have a designated spot in a grocery store parking lot, where I can park around people coming and going to their cars to do exchanges. I do not want my ex at my home. My personal space, in my business, controlling my life, asking questions by coming to my space. Sorry. Your life will have to be protected and boundaries strict. This includes exchanges.
- Have a co-parenting schedule, particularly a court-ordered custody schedule. If there is nothing in stone, your narcissist co-parent can basically keep your child as long as they want or will do the opposite and not have them at all. Documenting the lack of parenting will help you in court if they are not doing their parental duties. Narcissist love to control any situation, therefore make sure there is a court-ordered custody schedule. In some states, if the child isn’t returned and there is not co-parenting schedule through the court systems, they technically do not have to give your child back, it’s not kidnapping and the police cannot get involved.
- Do not argue. There is no need to argue with a narcissist. They will never emotionally attach to your words or even try to get what you are saying. You will be wasting your time, and this is what they want you to do; it gives them supply and attention.
- If you can, get a court-ordered co-parenting app such as Our Family Wizard. The judge must approve the co-parenting app, or you both have to agree with using it in negotiations or mediation. I feel that a parenting app feels less personal. It feels like a boundary to me. It is less personal than texting or emails. After you break up or divorce a narcissist, those lines of communication are your personal space, this is a boundary. With your co-parent, spell it out–You may only text or email me in any urgent or emergency when YOU have the child or cannot take the child for your visit—an emergency with the child or children, NOT YOU. A narcissist will find ways into your life. Spell it out for them with clear boundaries, and do not let it break your boundary. If they do, you don’t have to respond.
- Do not respond to anything other than the well-being, activities, school, health of your child. Your life is no longer their business. The same goes for you; their life is no longer your business. If you break that boundary yourself, you provide them an invitation into your life. It works both ways.
- Get support from those who understand what you are going through. Find a friend or relative that knows what it really means to be dealing with someone so difficult. Going through my divorce, I was mentally abused so badly that I had a friend take the baby to drop-offs. He wouldn’t hand the baby back over, but it limited my time in front of him.
You may never get to a “co-parent” relationship with your ex. Finding a way to limit stress may be your best line of defense for you and your children. You can find Coparenting with Narcissists Must Reads here. The more support and knowledge you have, the better.
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