A Survival Guide to Co-parenting with a Narcissist

by Lauren Cook-McKay | Last Updated: October 6, 2021

What Co-parenting with a Narcissist is Like | 11 Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist | When Narcissists Are Parents | FAQs | Beyond Your Limits? When To Take Further Action

 

Are you married with children — and the other parent is a narcissist? If so, you are not alone!

From the renowned book “Abstract of Psychotherapeutic Assessment and Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”, their findings suggest that 2 – 16% of the United States population are full-fledged narcissists. So your odds of marrying a narcissist are not as unlikely as you may like to imagine.

There are associated consequences when you are married to a narcissist, such as raising children with them. Handling a narcissist can sometimes feel like dealing with a child so throwing actual children and their well-being into the mix can become a disaster.

This is not the time to panic; this is the time to take action. This survival guide will help you learn how to successfully co-parent with a narcissist.

co-parenting with narcissist

What Co-parenting with a Narcissist is Like

Psychology Today comes right out and says it: Coparenting with a narcissist is impossible.

Being that narcissists thrive on their illustrious grandiose sense of self and ‘always being the winner’, to find a happy medium ground is damn-near impossible. And their style of parenting? It is way better than yours (in their minds).

To quickly recap, a narcissist is basically someone who:

You must learn to get creative when co-parenting with a narcissist as they surely are going to try and manipulate you into their style of parenting. Even if you get divorced from them, it doesn’t end there. The toxic abuse and gaslighting unfortunately will not end with just you—it will spill over onto your children.

So what’s it like raising children with a narcissist? Hell. Some days will be okay and others will feel like you are stuck with your high school bully for all eternity.

The toxic verbal abuse will definitely be present. Do not expect your spouse to speak kindly of you to your children—they certainly will smear you to ensure they are the victor in your children’s eyes.

11 Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

You may feel down and out of luck co-parenting with a narcissist but these tips will help guide you along the way. There will be days you feel helpless and fear for your children but you do not have to worry—there is help.

There are many tips that will ensure your children are raised healthily in an abuse-free home. But you must be rigorous in your stance and hold firm to your boundaries—or risk your children taking the brunt force of the abuse right along with you.

Here are the top 11 tips for co-parenting with a narcissist:

1. Formalize a legal parenting plan and schedule

This is a major step that cannot be side-stepped at any cost. This is the foundation of a successful, healthy rearing plan for your beautiful children.

After a divorce, creating a formalized legal parenting plan and schedule is a must. Once this plan is set, you must stick to it—no matter what kind of games your narcissistic co-parent will try to play.

With an attorney, you must establish a legal parenting plan. Healthline suggests that narcissists are going to gun for as much time as possible with the children; therefore, a written agreement forces them to respect the boundary that is decided upon. And if they don’t, there is legal recourse to their own detriment.

A legal plan can include but is not limited to:

Each and every step must be detailed in this plan so your ex-spouse cannot exploit any of the decided parameters. Spending the money on a lawyer to help you develop this plan is well worth it. They are there to protect you and your children.

2. Use mediators and guardian ad litem (GAL)

The next step to successfully co-parent with a narcissist is to ensure the use of mediators and guardians at litem. A mediator is an impartial, unbiased third-party hired to ensure the execution of the legal terms of an agreement between you and your ex-spouse.

If the terms must be remanded, they will also help negotiate new terms. Ad litem guardians are hired on behalf of your children or those not capable of representing themselves.

These are wonderful safeguards to ensure your children’s safety and proper rearing—out of the control of your narcissistic spouse. They act as boundary enforcers so neither you nor your ex is responsible for enforcing the legal plan going forward—which saves a hell of a headache for you.

picture of a mediatior and narcissist

3. Set boundaries and KEEP them

Setting boundaries is one of the most important steps to co-parent with a narcissist.

Setting clear boundaries limits the influence of your ex-spouse on the decisions you make as a parent. Once the legal parameters are set in place, you have all rights to establish and mandate boundaries going forward.

Several great examples of boundaries can include:

These boundaries will protect you and your children from the impending harm of the narcissistic parent.

Not allowing your ex to show up announced, harass you through the phone or try to pick up your children from school unannounced paves the way to living a life of peace—or at least as much as you can.

4. Use empathy and put your children’s feelings first

As hard as it may be for you, think of your children. It is quite easy to get swept up in emotions as that are the techniques of a narcissist.

Their mission? To bleed your dry and beat you down until you submit. You must not let this happen; especially when you are raising children.

You cannot forget about your children. A narcissist will demand attention, even at the expense of their children. You must practice empathy for what they are experiencing growing up with a narcissistic parent and always put their feelings ahead of your own.

Understand how the two of you bickering in front of them affects them—because it does.

5. Watch what you say around the children

Being mindful of your mouth is highly imperative when co-parenting with a narcissist. This must be put in place as one of your boundaries.

Whether or not the other parent can follow through, make sure YOU do. Speaking ill of each other tarnishes a child’s trust in their parent and can wreak havoc on their personal sense of safety and trust.

These negative emotions are traumatizing and can follow them into their adulthood and other relationships in the future. Make sure to keep any conversation kid-friendly aka no bashing their other parent or discussing adult topics such as finances, other relationships, etc.

Keeping an empathetic tone will help them as they navigate their way as a child through and after the divorce. Narcissists believe their children are an extension of themselves so watch out for the other parent discussing topics that are not for children’s ears.

Children should be protected at all costs and not be forced to ‘grow up too quickly’ because of the oversharing or negative tone of their parents.

6. Discuss only facts and avoid emotional arguments

A narcissist thrives off of getting a rise out of you—they feel like they have ‘won’. Stand your ground on your boundaries and keep conversations to a minimum.

If anything becomes emotional, start to distance yourself. Once you allow yourself to get emotional, it is fuel to the fire and eggs the narcissist on.

Psych Central states that narcissists argue in ‘bad faith’. Therefore, they argue for the sake of arguing and purposefully misunderstand you to enrage you.

The moment your emotions take over, they can now play the victim. Do not fall for it!

To avoid falling into their emotional web of insanity, just stick to the facts. Discuss only facts.

If other topics should arise that are not factual or lean more toward emotionally-based, shut it down. There is no shame in continuing to protect yourself, your children—and your sanity. That’s the magic of divorce.

7. Be prepared to be tested. Choosing your battles wisely.

When you were married, you were your narcissist's property. Now that you have broken free, do not for a second believe that they are okay with you out of their grasp.

The vengeance will be on, so be prepared to be tested. They believe the war has just begun…so choose your battles wisely.

You and your children’s well-being is dependent upon it. Boundaries are merely a challenge for the narcissist. Expect them to test you by stepping over them.

Make sure to document everything as it may save you in the end.

Not every battle has to be fought. It is pertinent to understand that sometimes letting the narcissist ‘win’ saves heartache and pain in the long run. Letting them win petty battles keeps your eye on winning the battle—the safety and happiness of you and your children.

Everything else is a battle based on ego and vanity. Steer clear of it.

picture of ego and a narcissist

8. Be a better parent. Your kids will notice.

After the divorce, it is time to step up your parenting game. Those little moments are the ones that matter. Gifts, toys and things do not create memories—you do.

Your children will need you more than ever so now is the time to be there.

Practice empathizing with your kids and provide them with one-on-one time. They desperately need it. When children feel seen, they feel secure. Here are more great ways to be a better parent:

Unconditional Love

No matter what happens, provide unconditional love. Do not ever give your child the silent treatment if they commit a wrongdoing or raise their voices.

They deserve to feel love even if they make a mistake or a bad choice. They must know you are there for them and that they matter even when life gets hard or they make a poor choice. This creates a secure bond and shows them with healthy love is.

They should never see your love for them waver if you get upset with them.

Listen

Stop a moment and actually listen to your kids. How do they feel? What do they want? What do they need?

Provide a safe place for your children to build trust with you where they can freely speak their minds. This will carry on into their adult lives and build the self-esteem they need to be safe in themselves.

They will feel like they matter and that their thoughts are valued.

Lead by Example

Monkey see, monkey do. If you are going to teach your children something, be sure you are leading by example.

After all, your personality, traits and mannerisms are being witnessed by fresh eyes, and it is much harder to unlearn and relearn than it is to teach them by example in the first place.

Follow Through

Children need their parents to follow through. If you say you are going to do something, do it!

If you cannot for some reason, be sure to take the moment to explain to them why so they do not feel disappointed or punished. Children are always looking and listening.

It also teaches them responsibility, reliability and accountability.

If you say something, mean it. They will follow suit and learn to affirm their own boundaries, schedules and life choices—and stick to them.

9. Document everything. Seriously, everything!

When co-parenting with a narcissist, it is vital to document EVERYTHING.

Be sure to save those text messages, screenshot how many times they call you and keep those emails for a rainy day. Should something occur that can harm you or your children, you will have the evidence needed to turn over to the law.

The legal system can assist with you and your children’s protections…so document everything.

Surviving Narcissism suggests documenting everything for a form of therapy as well. Psychologists have proven time and time again that writing your thoughts down on paper causes healing effects and a sense of relief. You can even heal faster if you get it out of you and written down!

10. Maintain a support system or counseling

Having a support system is the difference between suffering through this new life chapter and thriving.

Although you are strong and have survived everything you have ever gone through—including a divorce from a narcissist—have the support of others can refuel you and hold you accountable for what’s good for you. As you know, narcissists are expert manipulators and will continue to try and control you and your life.

Keeping your support group in the loop will provide you with more strength to stay strong. Counseling or therapy sessions are great options as you navigate through your new chapter. Talking to a trusted therapist provides you with the mental support you need.

Therapists and counseling can teach you new tools to grow your self-confidence and esteem and to continue on your healing journey.

11. Try parallel parenting NOT co-parenting

So you’ve heard of parenting and co-parenting…but what is “parallel parenting”? Healthline states that parallel parenting is best due to it minimizing the amount of interaction between you and your ex.

The less interaction, the lesser arguments—especially in front of the kids.

This is a healing process that breaks the codependent cycle you have with your narcissistic spouse. It also allows you to focus on your own style of parenting. Parallel parenting removes any chance of arguments happening in front of the children—the most important factor!

This style also helps your kiddos cope with the effects of the divorce and makes them feel safer.

picture of kids walking with mom feeling safe

When Narcissists Are Parents

Marrying a narcissist is one thing. Having a parent who is a narcissist is a whole other situation. Having a narcissistic parent is an absolute nightmare and is almost guaranteed to cause emotional damage to the children. Psychology Today states that children of narcissists often experience feeling:

There are many different types of parents who are narcissists. Here are some of the more common kinds of narcissistic parents:

The over-achieving narcissist parent

As you are aware, the narcissist needs endless praise and adoration. Therefore, this is sure to spill over onto the littles.

Ever see the pageant mom who appears more excited for the pageant than the child? This is a prime example of a narcissistic parent.

These types of narcissistic parents injure their children’s self-esteem as they never feel enough. No matter how many awards they win nor how many achievements, the narcissist will push them to get more, more, more. The value is put on the outward validation versus working hard and a job well done.

The God complex narcissist parent

This type of narcissistic parent believes they are so perfect and flawless that they may as well be “god”. They can do no wrong and continually overestimate themselves and their persona. They are entitled and flaunt their inflated sense of self to anyone who will listen.

This has horrific effects on their children as they will never feel good enough. Children look at their parents as superheroes so when their parent lacks accountability and being grounded in reality, they are sure to suffer.

Children will pick up on the lack of responsibility for their actions and can also pass on these poor traits well into their adult lives. People can and will get hurt.

The covert narcissist parent

According to Parenting Exposed, the covert narcissist parent is one of the worst kinds of narcissists. They quickly engage in domestic violence and even in the most extreme cases, incestual behaviors.

Their self-esteem is non-existent and they are always on the defense. An innocent comment can backfire into a full-blown narcissistic rage incident.

There is a sinister element behind the charming, innocent act the covert narcissist portrays. Children will suffer at the hands of this type of parent.

They cannot be reliable as their words and actions never match. This teaches their kids to not trust and to constantly be awaiting ridicule and criticism.

They are brainwashed by their parents and are completely controlled. This is dangerous as the child enters the adult world not knowing who they are or how to trust others.

The devaluing narcissist parent

This is another abusive kind of narcissistic parent. The devaluing narcissist constantly puts down their child. They are easily triggered and grow angry very quickly.

This is a recipe for disaster for the little ones. The devaluing narcissist has unreachably high expectations for the world around them—especially their children. The child will feel like they can never do good enough and will inevitably suffer from low self-esteem.

They are also taught to walk on eggshells in fear of triggering their parent. The internal conflict causes security and trust issues and goes well into adulthood.

Another common behavior of this type of narcissistic parent is to elevate one sibling higher than the other in comparison to ‘who is better’. This never ends up well.

The neglecting narcissist parent

Many doctors have shared that there is a horrific connection between having a narcissistic parent and emotional neglect. The neglecting narcissistic parent can lead the child to believe they are worthless and do not matter.

This is incredibly dangerous as they never fully develop their self-esteem. The neglecting parent is focused more on themselves and their own needs being met versus being emotionally available for their children.

They lack the capability of providing anyone—even their own beautiful offspring—with the time, nurturing and attention that they need. This is discouraging to children as their needs are often ignored and are the very root of their emotional development issues and trust in themselves—and others.

The malignant narcissist parent

Psychology Today reveals that the malignant narcissistic parent lacks any sort of conscience. They can be sadistic in their thinking and behavioral patterns in addition to destructive and manipulative.

This does not fare well for their children. They are dangerous individuals who can be quite cruel as they lack any sort of empathy for other people. The brutal treatment can land on their children as they lash out in frustration.

Often rooted in deep paranoia, the malignant narcissist will take out their anger on those closest—the innocent children. The psychological abuse is forever damaging to the growing minds as they take the brunt impact of the narcissist’s wrath.

They are considered evil and the most vicious out of all types of narcissists—to which their kids also have no immunity. To put it bluntly—they are terrorists and usually the ones who could in the worst scenarios, be the cause of family members death.

FAQs

  • Will my child turn into a narcissist like their other parent?

    In short, there is a chance, yes. HOWEVER, you can nip these behavioral traits in the bud.

    The Washington Post found that parents who “overvalue” their kids—make them feel like they are more special than everyone else—are more likely to raise narcissistic children. Do not panic yet! You can interfere with these poor traits passing along to your littles.

    The Social Learning Theory, or the Social Cognitive Theory, is a theory that best expresses the link between what children witness to how they view the world.

    As we learn from our peers, parents, siblings, teachers, neighbors, etc., we mimic what we observe. Studies conducted to prove this theory was affirmed as the findings revealed that yes, children do indeed learn narcissism from a parent.

    To break the spell of your children believing they are more entitled and superior to others, focus on raising your children with empathy and sympathy. Encourage them to be kind and be sure to give them one-on-one attention so they feel valued.

    When children feel seen and heard, they create more compassion and empathy for others as they have a good relationship with themselves.

  • What personality disorders can develop in children of narcissistic parents?

    There are several personality disorders that can develop in children of narcissistic parents. The most obvious is Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    The child can develop the “Golden Child Syndrome”, where the child continues to believe they are extraordinary—even if they have done nothing to prove that fact.

    Another personality disorder that can develop is Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome. They can experience:

    • Flashbacks
    • Reliving trauma and abuse from childhood
    • Struggle with managing emotions
    • Guilt or shame
    • Disassociation and detachment from emotions/body
    • Deflection and avoidance behavior patterns
    • Avoid participating in intimate relationships
    • Easily startled

    This type of personality disorder is similar to PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    Other forms of toxic patterns and development that can develop after being raised by a narcissistic parent include codependency, self-abuse, depression and anxiety and substance abuse.

    In order to cope with PTSD from being raised by a narcissistic parent and in a house filled with abuse, the child may indulge in dangerous practices to numb themselves, attach themselves to others out of fear—or disengage altogether from everyone around them.

    The problem is that they have not been nurtured, unconditionally loved or felt valued. This can wreak havoc once they reach adulthood.

  • Do I have to prove my co-parent is a narcissist to the court?

    YES.

    The nature of the family court is to pit one parent against the other. This is a dream for the narcissist.

    Since their main goal is winning and showcasing you as the evil monster and them as the victim, they lean into their opportunistic ways and will try to manipulate the court.

    So before that happens, you must prove to the court that they are a narcissist. This will take the wind out of their sails before they get a chance to remove you completely from your children’s lives using their expert manipulation techniques.

    Yes, even judges and court personnel can fall for it.

    Remember when you were told to write everything down? This is when it counts!

    Narcissists are incredibly talented at getting their way as they can convince virtually anyone of anything. So you must be prepared to reveal the truth to the court. Your legal team must be specialists in this field, and not any family lawyer comes equipped with this expertise. Your lawyers can convey to the court that your ex is a narcissist so the judge is aware of the narcissist’s upcoming ego-fueled attempts to control the outcome in their own favor.

    Here are some tips to alert the court of their narcissistic ways:

    • Multiple changes of legal representation
    • Attempt to act as their friend or a professional in the field
    • They go back and forth on the terms of the agreements
    • Appear charming but then promptly breach any orders
    • Very demanding
    • Has cut contact with anyone who is on good terms with their ex
    • Will not take accountability for their actions
    • Unsubstantiated claims against the other parent with no proof
    • Patterns of abuse in prior relationships
    • What they say and their actions do not match

    The court will take notice of these actions and are lesser likely to be swooned by the charismatic ways of the plotting narcissist.

    Many people—even judges—can struggle to comprehend how anyone can be cold, calculated and cruel when it comes to their children but if you prove they are a narcissist, they will not put it off the table.

  • Should my kids be in therapy if their co-parent is a narcissist?

    Therapeutic intervention may just be the thing to help your struggling child.

    Narcissism affects everyone in its path; therefore, it is your responsibility to protect your children—even from their other parent.

    Therapy provides the necessary tools for children to cope with their new reality as processing divorce is difficult.

    The narcissist chops away at their children’s self-esteem so therapy is a great way to replenish the nurturing and sense of safety that is lacking. These teachings will strengthen their self-love and confidence which translates well into their adulthood.

    The sooner they understand that nothing regarding the divorce or the ill ways of their other parent is their fault, the healthier their emotional minds and physical bodies will be.

  • Beyond Your Limits? When To Take Further Action

    So your ex-spouse is not respecting the terms of the agreement regarding co-parenting your children. Shocker!

    So what do you do when you find yourself beyond your limits—and when do you take further action? If you have repeatedly been to court and your ex consistently violates the boundaries set forth, that is the time to take action.

    Restate your boundaries in a firm manner and limit communication with your ex. Next, limit their interactions with your children.

    The boundaries can tighten so the window of opportunity for them to evoke more agony can also shrink. You are in control. Just keep your emotions out of it and stay level-headed.

    Between you standing your ground and the legal system to back you up, you can have the upper hand in the co-parenting situation. You may indeed have to revisit court and ask the judge to reaffirm the rules of the co-parenting agreement.

    Your legal experts must be on-call in this event. They will have further instructions for how to protect you and your children.

    Coparenting with a narcissist is a nightmare so do not expect this to be a walk in the park—even with a legal order.

    Remember, narcissists cannot be held accountable, so they will believe they are above the law. Should you fear for your or your children’s lives from an unexpected visit or threat? Call the police.

    Document everything to show to the court for the extra help you need—even a restraining order and asking for the court to remove them of their parental rights.

    Final Thoughts

    If you were married to a narcissist and had children with them, buckle up for a bumpy ride ahead.

    Although not impossible, co-parents with narcissists can be done. It takes tact, skill, preparatory work and the gall to firmly stand your ground as you partially must continue to endure their punk attacks, temper tantrums, vindictiveness and projections.

    However, you are no longer married to the monster so you can have limited interaction with them. With the help of your support system and counselor, and a strong head on your own shoulder after the hell you have been through, your children (and you!) still have a chance at a healthy life full of love.

    As long as you do not give in to the manipulative tactics of the narcissist, you and your kiddos can live your life in peace. Focusing on yourself and being the best parent you can be will make the transition away from the narcissistic co-parent much easier.

    This is you and your children’s time to enjoy life together as you all continue to grow, heal and prosper in your lives. This is the time that counts so do not put off the essential healing and empathy both you deserve and that your children need to feel secure in themselves and to have a feeling of safety with you.

    You can do this—for you and your kids.

     
    Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She strongly believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure. Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn here.