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Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Co-parenting with your former spouse or an ex can be extremely challenging. It can be even more difficult if your co-parent is a narcissist. In this article, we will offer you some tips concerning how to navigate co-parenting with a narcissist, and we will discuss the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting (which may be the better option if your co-parent is narcissistic).

How to Recognize a Narcissist

While we may casually refer to a vain friend or self-absorbed person as a narcissist, narcissism is a personality disorder that approximately 5% of people suffer from. Narcissists are known to have a strong sense of self-importance. They struggle to maintain relationships because they lack empathy and often act and feel a sense of entitlement. Your co-parent may have narcissistic personality disorder if they:

  • Have a snobby or haughty attitude (constantly)
  • Feel superior to others and only want to associate with people of a certain caliber
  • Are willing to take advantage of others to achieve their goals
  • Do not recognize or consider other people’s feelings or needs
  • Are obsessive about their public image
  • Need constant praise and admiration

Even if your spouse is not a narcissist in the clinical sense, co-parenting with a person who is snobbish or unkind can still present challenges. However, it is possible to set boundaries and successfully co-parent with them.

The Do’s & Don’ts of Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Narcissistic parenting partners may often try to push or test your boundaries, parent with little to no empathy, attempt to gaslight you and/or your child, refuse to compromise, and/or reject criticism or help. Dealing with a co-parent who has a personality disorder or attitude issues may feel impossible, but here are some do’s and don’ts that may help you navigate the relationship.

  • Do accept it. While you may wish things were different or hope the other party will change, it’s best to be honest about your situation and accept that you will have to co-parent with a narcissist.
  • Do create a detailed parenting plan. The more detailed and specific your plan is concerning expectations, pick-up and drop-off schedules, and other specific details—the better. While a narcissist may still try to test your boundaries by ignoring outlined terms, you should ensure that nothing is unclear or not included.
  • Do adhere to your court-ordered agreement. If you or your co-parent do not obey the terms of your custody agreement, legal action can be taken against you, and the parenting plan can be modified. The narcissistic parent may try to punish you and/or act out if you fail to adhere to your agreement.
  • Do keep detailed records. If you want to modify your custody agreement, you will need evidence and information concerning what warrants the modification. You can save your messages and document missed pickups or aggressive messages and use those in court.
  • Do consider attending counseling. While a narcissist will likely not agree to counseling, you and your child may benefit from attending therapy; you may learn more coping mechanisms and can healthily process your emotions.
  • Don’t engage them by fighting. Your narcissistic co-parent may antagonize you by throwing out small barbs or making hurtful remarks. While it may be hard to ignore their antagonism, you should avoid fighting with them, especially if your child is present.
  • Don’t internalize their criticism. Words do hurt, but make sure you don’t take what they say to heart. Antagonist narcissists may question your parenting skills or gaslight you, but you can’t give credence to their hurtful remarks.
  • Don’t talk badly about them. In co-parenting situations, you should avoid disparaging the other parent—even if you are mad, frustrated, or correct in your observations. Your child may start acting out or feel like they are trapped in the middle.
  • Don’t forget to prioritize your kids. While you may disagree with how the narcissistic party parents, you can’t control their actions. Instead of obsessing about the other parent, focus on being the best parent you can be, modeling empathy and other positive traits, and showing up for your kids.
  • Don’t let your kids be pawns. A narcissist may try to use your children as pawns or try to turn them against you. Rather than engage them and also use your children, set clear boundaries; you can also include terms in your custodial agreement limiting what either parent can say about the other party.

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting: Which Is Best?

Co-parenting is when parents who are no longer married or involved opt to raise their child(ren) together. Many parents choose to co-parent with one another to ensure their child can maintain and foster a relationship with both parents and share in the parental responsibilities and obligations. There are many benefits of co-parenting, including but not limited to:

  • Offering your child a sense of familial stability
  • Ensuring your child does not feel like they have to choose between their parents
  • Reducing the risk of parentification (in which a child assumes adult responsibilities or acts as a mediator)

However, co-parenting with a narcissist (or any difficult or toxic person) can be extremely tough and may not be in the best interest of your child or family. While similar to co-parenting, parallel parenting occurs when parents limit their direct contact while still sharing the responsibility of raising their child(ren). Parallel parenting may be a better option for families with a narcissistic parent or with high-conflict and is beneficial in that:

  • It can limit your child’s exposure to parental conflict.
  • Your child can still have a healthy relationship with each parent.
  • Each parent can follow their own rules.

Get Help

At Dale L. Bernstein, Chartered Law Office, we provide clients with high-quality legal counsel. If you are engaged in a child custody case, we can advise you of your best options concerning developing a parenting plan and taking legal action if your co-parent violates your court-ordered custody agreement.

To schedule an initial consultation with our team and learn how we can help, contact our office today at (727) 312-1112.

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