By spending holiday’s together, taking family trips, and outwardly expressing love and respect, celebrity co-parenting really looks awesome. Unfortunately, it’s not the reality for most divorced couples and it’s an impossibility for those who share children with a Narcissist.
Parents are supposed to put their children first. They’re supposed to love their offspring and put their well-being ahead of their own egos and hurt feelings. This is not possible for a Narcissist.
Narcissist do not have a healthy bond with their children. To a Narcissist, your presence in their life goes as far as your usefulness. How well you pump up their fragile ego and provide them with Narcissistic supply, determines their level of commitment. Children with special talents or exquisite beauty, are of special interest to them as they can glean supply through the child’s uniqueness. The one that makes them look good or feel special, will become the Golden Child and a Narcissist will have no qualms about showing extreme favoritism. In multi-children families the children often take on roles such as the Golden Child, Peace Maker or Scapegoat.
When a divorce or separation has occurred, a Narcissist has been injured. Even if they are the ones that instigated the break-up, they are still wounded by the fact that you can’t over look what they’ve done and that you’re still not pining for them, trying to win them back. When you cause Narcissistic injury, you must be punished and unfortunately, there is no better or easier way to hurt you than through your children.
Psychologist Elinor Greenburg explains the process this way,” Imagine a giant scale with two pans. One pan represents high self-esteem, the other low self-esteem. Narcissists are always trying to fill the high self-esteem pan with accomplishments, compliments, and other proof that that supports their view of themselves as perfect, special, unique, and entitled.
When you do something that makes them feel disrespected, it goes into the low self-esteem pan. The heavier that pan gets, the more they start to doubt their worth.
By punishing you, they regain their sense of power and repair the insult to their self-esteem. The scales are now rebalanced again in the way they like, with all the proof of their specialness (and your worthlessness) re-righting the scales, so the high self-esteem pan is full again and their confidence is restored.”
I was lucky enough to sit down with an incredible woman, who just happens to be a single mother and ex-wife of a Narcissist. She is thriving in her post-divorce life and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me as I gathered information for this post. Her insight was so on the mark I thought it would be helpful to share.
“There are a lot of books and articles out there on co-parenting, but when you’re dealing with a Narcissist you can just throw them out the window,” she said.
“There is no such thing as co-parenting with a Narcissist. It doesn’t exist. The harder you try the more you will continue to beat yourself over the head and you’ll run into one brick wall after another. The best thing that a parent can do is just get themselves healthy. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can move forward. “
1. How would you describe your relationship/contact style with your ex and the type of custody agreement you have?
A. I have a court ordered 50/50 child custody agreement. The court order says that we communicate through a website called talking parents. I decided to be 99.9% no contact with my ex, for many, many reasons. For me it was Important for my healing process. I also believe when dealing with a narcissist / sociopath that playing possum is the best course of action – meaning out of sight out of mind. If I’m not in his line of fire, or his line of focus, then he won’t mess with me, he’ll just move on to his next target. I also have no contact with him because – why? How would it benefit me having contact with such a toxic person? If you just got cured of skin cancer, why would you go back in the sun?
2. If your children were younger, say toddlers, would you feel differently and act differently, perhaps be more involved in the type of care he’s providing when they are with him?
A. To be honest I had a very difficult time letting go of the reins and letting go of the control, when they were in his care. If my children were younger I would have handled the situation the very same. I quickly came to the realization that I could not be involved in his parenting style or technique. I had no control, no say, when they were with him andIf I said do X he would do Y, just to be spiteful.
3. Are you worried and anxious about the children when they are in his care?
A. Am I concerned when my daughters are in his care? All the time. But I had to learn to let go and let God. I had no choice. I did a lot of praying and I still do. I often have long conversations with them. I learned early on that I couldn’t control him I can only control myself and how I respond.
4. How do you counteract the negative effects of them being with him?
A. I have a lot of conversations with them. A lot of affirmations, a lot of I love you’s, a lot of, I’ve got your back. They know that I’m here for them and I constantly remind them. I have focused on making sure that they really understand that they are enough, just the way they are. I let them know that I love them more than anything and they don’t have to do anything to deserve my love. I tell them that I love them just because they are who they are. I go out of my way to really enforce how amazing they are and that I will always be here for them.
5. What do you tell them about their father? How do you explain his affliction? What do they think of him and his parenting?
A. I struggled with this question early on and sought a lot of advice through reading and counseling. A lot of advice I got and articles I read advised against telling my children what narcissism was. I could not disagree more. I think it is critical that they understand where his impairment lies, so that they don’t take his behavior personally. I think it’s essential for them to understand what gaslighting is so that when they’re being mentally abused, they can go to a safe place in their head, like I taught them. They have learned that his behavior has nothing to do with them and not to absorb his craziness. Why is it that we teach our children about the danger of predators and being kidnapped, but we don’t teach them how to guard against being emotionally abused by those closest to them? I’ve explained to them, on their level, what narcissism is and that their father is ill. It’s taught them to have more empathy and more understanding. And most importantly that none of this, is their fault. I told them, in very limited terms, that something terrible happened to him when he was little. They understand it. We’ve had conversations when he’s been trying to manipulate them or gas light them and they get it. That question is highly controversial in a lot of the advice blogs, but I think communication is essential to their well-being and their understanding.
6. How much contact to you have with your ex? Are there times when you do make contact and for what reason?
A. I am 99.9% entirely no contact. What are the times when I make contact? Never. I go as far as ignoring most of his emails, because really what’s the sense of answering them? His emails are usually just an attempt to start a conversation with me and open that door. It’s essential that I stick to my guns and that he realizes that I mean business.
7. What do you do when the children have school events where both parents are expected to be there?
A. He misses most of their events, like he always did, when we were together, so this is an easy one. We did have one event recently that we both had to go to. He sat on one side of the room and I sat on the other. I don’t make eye contact. I plan in advance to leave right after so there’s no room for communication afterwards. I generally avoid things where we would have to potentially be in the same room together. Again, playing possum. Out of sight, out of mind.
8. How did you develop the relationship you have now?
A. I had no choice. I had to survive. Survival meant keeping the very thing that tried to emotionally destroy me out of my life. Make no mistake about it, a narcissist wants to emotionally destroy you. Going no contact with him came out of a desperate need I had to regain control of my life. By going no contact, I let him know under no uncertain terms, that I was calling the shots now and this is how it’s going to be.
9. In the early stages did he try to talk about the children and then swing it back to your relationship?
A. Honestly, I can’t remember. It was such a black hole and an abyss of gas lighting, manipulation, passive-aggressive behaviors and everything else he had in his tool box to use against me. I’m sure he did.
10. Does he say derogatory things about you, that the children report back to you?
A. Yes and yes. They don’t tell me everything he says, because they don’t want to upset me, but inevitably it slips out. The craziest things have been my fault, like things that happen to him in second grade, his dog getting away and other crazy things. Because of the open communication we have and their understanding of his impairment, they see that behavior for what it is.
11. What do you do when the children tell you of poor behavior he does in their presence and other poor parenting decisions he makes?
A. We talk about it. We have discussions. I ask what they think about it? If they think it was inappropriate. They know. For example, he was dating his girlfriend, having sleep overs, before we were divorced, they knew that was wrong. I wanted to be a safe place for them and let them know they can come to me and get things off their chest. We discuss it and they have a better understanding of it. He also gets drunk in front of them and my children record it on their phones. That speaks for itself. My children don’t know anything about my personal life. They don’t see me dating. I don’t bring anyone home to meet them. They know that they are my number one priority.
12. If he did something inappropriate – like giving them alcohol, what would you do?
A. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do. I cannot go back to the courts They won’t see anything wrong with his behavior and I’ll be penalized as trying to interfere and make stuff up. He has left them overnight in a different county, by themselves and there’s nothing I can do. Again, I have a lot of conversations with them. I do a lot of reassuring. They know I’m a phone call away if they’re in trouble.
13. Has he ever used the children to get back at you?
A. There’s nothing he can do or say about me, that bothers me anymore. He can try as he might to hurt me, but he just doesn’t have that power and he knows it. The more he does to disparage me and hurt my children, the more it pushes them away from him. My 15-year-old is already counting the days until she doesn’t have to see him again. My middle one has one foot in and the other foot out of that relationship. My little one is learning.
“It’s really about being proactive, rather than reactive. You have to prepare them, help them understand and give them tools to deal with the madness, so that they don’t internalize it, or make it their fault. You have to learn a great deal of patience and how to control your emotions. Some things can and will infuriate you, if you let them. Just keep the lines of communication fully open between you and your children and let them know that they can always come to you. It’s true, you teach people how to treat you and I’ve taught my ex Narcissist that attacking me will gain him nothing, so he doesn’t bother, for the most part. It has been a tough road, but I think the greatest thing that I’ve learned is that the best thing I can do for my children is to lead by example, by being the best version of myself possible.”
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I have spent the greater part of the past 8 years wondering WHY my narc ex hates me more and more as the years go by. I see other divorced couples that after their years of healing, they end up coparenting with their exes and new spouses wonderfully. I’ve wondered what was wrong with me, what I’ve done wrong, what ELSE I CAN DO to facilitate a good co parenting relationship for my kids’ sake. This was so helpful to remind me that it is not my fault and that it is not possible. Thank you for your insight.
Kamy, me too 8 years! What a waste of life. It’s not possible with them, That’s not their intention, They’re not healthy in mind so want to drag everyone down in their own drowning. I still have difficulty accepting that this is the truth in spite of seeing it for what it is.
Hello everyone, I keep reading and re-reading all of the posts.
I too had the ghastly experience of watching my ex narc boyfriend trying to be a father but leaving it to me to look after his children when he had them for weekends. His ex wife wanted him back and he treated her so badly I hated him for it. The cruelty and lack of compassion was outstanding. But they keep them hanging on, fodder for when they’re running out of supply.
My own ex husband has been playing off one of our daughters for most of her life against me. As long as he could attack and make me feel bad about myself the consequences of his actions upon the children were of no importance to him. In between times, due to the way I have been treated by the narcs and add childhood conditioning to that concoction, I have lost my sense of self, including mental and financial stability. Unfortunately, I have turned that abuse inwards and am my own worst enemy. My sense of self worth hardly exists. It’s a very painful and lonely place to be and the viscious circle is that I don’t feel up to socialising. I feel very guilty for the part I played in all that. Playing ostrich, hoping life would right itself and that I was the one who had it all wrong. My children suffered due to all that craziness and even as I write this I can hear my mother’s voice telling me to accept It, just get on with it. Stop thinking about yourself , think of your children! I was! It wasn’t her fault either, she didn’t know how better to cope.
Thank goodness for this site, it has helped keep me going, especially this weekend when I woke up on an emotional roller coaster from Saturday ’till now! Read, read and read…and do little things as in the dishes, tyding up my home to make it look and feel nice for no other but myself.
Well, another day and a new week commenced. Keep the monsters in the mind on a tight leash and Savanah’s words on a long one.
What if the children have already been brain washed against you by their NPD parent and/or refuse to talk about the behavior, illness, false claims by that parent? I would welcome the chance to be open and honest with my young adult sons about their father, but they are not interested. Yet they obviously allow him to talk about me based on the comments they make, which sound as if they come straight from their father’s mouth.
When this happens, and I dispute it or ask if we can talk about it, they refuse or dismiss my rebuttal. Otherwise they treat me well, but it breaks my heart that I can not warn them about their father’s problem and that they are being poisoned against me.
Should I demand that they listen to me, or continue to let it go? Any advice is appreciated.
THANK YOU so very much for this, Savannah. This is the very situation I’m in and really needed to hear this woman’s story & suggestions. Until my kids are older and I can go completely NC, I need to hear how other survivors deal with having to have low contact with their ex Narcs.
omg….this has been very helpful and has been exactly what i have been dealing with as far as down to him moving the girlfriend in, the courts being on his side and not wanting me to interfere to saying things and blaming me for everything to our kids, everything is similar…i have been trying to go no-contact but since the court thought it was me sabotaging him and so they ordered co-parenting and we need to keep contact and communicate for our children…i didnt even think that was a possible order i would have to follow and if i do not comply, he was told to bring me back for non-compliance. I think we need more help so we show just how toxic these people are because our children should not have to deal with abuse we have had to endure. Its very sad and disappointing, because he doesnt put our children first.
I was in a relationship with a narcissist for a short time. He had previously been married and had two daughters. It absolutely horrified me the way he spoke to and treated these two girls. Looking back now I can also see that he continued to play mind games with their mother. He was truly an awful human being.
This is the best article I’ve read on parenting with a narcissist. I wish my mother had known, When the mother you interviewed said, “Make no mistake about it, a narcissist wants to emotionally destroy you.” I got a chill because it is so true. I learned to play “grey rock” — what the mother calls playing possum — and I just give them nothing to react to. I didn’t discover what my father was until I moved in with and was discarded by a narcissist five years ago. I can’t believe it has taken me every bit of those five years to get over the damage but the relationship was a gift in disguise because I learned what was wrong with my father and one of my sisters. I am in my fifties now and when I told my mother what I had discovered about her ex and my father she started crying, “I thought there was something wrong with me! How do you apologize to your own children about who their father is?” So, even belatedly, knowing freed her, too. I basically hated my father and tried to protect my mother and so have quite a lot of codependency issues. The mother you interviewed is right on. If my poor mother had known she would have saved herself and her 8 children a lot of dysfunction and poor reactionary choices. Instead my mom married two more narcissists and only in her late 50’s found a good decent man. The damage to our family would have been a lot less if our society knew then what we know now. Thank you for spreading the light, Savannah. I get so much healing from your column.
It is helpful for any of us in similar situations to read stories like this one. Partly because the questions are specific and relevant to most scenarios involving coparenting with a spouse with this kind of disorder. Also such good role modeling of this brave single mother, giving hope that there is a way to go forward in a less than perfect way, yet still healthy including honesty and appropriate straight talk with the children. It is a kind of psychological street smarting. This mom sounds very intact on so many levels and I wondered about how she managed to stay strong throughout this experience. So often the target feels destroyed psychologically with few resources left to get back in the saddle again, so to speak. In any event this, in my mind, is an encouraging story of resilience and determination in the face of one of the most destructive of human traits. Thank you.
If there is enough interest I would love to hear your thoughts on how to deal with a situation involving my oldest son in 16 Year common law relationship with narcissist. They have a beautiful little daughter with whom I have a lovely relationship with and love very much. Lots of missing details, but I am familiar with this disorder, and it is becoming more and more evident that the mother wants to alienate me from both my son and 6 year old grand daughter. She has also aligned with my narcissistic mother. It is no secret that I am the scapegoat in the family. I feel that no contact is my only option but that means I don’t have a relationship with my grand daughter. My son is either caught in the middle or has gone over to the dark side. Any ideas on how to keep the connection with my grand daughter? There must be lots of grandparent stories out there
Thank you so much. I was confused on how to, or if to inform my kids on their father’s issue. But this convinced me. I need to make them more aware of the situation than hiding. Great advice!!! I will continue with my strict no contact.
Thank you Savannah for this insight. It is rather tragic what we go through in our relationships. I like the maturity of the mother you were interviewing and hope to some day also get to a place where I just distance myself from my ex hubby 99.9%. The father of her children sounds exactly like the father of my children. I have however not gotten to a place where I shut him off completely as my kids are young or maybe I’m just making excuses. It is draining having to deal with such a person, who blames everything on the other party. I’ve been there and it’s a deep dark hole that can kill you.
My first husband chose no contact with our child until he became a ” fun age” 16. My son chose no contact back.. My son wrote a beautiful letter to child services saying, ” mom has supported me and my younger siblings physically, emotionally, and economically by herself for years. If I have to see my biological father to keep receiving the lowest amount ever of child support, tell him to keep his money.”
As for children & narcissist, sometimes the only children in the family liked are the ones who are the sex they themselves did not get from science. ie: My mother made her grandsons the golden children. Even taught one to be just like her towards his mother. Thanking all that is holy it is NOT the one I told of in the first paragraph. Unfortunately, the predispotion was there as his late father was a narcissistic man, with a desire to make his son ” the little prince”. Hated his daughter , because she is a girl. Tried ( and failed miserably) to scapegoat his step son.
Your interviewee’s experience and approach is similar to mine. Right after I left my ex-N, he was incredibly kind and generous (no doubt because he was hoping I’d come back). Our custody agreement stated that after he received his monthly work schedule (he’s a pilot), he would arrange what 8 nights he could keep our girls the following month. But very soon after we separated, he met a new supply (who is a narcissist herself according to my therapist). He soon stopped communicating with me about his schedule and when he’d like to keep our girls (which hurt them way more than it hurt me). Then, on those few occasions that he did arrange to have them overnight, he deducted $25 per girl per night from my monthly child support. His actions got progressively worse (thanks in large part to his now wife) until our youngest graduated high school and I left to attend graduate school in another state. He can still be vicious toward me (he recently sued me over some heirloom furniture that he left behind when we sold our house), so I avoid him as much as possible. Despite his crazy behavior, I make it a point never to say anything negative about him to our daughters. But I dread when they marry and have children because I will once again have to deal with him and his incredibly narcissistic wife, (who according to my girls, treats him like a dog). Savannah, have you ever written about when your ex-narcissist takes up with another narcissist? I could tell you stories that would blow your mind!
This woman you interviewed is incredible to a point that seems unreal. All the advice is absolutely spot on. Although, I don’t have a problem of co-parenting with an ex narcissist, as our child is an adult, a lot of it still applies.
My kid cut the ties with his dad a year and a half ago with my full approval: meaning that I told him that he’s got my full support either way, whether he sees or doesn’t see his dad and the decision is entirely his. Similarly to the quoted here woman, we did go over what a personality disorder was and what narcissistic blame games were. It looks that I have more trouble with my son’s decision to cut ties with his dad than he does. My scruples are so deeply engraved by the way I was brought up and taught that in a somewhat I envy my son’s freeing himself so quickly and easily. At least that’s how it seems to be. Life will show.
Excellent post! Thank you to both of you!
Thats really spot on and just sad! The worst part is that the courts are obsessed with joint custody rather than the childs best interest! Everytime you go to court lawyers want at least 5k! I have a 5 year old with one but he is mostly a dead beat thank god! I wish guys like this were not even stable enough to fulfill their co parenting duties! The mental abuse they shell out makes me just want to cry! Great article Savsnnah and hope you do a few more like these…your questions were awesome!