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.”