Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Posted by Erin Birt | Oct 27, 2021 | 0 Comments

Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

If you found your way to this page, you are probably feeling quite frustrated with your ex-spouse, finding it difficult to co-parent with them, and wondering what to do to work through it because you care about your child or children. Although it may not feel like it right now, there is hope!

What Is a Narcissist?

The first step to effective co-parenting with a difficult ex-spouse is determining whether they are truly a narcissist. The distinction matters because the best approach to parenting with an ex-spouse is different when your ex-spouse is a narcissist.

Not every disagreeable and difficult ex-spouse is a narcissist. Narcissistic personality disorder is where a person has an inflated sense of self-importance coupled with a lack of empathy for others. Narcissists have trouble controlling their emotions and are known to become impatient or angry when things don't go their way. They generally blame others rather than take accountability for their actions.

In the post-divorce parenting context, common behaviors of narcissists include:

  • Criticizing the other parent to the child (e.g., “your mommy is so mean”).
  • Disagreeing with parenting plans for no reason other than to emotionally harm their former spouse.
  • Refusing to engage in productive conversations about parenting.
  • Manipulating the child to get what they want.
  • Attacking their ex-spouse with criticisms (often lies) of the ex-spouse's behavior.

How to Co-Parent With a Narcissist

If you are trying to co-parent with a narcissist, you're probably frustrated and concerned for your child's well-being. Try following these tips to help you navigate parenting with your narcissistic ex-spouse in order to protect your sanity and your child.

Detail It in an Agreement

Parenting plans are essential in all divorces. They are particularly important for parenting with a narcissist after an Illinois divorce. Narcissists are notorious for manipulation and lying. If things aren't put into writing, they are likely to try to use these tactics to get what they want when they want.

Parenting plans should be as detailed as possible. A narcissist will look for loopholes and gaps they can use to make an argument for what they want and when they want it. For example, on the blog Motherhood & Mayhem, one divorced mother describes how her ex-husband used an agreement to “share” their child's birthday to make the child see both parents on the child's birthday rather than alternate years, which was the intent.

Adopt a Parallel-Parenting Approach

Unfortunately, with narcissists, true co-parenting — where both ex-spouses work together to care for and set standard rules and expectations for their child — is often impossible. Co-parenting requires coordination, caring, and putting the child's needs before your own. This is inconsistent with narcissism.

With narcissists, parallel parenting works better. Parallel parenting focuses on independent interactions with the child and each parent and minimal interactions between the parents. Each parent develops and implements their own parenting style, including rules for the child when in their care.

Minimize Unnecessary Contacts

Keep contact with your ex-spouse to the absolute minimum. Think of it as a business relationship. Block them on social media. Do not engage in personal conversations beyond those needed to care for your child. Keep interactions public when possible. Keeping your contact with your ex-spouse to what is necessary will decrease the likelihood of explosive emotional conversations. It will also prevent them from learning information they could later use against you.

Do Not Engage

Almost certainly, at some point, your ex-spouse will attempt to get an emotional reaction out of you. Use any technique possible to avoid engaging. Responding emotionally to your ex-spouse will only feed into their satisfaction, make parenting more difficult, and provide them fodder to use against you.

Document as Much as Possible

Document as much as possible when it comes to parenting with your ex-spouse. For example, if you agree to a change in the time that you will pick up your child from your ex-spouse, try to get it in a text message or email. Narcissists are master manipulators and will lie to further their own interests. Documentation will help you protect yourself. Keeping a daily parenting journal is also a helpful tool in the event you need to seek changes in the future to your parenting agreement.

Find Support and Education

You are not alone. Many other parents are going through the same thing as you. It is not easy, but it is possible. Take advantage of support groups. Read online articles and books on parallel parenting with a narcissist. The more education and support you have, the better for your emotional well-being and your child's protection.

Need Legal Help Dealing With Your Narcissistic Ex-Spouse?

At The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C., we know that divorce and post-divorce parenting are about more than just the law. Emotions and practical strategies matter. Our law firm offers caring divorce and post-divorce legal services. To learn more, contact us today here or at 630-891-2478.

About the Author

Erin Birt

Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on parenting time, divorce, mediation, and substance abuse issues. Ms. Birt's unique background in both family law and addictions counseling help her clients successfully navigate the complex issues of coparenting and divorce. Ms. Birt also devotes her time to presenting at continuing education seminars for attorneys, mediators, and counselors.


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