Parenting is arguably the hardest work one can do in life, even with a loving and compatible partner. Coparenting with a narcissist ex is exponentially more difficult—disorienting, divisive, maddening, and at times cause for feelings of black anger and despair.
Your Narcissist Ex Doesn’t Love Your Kids the Way You Do
It is painful, perhaps incomprehensible, but your narcissist ex will never love your children the way you do. In the extreme case he may be flatly incapable of loving them at all, seeing them instead as extensions of himself to be manipulated, often abusively, to serve his agenda of maintaining his “false face.” To make matters worse, your narcissist ex’s main objective may be to hurt you, regardless of how it harms your kids.
If you did the leaving, the rejected narcissist is likely to hold a profound long-term grudge, seeking to punish you for triggering her “narcissist injury”—her fundamental feelings of intense worthlessness. If she left you, you are still fair game for propaganda and persecution.
Whoever initiated the break up, the narcissist is likely to use every opportunity to bolster himself at your expense. He may insult and demean you in front of your children; engage in a smear campaign behind your back to your kids, extended family, and social circle; and undermine your efforts to communicate as “coparents.”
Forget CoParenting with a Narcissist
Teamwork is outside the narcissist’s playbook. By definition, narcissists lack empathy or genuine feelings of connectedness with others, most poignantly for their “family.” As painful as this is to accept about the other mother/father of your children, you need to accept reality and move on.
Accept Parallel Parenting
First and foremost, narcissists do not play fair or nice. They will vie for their children's attention and adoration but also readily cast it away if/when it loses value (i.e., becomes costly, taxing, boring, irritating, etc.).
Throw out the normal rules of engagement. Embrace minimalist “parallel parenting” to gain control and reduce your vulnerability to manipulation. This is necessary for you and for your children.
Parallel Parenting Do List
1. Do limit contact/communication with your ex to absolute essentials.
2. Do establish a regular parallel parenting schedule and stick to it.
3. Do keep strict boundaries with your ex.
4. Do withhold your true feelings/thoughts from your ex.
5. Do ignore your ex’s threats and antagonisms, whether passive-aggressive or overtly aggressive.
6. Do accept that you cannot control your ex’s parenting, even if it sucks.
7. Do have faith in your own parenting (one attuned good parent is more powerful than several bad parents/stepparents—really).
8. Do be as honest as you can (age-appropriately) with your kids about your family situation.
9. Do modulate but don’t deny your feelings with your kids.
10. Do model resiliency for your kids.
Parallel Parenting Don’t List
1. Don’t argue with your ex.
2. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to your ex.
3. Don’t react to your ex’s barbs or criticisms.
4. Don’t “bite” at your ex’s threats and antagonisms.
5. Don’t internalize your ex’s projections.
6. Don’t try to explain your concerns about your kids to your ex.
7. Don’t ever criticize your kids to your ex, as s/he will use it against them/you.
8. Don’t engage emotionally with your ex: go “gray rock”—boring, flat, monotonous.
9. Don’t blame yourself for your ex’s behavior.
10. Don’t forget that although your ex may be a jerk the silver lining is your kids.
Coming soon: CoParenting with a Narcissist: Stories from the Front Lines
Julia L. Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Carry You, about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissist family. Read excerpts. Her articles, essays, and poems have won awards and appeared in The Nation, Reuters, The Chicago Sun Times, and The Seattle Times.
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