Co parenting with a narcissistic ex

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist: Signs, Tips, and More

Co-parenting with someone who shows narcissistic traits is tough — but there are ways to cope. Here are some tips.

Co-parenting, which is a shared parenting arrangement by two people who aren’t in a relationship and are living apart, can be challenging, even under the best circumstances.

After all, you’re making decisions about your kids’ education, medical care, religious upbringing, and other important things with a person whom you may not like or agree with.

But co-parenting can be particularly challenging if you’re trying to do it with someone who has narcissistic traits or lives with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a personality disorder that affects approximately 6.2% of U.S. adults.

“NPD is when someone has an inflated sense of self,” explains Alexander Burgemeester, a neuropsychologist and founder and creator of The Narcissistic Life. This can make them seem self-centered, lacking in empathy, or entitled. They may also have a big need for attention and recognition, which can make it difficult to make decisions together.

“It goes far beyond having a ‘big ego’ and can actually threaten the relationship they have with others,” Burgemeester says. Because they could be more focused on themselves they may not realize the impact their actions have on others, whether that’s you or their child.

Not everyone who exhibits narcissistic traits has NPD — only a mental health professional can diagnose the personality disorder.

Most people display at least one narcissistic trait at some point, but that doesn’t mean they have NPD. It’s important not to assign the label just because we see one or two of the traits.

However, some people exhibit more than one narcissistic trait, and someone with NPD tends to exhibit most, if not all, of the traits in a more severe, frequent, and long lasting manner.

Some of these narcissistic traits, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), include:

  • exaggerated self-importance or feelings of superiority
  • low empathy for others
  • strong beliefs that they’re special
  • constant need for attention, praise, and admiration
  • desire for special treatment
  • entitlement
  • a tendency to envy others
  • assumptions that others must be jealous or envious of them
  • a habit of using manipulation tactics or exploiting others

People who display narcissistic traits or live with NPD can be challenging to deal with when you’re trying to co-parent. Some of the challenges you may encounter include:

They may prioritize their own needs over yours or your child’s

“Someone who has narcissistic traits tends to put themselves first,” explains Burgemeester. This means they may ignore or test your boundaries and disregard your requests, especially if it’s inconvenient to them or gets in the way of their own wants, needs, or emotions.

In addition, they also may not be able to put their child’s needs first, says John Carnesecchi, a licensed social worker who specializes in diverse mediation and family therapy. This could result in them:

  • not being willing to stop arguing in front of your child
  • fighting custody and other agreements you’ve made
  • refusing to be flexible
  • canceling or changing your kid’s appointments or routine to suit their needs

They may be sensitive to criticism

In their attempt to gain praise and attention, people with NPD or narcissistic traits can be very sensitive to criticism, seeing even constructive feedback as a personal attack. This can lead to increased conflict.

They may make you the ‘bad guy’

In an attempt to make themselves look better, they may cast you as “the bad guy” in your separation or any parenting decision that your child doesn’t like. This is because people with NPD tend to externalize blame because they don’t believe they’re ever at fault for something that goes wrong.

They may also parent with less structure or rules than you do to seem like the “fun” parent and gain praise and admiration from your kids. And, since they tend to show low empathy, they may show little empathy for how this makes you look to your kids.

They may try to manipulate you or the kids

“One of the biggest challenges a family faces when there is a parent who has these narcissistic traits is that they will exploit the co-parent or children in order to get something they want,” explains Burgemeester.

For example, he says, “they may force the co-parent to do what they say in order to avoid being put down and talking ill about them in front of the kids. This can seriously affect the children and their perception of their parents.”

They might also try to offer your kids love and affection only as conditional rewards or punish them for their lack of obedience or for challenging their authority.

While it may be challenging, it’s possible to co-parent with someone with narcissistic traits. Here are some tips you can try:

Establish a firm, legal parenting plan

It’s important to set clear boundaries for yourself and your kids — such as who has the kids, what you’re OK and not OK with — and to ensure those boundaries can be legally maintained.

“In order to successfully co-parent with someone who has narcissistic traits, you need to establish a solid parenting plan, and to make sure anything you both decide upon is documented,” says Burgemeester. This will protect you and your kids should your co-parent try to disregard your wishes.

“You want to make sure you have proof of every conversation or deal you had when it comes to your children,” he adds.

Carnesecchi recommends using a lawyer to hash out co-parenting schedules and legal agreements on:

  • religion
  • education
  • medical decisions
  • visitation
  • holidays
  • finances

You can also ask for a court-appointed person, or guardian ad litem, to help determine what’s best for your kids, or hire a mediator to serve as a go-between for communication between you and your co-parent.

Try to control your emotions around them

People with narcissistic traits or NPD tend to try to get a reaction from people. That’s why, says Carnesecchi, it can be helpful to control your reactions and emotions to their behavior.

“[Try] to stay calm and do not allow their emotional rollercoaster to affect your emotional wellness,” he says. Instead, “keep the relationship as a business relationship and speak only in ‘matter of fact’ terms and do not voice your emotional feelings or share private and personal information.

“You are no longer responsible for coddling your ex, taking care of your ex, and more importantly, you no longer need to feel obligated or committed to subject yourself to manipulation, abuse, and selfish behaviors,” he adds.

Protect your kids from the conflict and negativity

Try to keep any conflict or disagreements you’re having with your co-parent away from your children. This means that you should discuss anything contentious out of ear-shot from your child whenever possible.

Even if your co-parent says something negative about you, try not to do the same thing back as name-calling or ranting just pulls your kids into the middle of things — which could have a negative effect on them in the long term.

Parent with love and empathy

You can’t control your co-parent’s behavior but you can control how you parent your kids — and your love, kindness, and empathy will go a long way.

“[Try] to protect them from negativity and keep your household a peaceful environment,” says Carnesecchi. “Create a loving, safe home. You do not need a two-parent home to give your child a sense of security and confidence.”

Research has shown that children who grow up with parents who have NPD sometimes experience difficulties with their own self-esteem later and they’re at greater risk of developing their own mental health or psychiatric issues when they grow up. So try to do your best to be a positive role model that leads from an empathetic, caring place.

“When in your care,” Carnesecchi continues, “allow for open communication, build up their confidence and self-esteem, and teach them coping skills.”

Consider individual or family therapy

If you’re finding it difficult to deal with the challenges co-parenting is presenting you, it’s OK to ask for help. A licensed therapist can work with you individually to help you figure out how to navigate this difficult situation.

You may also consider joining a support group for separated or divorced parents, or a narcissistic abuse recovery support group online.

You can also send your children to a therapist if you think they’re having a difficult time with the new parenting dynamic — or find a family therapist who can see you and your child together if you think that’s appropriate.

The truth is, sometimes, it may not be possible to co-parent with someone with NPD or severe narcissistic traits.

If your ex ever becomes emotionally or physically abusive, no tips or tricks are going to be enough. The only effective remedy is to remove your kids from your ex’s care to keep them safe.

This might mean seeking sole custody or asking for visitation under supervision via court order. This is where the documentation you have can help you begin the process.

Can a parent lose custody for having NPD?

Yes. A parent can lose custody of their child if their narcissistic traits or NPD is not managed and begins to negatively affect their children’s physical or emotional well-being.

If you think you need to remove your child from your ex’s care, you can get help by contacting the department of family and protective services in your area or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800−799−7233) for more information.

Co-parenting with someone who has narcissistic traits or NPD can be difficult, but there are things you can do to protect yourself, your parenting arrangement, and your children. In most cases, these steps may be enough to allow both of you to continue being in your kids’ lives.

However, if it ever gets to be too difficult, there are therapists and support groups that can help you. Plus, the court system is also there to help in the more serious cases to ensure your children grow up safely.

What to Do if Your Co-Parent Is a Narcissist

Written by Kara Mayer Robinson

Ten years ago, when Cat Blake divorced her husband, co-parenting their daughter was relatively smooth. “We were co-parenting relatively well, with some hiccups along the way,” she says.

But a few years later, when she published an autobiography about her struggles with co-dependency, things took a turn for the worse.

“My ex-husband and his new wife got word of the book and sued me for full custody of my then 8-year-old daughter and defamation of character,” says Blake, who’s now a divorce coach in Boston, MA. The legal expenses upended her finances and she had to sell her home and file for bankruptcy.

Blake realized later that her ex-husband, who she says is a narcissist, didn’t even want more time with their daughter. “He just wanted to punish me,” she says.

What It’s Like to Co-Parent With a Narcissist

“Co-parenting with someone who has a full-blown personality disorder is extremely challenging,” says Mark Ettensohn, PsyD, author of Unmasking Narcissism: A Guide to Understanding the Narcissist in Your Life. Narcissists have a highly unstable self-image, he says. They are often inflexible, defensive, and manage the situation in unhealthy ways.

If your parenting partner is narcissist, they may ignore, push, or test your boundaries. Or they might parent with less structure, empathy, or respect than you’d like. They often get angry when you give them feedback or criticism. It can be hard to reach compromises. Their negativity could wear you down.

How to Recognize a Narcissist

Narcissists have a strong sense of grandiosity and self-importance. That means they think they’re more important than others and lack empathy.

Other signs of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Arrogant attitude or behaviors
  • Taking advantage of others to get what they want
  • Believing that they’re unique or special
  • Exaggerating achievements and talents
  • Excessive need for admiration
  • Feeling envy toward others or thinking others envy them
  • Lack of empathy
  • Obsessed with fantasies of brilliance, power, or success
  • Sense of entitlement

What to Do if Your Co-Parent Is a Narcissist

Take these steps if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist:

Accept it. If your parenting partner is a narcissist, they probably won’t change. “You have to wrap your head around the fact that you’ll have to co-parent with somebody that you just might not like,” Blake says.

Set boundaries. Be clear and specific. Draw the line on what’s OK and what’s not. Don’t let them cross it. Narcissists like control and will do whatever it takes to get it.

Make a parenting plan. Make a plan for how to drop off and pick up kids, and how to handle after-school activities, holidays, and discipline. Decide how you’ll talk and how often. Put the plan in writing, sign it, and stick to it.

Limit communication. Your parenting partner may try to get your attention by over-communicating. They may suddenly tell you about something they need an answer for right away. Try using email only, so you have a chance to take a breath before you respond.

Stay calm. When your partner lashes out or makes you angry, try to stay calm. Avoid engaging in insults or blame. “Use clear language, words without emotion, strong body language, and voice,” Blake says.

Have perspective. Try not to take personal attacks to heart. Instead, recognize that what they say is more about them than you.

What Not to Do

Here are some things to avoid if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist:

Don’t argue. Narcissists make it hard to win an argument. They often talk in circles to confuse and overwhelm you. Keep your answers clear and short, without emotion. Don’t explain yourself or give too much information. This is also called the “grey rock method.”

Don’t be afraid of them. “They thrive on fear,” Blake says. “Narcissists are so easy when you realize what makes them tick. They only want attention and kudos.” Acknowledge when they do something well. But stick with your boundaries.

Don’t try to control everything. "As long as you do your job, try to let go a bit of what the narcissist is doing in parenting,” Blake says. “Do your children come back fed and in one piece? That’s pretty good.”

Don’t use your child. Your partner may use your child to get what they want. They might have them spy on you for private information. You may be tempted to do it too, but it’s best not to.

How to Protect Kids

“It may be hard to protect kids from a co-parent’s personality issues when you’re not there to see what’s happening,” Ettensohn says. Focus on what you can control.

Talk to your child. Help them understand their other parent’s behavior. Make it age-appropriate. Teach them that their parent’s behavior is about that parent, not them.

Watch what you say. Try not to say negative things about your parenting partner. “It can turn your child against you and they might feel obligated to pick sides,” Ettensohn says. “Be aware of non-verbal communication, talking to friends and family within earshot, and comparing your child to your narcissist,” Blake says.

Watch for signs of abuse. Look for anything that crosses the line into physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

Be a healthy parent. You can’t choose how your partner parents your child, but you can offset it with healthy parenting. Be a good role model. Coach your child through rough patches. “The antidote to your partner’s narcissism is acceptance, warmth, realistic appraisal, and consistency,” Ettensohn says.

Co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-husband hasn’t been easy for Blake, but she keeps it in perspective. “Kids only need one high-functioning parent in order to grow into a thriving adult,” she says.

Co-parenting with a narcissist - Other

It is very difficult to truly co-parent with someone who has narcissistic traits and therefore a limited capacity for empathy. Instead, you need to focus on co-parenting despite this narcissistic behavior with a focus on isolating yourself and your children from parental manipulation and anger.

Do what is best for your children

A narcissistic person always puts their own needs first. He or she will not put children first and will try to use children as tools for their agenda. Because they won't put your children's needs first, you need to - no matter how your behavior affects him or her. nine0005

Related Articles

  • 7 Signs You're a Narcissistic Parent
  • Tips for Dealing with Adults Who Really Work
  • Co-Parenting Agreements

Be a Good Role Model

Children need one healthy parent. If children have at least one healthy role model, they will not only survive, but thrive. You must show them that while they cannot control their parents' unhealthy behavior, they can control their own. Do not scold your parents with your children. While he or she may do the same to you, show your children how to behave properly. nine0005

Make up for the neglect of the narcissist

People with narcissistic traits usually do not have strong emotional bonds with their children. Because of this, and also because they don't put their children's needs ahead of their own, children may feel emotionally neglected by that parent. Make sure you make up for this by reassuring your children that they are good people and that they are loved.

Promote the interests of your children

Invite children to activities that will allow them to discover their interests. The other parent may not encourage this, as some activities, such as games and activities, may take place at his or her time. Encourage him or her to bring the children to the planned activities, but be prepared to do it yourself if he or she is unwilling to cooperate.

how to clean the battery from corrosion

Protect your children

Some people with narcissistic personality disorder may be verbally, emotionally, financially and physically abused. If your narcissistic partner or has been in any way child abuse, you have an obligation to get them out of the situation immediately and contact the police to file a complaint. You may also consider going to court and consulting with a lawyer who specializes in this type of family dynamic. It is very important that children have at least one parent who protects and prioritizes their mind, body and spirit. Otherwise, such treatment can harm their development as well as shorten their precious childhood. nine0005

Do's and Don'ts in front of children

Although it can be very difficult, it is important to refrain from swearing at your partner or ex in front of children. This puts them in an uncomfortable and inappropriate situation where they are forced to understand a situation far beyond their maturity. Don't encourage them to choose sides, just keep being consistent, loving parents they can rely on. Most likely, over time, they themselves will understand how much contact they would like to have with their other parent, who has narcissistic traits. nine0005

Improve children's coping skills

It is impossible to avoid the fact that your other parent will have some influence on your child's well-being. To help your child deal with inappropriate or emotionally dangerous situations, teach them healthy ways to process emotions and model it for them. This means that when your partner or ex-partner says or does something that hurts your child, teach them:

what age is considered a pensioner
  • Label their emotions and determine where they feel it in their body.
  • Talk to them about it and validate their experience using reflection language, eg "You seem to feel..."
  • That you will always be there for them as an open-minded, loving and consistent parent.
  • Find healthy opportunities such as volunteering, writing, creating art. nine0016
  • To ground yourself using breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises

Legal considerations

If you and your partner have separated, be sure to maintain a detailed custody agreement. In circumstances like this, it may be a good idea to work with lawyers who can handle the paperwork, instead of working directly with a former partner. This way you will be able to maintain limited contact. If you go to the court to work out a custody agreement, the court will appoint an ad litem guardian who will represent the child and provide the judge with information on which to base his or her decision. If your current partner or former partner abused you or your child in any way, be sure to keep records of the date, time, and behavior of your other parent, as well as what you did to keep your child safe. nine0005

Seek advice

If you notice that you or your child is struggling to cope with your co-parent's behavior, it may be worth looking for an advisor who specializes in this type of family dynamic. Counseling is a great option for anyone who wants to improve their coping skills as well as increase their insight by talking to a trained professional who can help you better understand a given situation. See a therapist if:

  • Are you or your child experiencing changes in appetite or sleep
  • Are you or your child experiencing emotional ups and downs that are difficult to manage.
  • You or your child have thoughts of self-harm or suicide (get help immediately by calling the police, your counselor or crisis help line)
  • You or your child are experiencing somatic complaints, anxiety symptoms, symptoms of depression, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. nine0016

Your child may want you to go to therapy with them, but be aware that if the consultation is specifically for them, you must provide support and supervision. If you feel that you too need to see a psychologist, your child's therapist can provide appropriate guidance so that you can better deal with the situation.

pop up camper repair near me

Limit your contact

For those who are still in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, it is important to reduce emotional contact with them in order to maintain emotional security. For those who no longer maintain a relationship with their parents, the best approach is to minimize contact as much as possible. These behavioral changes can help minimize their attempts to manipulate you. nine0005

Avoid conflict

People with narcissistic traits thrive in conflict. They will try to lure you into a trap in order to maintain a relationship with you. It is best to avoid personal contact whenever possible. Instead, try using email as your primary means of communication and only use phone contact when necessary. Keep your conversations strictly on the topic of children and keep all evidence of communication. If the conversation turns to other topics, bring the conversation back to the children. If he or she keeps changing the subject, end the conversation as soon as possible. Establish neutral public drop-off and pick-up areas for children. nine0005

Maintain control

People with narcissistic personality disorder may feel like they have won if they can make you angry or lose control by screaming, crying, or begging. If they win, they will continue to act in a way that will interest you. Remaining as unemotional as possible is the best way to communicate with them. Minimizing contact is one way to keep control of yourself in front of him.

Be ready

Educate yourself. Understanding what can happen can help you prepare to deal with different scenarios that may come up when dealing with your other parent. People with narcissistic traits were often brought up in an unhealthy family, growing up in an environment of intense conflict, sometimes abuse, and unhealthy attachments between parents and children. Therefore, when you decide to break up with them and limit contact, their early childhood traumas often come up and push them to take further action. Communicate briefly, and if you feel unsafe, always notify the appropriate authorities and protect the children involved. nine0005

Plan for the worst

People with narcissistic personality disorder do not forgive or forget. They hold grudges for a very long time. They thrive on revenge and try to inflict as much psychological pain on you as possible because they feel abandoned and rejected. Think of this behavior as a mirror of how much pain they experienced inside themselves as children and are now inflicting on others. Get ready for a tough fight. Before you meet your ex face to face, think about what you are going to say and try to think of all the possible answers and how you will deal with them. By preparing in advance for communication, you can control your frustration in the moment. nine0005

Get everything in writing and keep notes

Promises and failure to deliver are typical narcissistic behaviors. Be sure to get everything in writing. Do not trust verbal promises. He or she may promise to pay child support, but what he or she really sees is money for you, not support for your children. Work with your attorney to write as much as possible into the court order. Talk to a lawyer about what you can do after everything is done to ensure that promises are kept. nine0005

tiger-like cat

Maintaining firm boundaries

Maintaining boundaries with those who do not respect them is difficult. Remember that you are not holding boundaries to change your behavior. You maintain boundaries to keep yourself and your children healthy and safe.

Be assertive

There is a difference between passivity, assertiveness and aggression. If you are passive, your other parent will always get his way. If you are aggressive, you are trying to get your way at the expense of your fellow tribesmen. If you are assertive, you stand up for your rights without damaging the self-esteem of others. Realize that your other parent probably won't see things that way. He or she will most likely view any attempt to establish boundaries as aggression, and subconsciously as a rejection. Their reaction to setting your boundaries is not your responsibility. Your boundaries will provide the consistency you and your children need to be healthy. nine0005

Don't admit mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, and it's natural for people to want to admit their mistakes and apologize for them. However, admitting mistakes is likely to be used as an excuse by your co-parent. Mistakes can be exaggerated and used as proof that you are a crazy, unhealthy, and unstable parent. If you make a mistake, try to move away from it as casually as possible.

Find out about parallel parenting

Joint upbringing of children or the joint work of two parents on the upbringing of children is not possible in conflict situations. The best option is parallel education. Parallel parenting allows both parents to make decisions about children when they are in their care.

Aims of parallel education

Parallel education has two main goals. The first is to avoid conflicts in front of children. While one result may be to reduce the amount of conflict in general, the main goal is to reduce the amount of conflict children see. The second goal is to minimize parental contact with each other. This goal is not to minimize parent-child contact. The goal is to allow both parents to see the children while minimizing contact between parents. nine0005

Creating a Parallel Parenting Plan

Parallel parenting plans must be very specific and are usually set out in a court custody agreement. The plan is designed to minimize the amount of communication needed. Make sure your custody agreement specifically states at least the following:

which states can get a tattoo at 16
  • Specific days to visit and start and end times
  • Where pickup and drop-off will take place
  • Cancellation and make-up times, if any
  • Responsibility for transportation
  • Dispute resolution process in case of disagreement between parents over visitation schedules

as a parent who is responsible for what activities - for example, one parent may take responsibility for a sport while the other parent takes responsibility for another activity. Because this is a legal document, talk to your lawyer about any additional terms you may need. nine0005

Never give up

The narcissistic parent will most likely not change much. Be realistic about this. However, for the sake of your children, try to maintain as friendly relations as possible. It might not work no matter what you do. Just remember that while you can't control the other person's behavior, you can control your own. The ultimate goal is for your children to be able to maintain a relationship with both parents as conflict-free as possible. Make this a goal every time you interact with another parent of your children. nine0005

what to do when you don't feel like doing anything


2 3 minutes of reading

So it's morning and it's time to get out of bed. Children must go to school, and you and your spouse must be ready to go to work. But there's a problem, you don't want to get out of bed. Instead, you'd rather be in bed all day with warm blankets hidden from the world.
I've been here. I know what it's like to be afraid to hear the alarm go off in the morning, signaling that it's time to start the day. It's not a good feeling, especially when you know you have to get up. If you are a mom, you can agree that if you don't get up, the whole house is in danger. nine0005

Here are some tips and motivations to start your day:

Go to bed early
If you are a night owl, you can stay up late and even work better at night. But when you have kids, a job, a spouse you care about, you probably need some rest. It's tempting to go to bed after midnight to have some "quiet time," but perhaps you should put the kids to bed earlier so you can have that quiet time. It may take your body some time to adjust, but you will eventually get used to going to bed at normal hours. nine0006 Take a break

If it has been some time since you took a holiday or day off, you may have a day off. I know it can be difficult for you if you have to work to pay your bills. But at some point, if you are tired of the constant hustle and bustle of life, you should try to plan a little vacation. We all need a break sometimes, that's okay. Consider asking your boss about having a mental health day If you're married, talk to your spouse about traveling together or on your own. This might be the breath of fresh air you need. nine0006 Call grandparents

If your parents live nearby or can afford to visit you, invite them. Most parents would like to be able to visit and see their grandchildren if they could. Even if it's a short trip, they can give you the break you need. Having your parents as support for you and your family can take a huge burden off your shoulders. This can make you feel refreshed and regain focus and energy. nine0006 Check your diet

Our diet plays a big role in why we feel what we do. When we eat donut instead of mashed potatoes in the morning instead of breakfast, it will eventually catch up with us. Our body needs proper nutrients to give us the energy to get through our day. When we don't drink enough water, eat mostly fast food, sweets and starchy foods, then our body can start to feel a bit sluggish. Our bodies can be depleted faster than usual. nine0006 Take some time to think about what you have been eating for the past week or two. This may be the reason why you feel more tired than usual.
Include fun things in your day
Without fun, our days can feel flat, leaving us with nothing to look forward to. Feel fair and worry a little about your day. If you like to read, take this novel. If you're more adventurous, take a short excursion after work on a Friday afternoon. Plan a mid-week movie night with family and popcorn. Whatever you do, make sure it's something you expect and enjoy. nine0006 Talk to the professionals

  • The Lancet says stents are safe and effective in India

If you've tried everything and nothing works, you may want to see a therapist. They are trained professionals and can help if you think you have a really serious problem. It's scary to talk to a complete stranger who says he can help you. But if you have exhausted all your options, then it may be time to turn to a professional. nine0005

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, know that you are not alone. There are treatment options, community support, and resources available to you or your loved one.

If you or someone you know is in an immediate crisis, seek help by calling the National Human Rescue Service at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention to be associated with a trained counselor at a crisis center nearby.

Learn more