I’ve Learned To Co-Parent With My Narcissistic Ex, Even Though It Felt Impossible

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I remember the days when the term “narcissism” simply referred to someone who exuded a high-level of self-love and selfishness. Over the past few years I learned first hand that this condition is highly volatile and involves more than an individual’s effort to fulfill their own needs and wants.

Narcissism means that an individual will hurt, destroy and manipulate in order to self-preserve.

They can only understand and sympathize with themselves – they have no concept of how their actions affect or impact others. Ultimately, they feel no remorse or guilt for their actions.

I share a daughter with a narcissist. Throughout our relationship, and after I left him during the pregnancy, I was constantly at fault for everything that had happened and all my attempts to reason with him fell on deaf ears.

I am constantly threatened, harassed and gas-lighted by my narcissistic ex even as I remain civil and unprovoked.

Every interaction with him causes panic and anxiety. The idea of co-parenting was completely off the table but I had to find a way to deal with these interactions while allowing him to spend time and build a relationship with our daughter.

What is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is the answer to the narcissistic ex. It involves completely disengaging from the other parent in order to avoid conflict through controlled communication. It also means controlling your own reactions and emotions while focusing your attention on what is best for your child.

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years when it comes to parallel parenting with a narcissistic ex:

Limit Communication With Your Narcissistic Ex

I had already found myself completely uninvolving myself from my ex, except to provide and receive important information about our daughter. In fact, limited communication was eventually court-ordered in our custody agreement – the judge implemented that we only communicate need-to-know information via text or email.

Be Specific

We also agreed to specifics when it came to visitation and access and had those included in the court order. My ex loves to use the smallest details against me, so having everything in writing helped to ensure that he couldn’t manipulate the agreement in any way.

Not that he doesn’t try. Even now he twists statements made in court and threatens to have me arrested for violation of the order. However, I know what is written in the order and I don’t respond to these threats.

Narcissists Love A Reaction – Do Not Give In

Actually, there’s a lot I don’t respond to because narcissists love a reaction. They will poke the bear, so to speak, until they get one. Parallel parenting is more effective if you refuse to engage with their accusations and attempt to defend yourself or correct them.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is extremely difficult. It took me a long time to learn how to bite my tongue but, I assure you, it has made all the difference in communicating with him. Whenever I rose to the occasion and pushed back against him, thing would escalate and by the end of it my nerves would be shot.

Mind you, when it comes to how he speaks to our daughter or behaves around her, I don’t keep quiet. I simply communicate my concerns in objective and concise terms without injecting any emotion.

Your Children Come First

As a parent, I can’t control every action my daughter witnesses in the world – but I can control mine. I don’t want her to see or experience the anxiety and frustration my ex causes me. In the end, that is her father and she loves him.

However, even at the age of six, she is starting to recognize that her father is not a warm and caring parent. We talk a lot about her daddy and how he speaks to her and about other people.

While I would love to openly agree with her on all points, I simply listen to her and validate her feelings. I explain in age-appropriate terms that daddy is different, sometimes daddy isn’t nice and that she doesn’t have to like what daddy says or does.

I don’t lie or sugarcoat the situation. I do tell her that her daddy loves her because, I think on some level, he does. It’ll just never be the healthy and caring way a parent should love their child.

My narcissistic ex sometimes feels like it's impossible to parent together. But here's the strategy I've used to parent with an ex even when it felt impossible. #narcissism #parallelparenting #filterfreeparents

In the end, my parallel parenting strategy is to simply avoid confrontation with him (unless necessary) and help my daughter navigate her perceptions and emotions.

While it’s not a perfect situation, it is far less frightening and stressful as it was in the past.

From the day my daughter was born, I vowed to provide her a life of stability, safety and love. While she’ll never get that from her narcissistic father, she will get more than enough from me.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Love this and thank you so much for writing it! Exactly my ex, just not the name I have called him over the years!!
    Nailed it and wish I had had your insight and strength. Will implement your strategies now, even though daughter now 32 .
    Thank you

    • Oh, I imagine you have called him a few names over the years. LOL
      I felt so blessed to stumble upon the term “narcissist” when I did – it provided so much clarity to dealing the situation.
      I’m glad, even though your daughter is an adult, that you have the fortitude to change the way you deal with your narcissistic ex.
      Good luck! <3

  2. Chelsy,

    Thank you for your post! I am in a similar situation, single mother for 2.5 years to a six year old son. During my five year marriage with his father, I didn’t understand the extent of abuse and neglect I was living with. It wasn’t until about a year after we left him that I was able to see exactly what we were living with. It has been a steep learning curve to re-establish the way I communicate with my son’s father. You hit the nail on the head, the healthiest way is as little interaction as possible. I only allow communication via email, regarding logistics of pickup/drop off and so I can report health concerns. Exchanges are inside the police station only, and that has solved a lot of problems he would create. Overall, seeing my ex gives me anxiety still, but I hold my head up and give zero emotional reaction to him. This topic is so pertinent to many moms or there. We need to support each other! Keep spreading your great advice!

    • Hey Samantha,
      It seems like you’ve covered all your bases for dealing with your ex. 🙂
      I know what it’s like to look back and feel, I don’t know, shocked at how much abuse I endured. And, yes, it’s a very steep learning curve. At times it felt impossible.
      But you made it! And I made it! And although the anxiety will always be there, the situation is as good as it’s going to get.
      Thanks for your comment! <3

  3. This is so on point!! I’ve been living by these guidelines for the past 8 months. Currently in the midst of divorcing my narcissistic spouse.

    • I hope it goes as smoothly as it possible can for you! I know dealing with a narcissist is always a struggle, but you get to control how big of a struggle it is.
      Good luck! <3

  4. Thank you for this blog. As I’m currently fighting a custody battle. We had joint custody week on and week off when he decided out of the blue to move to Florida and less than six months he was back in our hometown. Totally throwing our lives in chaos. I’m hoping if I stick to the parallel parenting it just might be easier.

    • And narcissists love to throw your life into chaos! I can imagine how stressful that was helping your little ones accommodate to the change – and then accommodating again!
      Definitely stick to parallel parenting, keep records of everything (conversations, texts, emails) and keep your nose clean. Try not to be reactive to him and play by the rules to the best of your abilities. It will make all the difference in court. 🙂

  5. I hear my experience come through your words. Are there any resources you can share? Books? Articles please? I’m in the thick of it and I do dearly wish for peace for my lo and myself.

    • You know, I write on a variety topics on my personal blog and my article on narcissistic parenting is my most popular. I had no idea why until I started getting wonderful comments like this one – this is a huge problem for parents and most don’t even know what to call it or where to start!
      I really don’t have any resources to point to, since there was nothing I really leaned on to get through this. I kept seeing definitions of narcissism pop up on my Pinterest and pieced it together from there.
      If you would like, you can contact me directly through my blog and I will see what I can find for good, strong resources to help you in your situation. 🙂
      All the best!

  6. Thank you so much for this article. While I’m not happy you also have a narcissistic ex, it feels good to know I’m not alone. As you know, going through the court system is very stressful bc narcissists are very good at manipulating and charming everyone, including judges. Anyway, good article and good luck to you and your daughter!

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