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.

22 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

      • Sounds exactly like my situation. I can handle how he is with me but how he treats the girls leaves me feeling helpless. He’s so cold towards their feelings and wants. They are 7 & 10 and both beg me not to make them go. I let them take their iPads so they can stay occupied in someway but he takes them so they can’t communicate with me while they are there. My oldest asked me one day when she would be old enough to not have to go anymore.

        • And there’s not much you can do about how he treats the girls. 🙁 But you can do your part to ensure that you provide for them what he never can: love, empathy and understanding.

          It’s frustrating, I know – but I keep telling myself that when my daughter is old enough (12 years old in my neck of the woods), she will have the information she needs to make an informed decision on whether or not she wants to remain in contact with him.

          If she doesn’t, that’s his own damn fault.

  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. 🙂

      • It has taken be 4yrs to understand not to react. Unfortunately my ex abuses his right to constantly take me to court. My friends can’t believe he still is taking me to the courts. He puts on a great act for the courts and lies with all his information he states. I just want it to stop! I am in so much debt cause legal aide can’t do Supreme Court only family court. They can’t even do child support… my ex lied to them and got his child support decreased. Cause I represented myself and the high anxiety he causes me I couldn’t do the non emotion and more facts. He told the at judge I lied about my income to get legal aide representation. Which is impossible with how much information and proof of your income from tax returns to W-2… I wish he would move on with his wife who is just like him so I am battling two narcissists! It’s crazy …. I have the court app And he still threatens me . There is nothing in the law to protect us to stop how many times your ex can abuse the courts for his own gratification and lies.

  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!

  7. I’m currently frying a divorce from my narcissistic ex. I’m a year in and trying to get sole legal and physical custody. My ex was abusive but I don’t have a lot of “proof” and my fear is that I’ll have to coparent.

  8. What do you do when you have a 14 YO daughter who is just as bad as her Dad? He always twists a situation around to make me the “bad parent”. Im always wrong and he’s always perfect. According to her (because dad said it was the adult thing to do) I need a curfew, text throughout the date, text when i get to my destination and exact location, text when im on my way home and before anyone stays the night she MUST meet the guy to see if he’s right for the “family”.

    • You need to take back control as a parent and have your daughter understand what the parent-child dynamic really means. But instead of simply putting your foot down about not following her “rules”, you need to talk to her and get to the root of the problem. Is she simply doing this because her father tells her to, or are there other underlying stressors? It could be that her father has created distrust or fear in her when it comes to your social life. Try a good, open-hearted and honest conversation.

  9. I can relate to this so much on so many levels. I lived with a narcissist for 28 years and finally got the courage to divorce him in March. Everything was my fault and still is to this day. I’m at the stage where I’m looking at our life together and amazed at how much emotional abuse and neglect I had in my marriage. I’m sad and lonely most of the time. I’m sad at how mean he is to our older children(21&18) and how “sweet “ he is to our 9 year old who is confused because she sees how mean he is to her older sisters. He makes our children feel sorry for him and they feel like they have to take care of him. I’m sad and I miss the life I had. But not for one minute have I ever missed him. I love not fighting with someone everyday of my life. At times I feel hopeless and scared like this 47 year old mom who works 44 hours a week in a stressful job will never be able to do this alone. But then I realize I did it alone my whole life! I didn’t have a friend , partner or lover. I had a fourth child who I had to literally take care of and cater to and revolve our lives around to make happy. A truly tiring selfless job when dealing with a narcissist because no matter what it’s never right! Thank you for this article and I’m going to try my best to parallel parent, while he verbally try’s to destroy me and blame me for the way “ his” life turned out.

    • I’m so glad you found the strength to leave! I know the beginning is tough – I stayed with my ex as long as I did because it was easier than leaving.

      But, over time, it does get easier. Not perfect, just easier. Remember that this “blame” is his problem and not yours and it was his behaviors that led to this situation.

      Hang on to the fact that now you have the time, focus and energy to revolve your life around making you and your children happy. 🙂

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