Is It Actually Possible to Co-Parent with a Narcissist?

Co-parenting is difficult. Being a part of a toxic relationship is difficult. Therefore, trying to co-parent with a toxic former partner can be even tougher. When you’re trying to co-parent with a narcissist, the situation can often seem impossible.

However, until your children become adults, you’ll likely be stuck trying to deal with the narcissist ex in your life. How can you create a good life for you and your children?

How You Know You’re Dealing with a Narcissist

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition where a person has an unreasonably high sense of their own importance. This can be expressed as overt grandiosity or covert victimhood. This often results in them being unable to understand or care about anyone else’s feelings. They lack empathy.

Narcissists can be controlling, manipulative, selfish, and demanding. Since they believe they are more important than everyone else, they are usually very entitled and must always be the victim or the winner.

They will often do whatever is necessary for them to look and feel better or more than others. They also want to be in control in all situations, making them very inflexible, rigid, and unwilling to compromise. That makes it very difficult to be around them and even more difficult to co-parent.

The Challenges Narcissism Put on Co-Parenting

One of the biggest challenges to co-parenting with a narcissistic ex is that you can’t truly leave the relationship.

It’s often very difficult to get out of a toxic relationship or realise that you are in one. If you’ve managed to break up with a toxic partner, that’s a huge step.

When children are involved, your former toxic partner is still in your life. That prevents you from making a clean break and moving on. This can be detrimental to your happiness and mental health.

How does this affects your children? Co-parenting often means putting aside your differences with your former partner and focusing on what’s best for the children. However, this is often impossible when dealing with a narcissist.

A narcissist will cause arguments or drama, try to control all situations, and be angry and vengeful if they don’t get their way.

Instead of caring for the children, they may try to manipulate them, turn them against you, and emotionally abuse them. This can be incredibly damaging to a child both now and throughout their life.

Children who grow up with a narcissistic parent are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and people-pleasing tendencies as adults.

What You Can do – Parallel Parenting

Where possible you’ll need to start by taking steps to protect both you and your child from destructive actions and behaviour. This will mean setting clear boundaries and maintaining them.

Unfortunately, you aren’t likely to get much official help in your situation. Covert narcissists or those high on the spectrum are hard to prove, especially since a narcissist will usually be unwilling to go to therapy. This means there won’t be an official diagnosis. That can make it tough to show that they’re impossible to parent with or that their behaviour is harming your or the child.

Instead, you may need to focus on parallel parenting rather than co-parenting. This means placing strong boundaries between yourself and the other parent and focusing on splitting responsibilities and spending time with the children while limiting contact with one another.

This often means creating a firm plan for pick ups and drop offs, school activities, holidays, etc. It’s a good idea to put this plan in writing and to communicate through a single email account when necessary to arrange parenting responsibilities.

Use clear language and avoiding engaging in insults, blame, or arguments.

Focus on your own time with your children and providing them with a good life and a positive role model.

Step back from your ex’s life as much as possible. Try not to get involved with what the other parent does or say negative things about them.

Above all let your children know they can trust and rely on you emotionally, no matter what. Support them, provide them with warmth and love, and give them realistic praise and acceptance. This will help them grow into happier, healthier adults.

Kate is a trauma and embodiment specialist. She is a TRE & EFT Supervising Mentor and is on the Executive Board of EFT International (formerly AAMET) and is a Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioner, DipPsych, Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of NLP and Time Line Therapy (accredited by the ABNLP) and has been an intuitive body & energy worker for 30 years. While she works with any problem state she specialises in the sensitive areas of Post Traumatic Stress, emotional abuse, chronic pain and anxiety.