6 Tips from a Divorce Attorney on How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

If you thought divorcing your narcissist ex was hard, the grim reality of co-parenting with them may be hitting you even harder. From the lies to the manipulation to the demands to the complete lack of interest in putting the child’s needs first, you’re definitely in an uphill battle. But you can take back some control. As a divorce attorney, I’ve seen it, and know these tips can help you more easily co-parent with a narcissist.

Common Challenges Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

While the term ‘narcissist’ is used frequently to describe a person who acts self-absorbed and vain, you may not realize is that narcissism is actually a personality disorder. Per the Cleveland Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is diagnosed when a person has at least five of these characteristics:

  • An overinflated sense of self-importance.
  • Constant thoughts about being more successful, powerful, smart, loved, or attractive than others.
  • Feelings of superiority and desire to only associate with high-status people.
  • Need for excessive admiration.
  • Sense of entitlement.
  • Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals.
  • Lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs.
  • Arrogant or snobby behaviors and attitudes.

Whether technically meeting the NPD criteria or not, your ex may still exhibit narcissistic traits that can affect co-parenting. Common challenges include:

  • Not agreeing to (or upholding) custody or other arrangements.
  • Trying to turn your child against you.
  • Interfering with your child’s routine, appointments, and belongings.
  • Going against the best interests of your child, just to make things more difficult and/or to try to retain control.

Tips to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

As you’ve likely learned already, you won’t be able to change your ex, but you can control how you handle co-parenting with them. My tips include:

  1. Keep your distance – Narcissists thrive on conflict, but they can’t create it if you don’t take the bait. Instead of engaging with them, take a deep breath and walk away, or hang up and stop texting. And don’t put yourself in a situation in which you are alone with them. 
  2. K.I.S.S. – You’re likely familiar with the acronym and while it may apply to your ex in its original form, we feel it’s appropriate to change it to “keep it simple and short.” This should be the case in all communications and they should be exclusively focused on the issue at hand with your child.
  3. Document it – We’re not just talking about the custody agreement or co-parenting plan here. While it may seem excessive to document every interaction with your narcissist ex, consider at least keeping a log of any time they deviate from what you’ve agreed, they threaten or lie and especially if you suspect any abuse or neglect where your child is concerned. Bottom line: if their behavior doesn’t feel right, then write it down.
  4. Create a detailed co-parenting plan – To more easily co-parent with a narcissist, it’s best if your plan leaves as little wiggle room as possible. That way there’s no question as to how to interpret schedules, logistics, or any other details. Doing this from the beginning will save you from future conflicts. With a legally binding co-parenting plan, the onus isn’t on you to keep your ex in line.
  5. Choose your battles – Yes, there will be battles, and many of them will be petty but you must ask yourself is it worth the fight? If your narcissist ex is putting your child in a situation that is unsafe, certainly take action. If they serve ice cream for breakfast, just to irritate you, a lack of response may be the quickest way to end it. 
  6. Rise above – When you co-parent with a narcissist, their nonsense is a given. And while it’s hard to rise above, think of it this way; you can show your child an example of healthy parenting. You can give them the peace, stability, and love they deserve.

Extra Support Can Also Help

As an experienced mediator and collaborative divorce attorney, trust me when I say you don’t have to go it alone as you struggle to co-parent with a narcissist. It’s important to surround yourself with friends and family who can ground and support you. Also, consider seeking help from a family therapist or other mental health professional to help you cope in a healthy way.

I believe that legal battles are more harmful to families than helpful, and am passionate about helping people find ways to make their own decisions for their families through mediation. However, sometimes court becomes unavoidable, and if so, my team and I can also educate and support you so the legal process is less costly and stressful.

For more information on how our mediation services and coaching can help you co-parent with a narcissist ex, contact our experienced team today.

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