Co-parenting with a narcissist ex? Here’s what to do

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Here is the good and bad news: It is possible to co-parent with a narcissist.

The good news is that there are tools you can use to ensure your kid has a relationship with both parents, equally, which is what research finds is what is best for kids — and moms and dads.

The negative side of this is that you have to co-parent with a narcissist. This is hard, frustrating and seemingly impossible — yet it can be done.

Maybe he or she has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, or perhaps they have a more-than-normal dose of narcissism. Either way, you are stuck co-parenting with your kids’ other parent, and it is possible.

Perhaps you have to resign yourself to parallel parenting, in which you do not interact much at all, but instead allow each other to parent as you see fit when the child is in each of your care.

Or you learn to ‘grey rock’ your ex — not react to any inflammatory texts, calls or messages sent through the kids. Co-parenting couples therapy can help.

So can co-parenting classes.

We highly recommend one of the High Conflict Co-Parenting, Parenting Without Conflict courses from OnlineParentingPrograms.com. Ranging from 6 to 16 hours, these courses will help you parents boundaries, manage emotions, and help children of divorce and separation transition and thrive. Use coupon code WSM20 for a $20 discount on any class.

Can you co-parent with a narcissist?

Yes, people co-parent with narcissists every day! However, many parents who share parenting with a narcissist find that parallel parenting works best. Parallel parenting is a brand of co-parenting in which each parent more or less parents how they prefer during their parenting time, with minimum collaboration between mom and dad. In fact, all parenting has some element of parallel parenting, as each parent has their own style, rules and personality.

How do you survive co-parenting with a narcissist?

  • Self-care
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Try to stay unemotional

How do I protect my child from a narcissistic father?

Divorce attorney and expert on narcissism Rebecca Zung gives this advice on how to protect your kid from a narcissistic parent:

  • Educate yourself about parental alienation
  • Accept that you can’t change the narcissist
  • Try to stay unemotional!
  • Consider a custody evaluation
  • Document all egregious behavior
  • Don’t seek a restraining order frivolously
  • Use a co-parenting app
  • Write a binding non-disclosure clause — no bad-talking — written into the parenting agreement
  • Seek out therapy for your children

How to negotiate with a narcissist — and win

If the usual co-parenting advice does not apply to your high-conflict situation, keep reading on information on how to successfully navigate common co-parenting problems.

More common co-parenting problems — and how to deal with a bad coparent

If you and your ex are still working on co-parenting communication and tend to fight a lot, keep reading. We will address issues including:

1. “My ex cancels all the time.”

2. “My ex is trying to prevent me from introducing my boyfriend to the kids.” or “I’m upset my kids’ dad introduced them to his new girlfriend right away.” Here are the rules.

3. “My kids’ stepparent is overstepping boundaries.”

4. Fighting with your kids’ dad about holiday schedules? Do this…

5. “My ex calls the kids all the time when they are with me.”

6. “My ex is jealous of my new relationship.”

How to co-parent with an abuser

If there is a history of domestic violence, you likely have an order of protection, drop-offs and pickups at public places, as well as supervised visits for the children. This is a difficult situation, and it may not get better. Using a co-parenting app can help (especially if it is court-mandated) because any text communication is documented and can be submitted to the court or authorities.

Parallel parenting is likely the best strategy when co-parenting with an abuser.

Try OurFamilyWizard co-parenting app for free for 30 days >>

How to co-parent with a passive-aggressive, toxic, controlling ex

If your child’s mother or father is very difficult, uncooperative, or otherwise a pain in the ass, stick to the advice above, and keep in mind on how to co-parent with a controlling or toxic ex:

  • They likely won’t change
  • Accept your part of the relationship. How do you respond to nasty messages or manipulative behavior?
  • Practice the “grey rock” method, and do not respond to any aggressive behavior. Do not give your coparent the satisfaction of seeing you get mad or defensive. Do a lot of ignoring.
  • Heal yourself. The relationship was likely hurtful. Heal from that hurt. Forgive (hard as it is!). Surround yourself and your kids with positive, healthy people. Recondition yourself to expect and express joy and cooperation.

All about toxic and unhappy marriages.

How to co-parent with a manipulative ex

Stick to your instincts about what is right and wrong.

When they go low, you go high.

Focus on the facts, and get all agreements in writing. Do you have a parenting plan? Here is a free parenting plan template.

How to coparent with an alcoholic

Millions of parents are addicts, and it is very hard to trust that a parent who abuses alcohol, illegal drugs, marijuana, prescription drugs — not to mention sex, food, gambling, and drama!

If your ex is actively using, you likely have supervised visits. If you do not, and you have not been successful in securing a limited visitation schedule through the courts, is there a way to coordinate visits with a family member, friend or leader in your religious community to keep the kids safe?

Seek professional support, but keep this advice in mind:

  • Support their recovery efforts.
  • Recognize and work on any codependency on your part. Al-anon.

If you have an amicable relationship, create an agreement that addresses restrictions on driving, increased communication between you and the addicted parent, and repercussions if they use when they are with the children. This Psychology Today article gives good advice on co-parenting with an addict.

How to co-parent with someone you hate

My post-divorce road with my ex has been rocky. We’re six years into this co-parenting business, and we’re far from hitting a permanent groove. In the early days, aside from screaming matches in front of the kids and neighbors alike, there were in fact calls to police and a restraining order. Weeks would go by without seeing him, and last-minute cancellations were commonplace.

Whatever nasty thing you can imagine saying to another person were in fact said. I’m guilty.

It seems inconceivable that our relationship would be anything other than an East Coast version of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, minus the fake tits, drugs and millions of dollars.

Every day I hear from people in the midst of coparenting hell: Dads who check out, moms who block visitation, parents who cancel visits while the kids are waiting by the door, parents who call police when the other is one minute past the court-ordered time, screaming matches and one or the other spending nights in jail — for no good reason.

Fast-forward to today, and my ex and I hardly have it figured all out, and ups-and-downs ensue. What I could not have imagined has come to pass: More or less regular visits and smooth communication. Spontaneous meals together with the kids, whether at my place or restaurants. Rides shared in one or the other’s Subaru to soccer games. Gifts exchanged on behalf of the kids to the other parent on birthdays and holidays. Chit chats and the occasional hug after a big argument or birthday party co-hosted successfully at the local bowling alley.

As I told him recently in a co-parenting counseling session: I love him. I’ve known him for more than 15 years and have two kids with him. He’s a good person. I’m a good person. We both love the kids. At some point everything more or less calmed down, the divorce was finalized and life moved forward. Battles picked. The immediate trauma of divorce subsided.

I wish I could say we are perfectly civilized like the lovely Brandie Weikle, my friend who heads the excellent blog and podcast TheNewFamily.com, and who lives next door to her ex and his new wife, and are the shining model for what a healthy coparenting relationship can look like — but that would be a lie (though we did discuss vacationing together — until we got into a fight about it, but nevermind.)

Instead, I am here to tell you that it can get better. That one day while you’re both at the soccer game expecting the usual arctic glacier to stand between you on either side of the sidelines, you will find that you need help passing out rice crispy treats for the team in order to make it to the team manager meeting for  your other kid across the park. And you will say, ‘Hey, can you handle this for me?’ and he will be so glad to thaw the boreal tension that he will chirp, ‘Sure!’ and suddenly there is a bit of a rapport, a hint of cozy relations that suggest the potential for more of good vibes and less of teeth-grinding hostility, and it feels good.

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It feels good to you, and it feels good to him, too. And after a while you forget why you were so freaking angry at him all the time, because being angry just sucks and being nice and getting along is so much better. Even if it isn’t fair or logical, you let go. You forgive. He forgives. You see this has been hard for him, too. You see that he does love the kids, and that is a lot. You offer him a ride home. He offers to help you replace your windshield wiper blade.

You get on with it. Steel yourself not for friendship or even a sense of family. At least not yet. Instead, you open yourself to a relationship that you have not yet defined, but will explore. And everything is better.

That, I want you to know — need you to know — is possible.

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Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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