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How to CoParent with Narcissist

In my mediation practice, while I help my clients to set up custody/visitation plans and holiday schedules, I sometimes inadvertently notice the personality traits that some of the parents are exhibiting. As a family mediator and as a parent myself, I believe that the most important and most stimulating job we have is to raise healthy and emotionally balanced children. This job becomes a lot more challenging when the parents are divorced and need to cooperate and co-parent. Yet, when you have to co-parent with someone who exhibits certain kinds of personality traits, this job becomes almost impossible.

In this blog I would like to discuss narcissistic personality trait and how it is applied to couples who are in a process of mediating their divorces, and will still have to co-parent with each other. When you have children, you are never 100% divorced.

In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, propensity for troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
Being raised by a narcissistic parent is tough on children. Narcissistic parents often view their children as an extension of themselves. They generally only recognize and support those aspects of the growing child’s identity that are in accord with their narcissistic values and enhance their need to see themselves as “special”. Everything else is likely to be devalued as stupid, pointless, or wrong. The level of manipulation, brainwashing, demoralizing, and self-esteem destruction that a narcissistic parent inflicts upon a child can be very harmful.
Of course all parents want the best for their children; however, while in divorce, each of the parents might define “the best” very differently from the other. This is especially true if one of them has some narcissistic traits.

Here are few important tactics that will help you to raise a healthy and well-balanced child:

  1. While in mediation, outline a detailed custody schedule. It is extremely important to include in it all holidays with the pickup and drop off times, details on who is driving the children to and from your respective residences, extra-curricular activities, etc. Include the language describing how you are going to deal with your new respective significant others and to what extent they can interact with your children. Always prepare these documents with a family mediator who has a vast experience working with families while they are in crisis due to their divorce.
  2. Keep your distance, avoid cruel remarks and avoid conflict. It is easier said than done as narcissists may often try to engage you in non-productive, unhealthy discussions. Try to take a deep breath and walk away/hang up/stop texting, etc.
  3. Keep communication simple, short, and business-like. Keep the focus of your conversations on the wellbeing of your children. Always keep good documentation (email trail would be the best as it has a date and a time stamp).
  4. Choose your battles wisely. You can’t engage in venomous conversations without emotional collateral. Please understand that your ex-partner wants you to be engaged, so that he/she can hurt you. Letting go is not easy, but with time you can learn to do so. Mediation, physical exercises, engaging in hobbies or any activities that you love will help you to accomplish that. Please remember that your emotional health and subsequently the emotional health of your children is of utmost importance to you.
  5. Be the best parent for your children you can be. You can’t expect anything else from anyone else; moreover, you can’t change your ex-partner. Narcissistic qualities like lack of respect, constant critiquing, blaming, etc. are in direct contradiction to the skills required to maintain a solid co-parenting relationship. Put your children’s feelings above all and be your children’s role model and be their rock. Be the example of how to handle challenges in a constructive, rational, not overly emotional manner. Model that it’s ok to be upset or frustrated without flying off the handle or screaming in someone’s face. Your children must see that there are better ways to solve problems and express opinions.
  6. Always take the high road –when they go low, you go high. Absolutely no badmouthing your ex to your children, even though they may hear it consistently from their other parent. Criticizing their other parent feels to them like you are talking badly about them. For they see themselves as a part of each parent. Children have a natural want to love both their mother and father.

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