WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU ARE CO-PARENTING WITH A NARCISSIST?
Never use your children as a pawn: Don’t ask them what happened at the narc’s house. Don’t ask about the new girlfriend or boyfriend. Do leave the door open if they ever want to ask you questions or talk about things. Turning the kids into the fact-finding spy, puts them into a position of picking sides and being in the middle. The narcissist will do this to them without question, so don’t be like them. It’s better for you to not know how the new girlfriend is being treated because it will always hurt you. If they have concerns, make sure they know they can always talk to you. I know it hurts to be replaced by someone else and to have them have fun with your child, but this is life after divorce. Be the best parent you can be and enjoy your time with them because they need balance and stability.
Be the rock: Be the steady parent; the one that disciplines and supports the kids, has house rules and tucks them in with a story at night. Teach them empathy and care for others by example and point out behaviors that are not acceptable. This should not be taught by accusing your ex of these behaviors, just by pointing out behaviors to watch out for in all people. Let the kids know they can always come to you and that everything they share will be kept secret. They must trust you with what they share. Don’t listen to the kids and then jump on the phone and start screaming at your ex. The kids will get in trouble next time they go over there. You have now broken their trust and you risk breaking the relationship forever. This is a doorway for the narc to show them how untrustworthy you are. Don’t be that parent.
Get the kids help: Seek out a professional therapist who counsels children, no matter how old they are so they can have a neutral person to confide in. If you are not familiar with ACEs, get familiar. ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences that can adversely affect the lives of children of divorced parents. This could mean that they hold the wounds and end up marrying their own narcissist one day. To learn more about ACEs I suggest you read – A Parents Guide to Understanding the Effects of Conflict and Divorce Joan McWilliams. To learn more quickly I suggest you watch this Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris
Set healthy boundaries: Setting boundaries was probably not something most victims of narcissistic abuse did when they were married. Usually, a narcissist invented boundary-breaking, and they never listen to their partners so most victims generally give up. Now the game is different, and you must learn healthy boundary-making skills to save you from sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days. Having a predefined parenting plan helps this tremendously, because it leaves very little wiggle room. Communication is usually the hardest part of dealing with your ex so set boundaries about where and when they can communicate with you. If you don’t like getting 100 texts a day, set the boundary that you will not answer texts, and everything must be in email. If pickup and drop off is a problem and you don’t want them in the house, set that boundary. If the parenting plan says you need 30 days for them to set a vacation and they are always breaking or bending that rule, set a boundary. Do not allow them to manipulate you into breaking this rule. If you give in once, they will continue to come back at you until they win. Stick to the guidelines and they can’t do anything about you not allowing the kids to go off to vacation. If they bought tickets to go to Disney already and didn’t notify you in writing within the time-frame, then they will learn a costly lesson in the rules of being a co-parent with you. I have a workshop on setting boundaries that will give you the tools to make this easier. The workshop is online and costs $15. It will give you peace and understanding of the process and how to stay firm.
Create a solid parenting plan: Many states here in the USA require parents to create a parenting plan. Mine with my child’s father was simply outlining who gets our son for holidays until he was 18. That’s it. Sadly, when you are with a narcissistic parent, every detail must be written into what I call an iron-clad parenting plan. You must plan for holidays and vacation time, but also consider what will happen if Father’s Day doesn’t fall on dad’s weekend. Plan it and decide if he gets that extra day or trades it for another day. School vacations evolve. When the kids are five, Mom can certainly whisk the kids off to Paris anytime, but not when the kids are older. As the children get older, school breaks are the only time kids can get away and this must be strictly enforced, or the child’s grades could be affected. Decision making is an often-forgotten piece of the parenting plan. Medical, financial and educational decisions can be assigned to one parent or may need to be mutually agreed upon. If the one parent holds the keys to the medical decisions, you may not have a choice to let your child see a therapist or have a needed surgery. Visitation does not mean that going to mommy’s for the weekend is like going on vacation. Children have activities, parties and friends that must be part of their lives. While the non-custodial parent often doesn’t want to share their limited time with the kids and their activities, this must be put in writing. If your child plays soccer or goes to a lesson every weekend, the narcissist is responsible to get them there, and bring them to their best friend’s birthday party.
Education and college must be planned out financially, but also who gets to choose where your kids will go. If you are financially responsible for half the tuition and your ex decides to send them to a $60,000 school, you are on the hook. I wish I could outline the thousands of ways you need to protect your kids with a parenting plan, but there is simply too much. My suggestion is to get the book ‘Parenting Plans for Families after Divorce’ by Joan McWilliams. Her work is amazing, and I hope to be interviewing her soon to share her knowledge with you, but for now, get the book.
Create a communication plan: In order for you to heal, you need to have as limited contact with your ex as possible so you can disengage from the craziness, the attacks, the lies and the drama. You get to make the rules for how you want them to communicate with you. Can they call you at 11pm? Text you 100 times in a day and get angry if you don’t reply instantly? Is the communication as it is today causing you anxiety? Then decide how and when you will take their communication. If you say no phone calls or texts and they do not comply, then block their number and send them an email telling them that you have blocked them and why. This email can be used against you if they decide to lay a complaint against you for blocking access to you. their phone. So, remember to put in writing before you cut them off that you do not want to get texts or calls at all hours and prefer e-mail communication (screenshot the calls, texts, and frequency and paste them into the email). This is the first step in setting communication boundaries. Keep everything as businesslike as possible.
If you are struggling with how to communicate, I strongly suggest you get Bill Eddy’s book called BIFF. In his book Bill Eddy explainsBIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. This book will empower you to communicate with your ex-spouse and save you all the heartache of not understanding what to do. If it becomes completely unbearable to communicate with your ex, you can work with them or a judge to court order communication with one of the popular parent communication websites like TalkingParents.com or FamilyWizard.com. These platforms become a savior for parents who simply cannot communicate by the rules laid out by decree or request.
Communicate with your child’s school: Talk to teachers and other parents in order to let them be aware of the high-conflict situation and ask them to be on guard for bad behaviors, late pickups, and the children’s behavior in school. Make it clear that you want to be notified if the children’s school work is not turned in or if their grades decline. This action should never be taken in the form of calling your ex names or telling the world that they are a narcissist, but out of concern for your kids.
House rules: Define them and post them on the refrigerator. Discuss as a family that in your house your rules apply and teach them what the price is if they do not comply. Children will thrive with a set up like this because they need structure, and if they understand the rules and the penalty it makes it easier to discipline them. Follow through with the punishment if they break rules so they learn cause and effect of their own choices. They will say things like “at mommy’s house, we can eat ice cream for breakfast”, remind them that these are your rules, period. No explanation is needed.
Document everything: Keep it simple. Document inappropriate emails, texts, and arguments and record times and dates if they changed or canceled plans. If things are volatile check with your state recording laws and record them, remember that the narcissist could also be recording you, so be very aware of what you say. Everything can and will be used against you to take away your kids. Most times it’s best to stick with only written communication as to have a record of every conversation.
Professional help for the kids: Understand that in very high conflict situations, the courts can assign professional help like a Guardian or parent coordinator. These folks will represent the rights of a child. Ask your lawyer if this is needed and always put the needs of your child first.
Be calm: When around the narcissist, remember their goal will be to bait you and get you into arguments just to give them evidence that you are the crazy one. Grey rock is an effective way to be when you are with them. You can watch this How to Go Grey Rock video to learn more.
Expect to see your Ex at birthday parties, graduations, or school events, and be the grey-rock parent. Seeing them at an event is hard, but this is for the kids and you will need to be professionally indifferent to the fact that they are there.
Keep conversations only about the kids: This also goes for decisions that are needed for them. You must communicate with your ex about the kids, but any additional information you give them will only be used against you. No personal information, no struggles, and nothing about the kids that they do not NEED to legally know.
Learn to manage your expectations: Your narcissistic ex can never change. You can only change the way you react to the tricks that are pulled on you.
Parallel Parenting as an option:: In extreme cases where you cannot see eye to eye, you can parallel parent. While there are many aspects of parallel parenting, the main thing to understand is that you have rules in your house and the ex has rules in theirs. Parents do not engage unless making decisions for the child. Your job is to make your house safe and loving while still maintaining the normal guidelines we have for our kids. Rules and homework, chores and fun… To understand what parallel parenting is you can watch this video.
Identify your own triggers: This is important so you can create a plan for when the narcissist pulls out something that they know will trigger you. If you don’t understand your triggers, this make you more vulnerable to them being a surprise attack. Write them out if you can. By writing down your triggers, you can plan to not allow it to bother you. For example: when he shows up at the soccer game, what can you do to make that easier? Can you move to a different area? Can you surround yourself with a protective circle of parents that support you? You cannot stop their behaviors, but you can manage your own stress around these triggers, and you will be in a much better place.