How to Co-parent With a Narcissist (20 Ways to Make It Work)

Do you have a narcissistic ex with whom you must co-parent? Are you worried about how to interact with them during this ordeal?

Co-parenting can be difficult on its own, but adding in the extra challenge of dealing with someone who possesses narcissistic traits or is diagnosed with narcissism can make it even more challenging.

The good news is that, according to experts, it is possible to co-parent with a narcissist effectively and ensure your children still get what they need for long-term success.

Here are their insights and strategies:

Dr. Kimberly Parker, LCSW, PhD

Kimberly Parker

PhD Candidate, Psychology | Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Healthy Mind Counseling & Nutrition, LLC

You’ve finally removed yourself from the fog of illusion that the narcissist created around you. You have decided to separate/divorce, and you have children together. The way you were treated in the marriage was traumatic, and now sharing custody is going to be made difficult for you.

The narcissist is going to continue their attempts to create trauma responses. The children will be used against you and may be next in line to be abused. The narcissist will create a parental alienation scenario where they attempt to groom the children to turn against you.

Do not utilize the children as a tool to communicate with the parent

In other cases, the narcissist may start emotionally abusing the children, where they blame the child for the divorce. Now, you, as the parent, are finding difficulties with communication with the narcissist. You may find that your now ex-spouse is finding loopholes in the custody agreement to make your life difficult.

These are signs of your Ex being resistant to co-parenting:

  • Even though you are separated, you are berated with text messages about your past relationship.
  • The conversation is not centered around the well-being of the children.
  • The court-ordered custody agreement is not being followed through,
  • The children are being triangulated in the communication process; they, in turn, may feel as if they have to choose sides.
  • The children are being abused and neglected because you left the narcissistic relationship, which is a means to seek revenge against you.
  • The narcissist intentionally misconstrued the conversation in an attempt to create a false narrative to make it appear that the court order is being violated.
  • The narcissist accuses you of abuse and neglect of the children, whereas false reports are made.

How to counteract the narcissist and put the well-being of the children first:

  • Document all correspondence with the narcissistic parent.
  • Keep a written and digital schedule of visitation days and special events involving the children, along with medical appointments.
  • Have your children in therapy and for yourself as well.
  • Discuss with your children that they can share their feelings with you and go over what is appropriate when communicating with the other parent.

How to communicate with the narcissist about it:

  • Stay on a topic that should only be about the children, and if they start to hurl insults, talk about the past, then tell them you are ending the conversation.
  • State clear-cut boundaries verbally; make sure it is in the court order and through text/email.
  • The less you respond with emotions when conversing with the narcissist disables them from using you as an emotional supply.
  • Do not utilize the children as a tool to communicate with the parent; the child should not be put in the center of adult conversation.
  • If you have to take your children to the other parent’s home, make sure you have someone with you if possible. This depends on if the narcissist has a history of becoming belligerent and hostile.
  • You should also go with your instinct when making decisions on communication with your ex-spouse.

Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist, According to 6 Experts

When you have to co-parent with a narcissist, it can be very stressful, and it is important to have boundaries in place. What drains most parents are the manipulative tactics and traps the narcissist creates. Utilizing these techniques will help to counteract their attack and reduce your stress.

Ellie Borden, BA, RP, PCC

Ellie Borden

Registered Psychotherapist | Certified Life Coach | Clinical Director, Mind By Design

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be challenging, as their self-centered behavior and lack of empathy can make it difficult to communicate and make decisions together.

However, there are some strategies that can help you navigate this tricky situation:

Set clear boundaries

Clearly communicate your expectations for communication, decision-making, and parenting responsibilities.

Use a neutral third party

Consider working with a mediator or therapist to help facilitate communication and resolve disputes.

Related: What to Talk About in Therapy (60+ Examples from Therapists)

Stick to the facts

When communicating with a narcissist, it’s essential to stay focused on the facts and avoid getting caught up in their emotions or manipulation tactics.

Keep a written record

Document all communication, agreements, and decisions to protect yourself and your children.

Seek support

Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to help you cope with the stress and emotional challenges of co-parenting with a narcissist.

Appeal to their self-interest, not morality

Many people generally tend to argue about what is right or fair. While this is understandable, a narcissist may only care about whether or not they can personally benefit from a situation, not what is just or reasonable.

If you must make a parenting decision that you feel your narcissistic ex may object to, try to think of a reason or several reasons why your preferred course of action is in their best interest in order for them to consider it with a more open mind.

Prioritize the well-being of your children

Keep in mind that the most important thing is to provide a stable and healthy environment for your children, despite the challenges of co-parenting with a narcissist.

It’s important to remember that co-parenting with a narcissist can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. You may need to be prepared for a long-term effort, and it’s essential to have a good support system and to take care of yourself during this time. Loved ones and mental health professionals can help you cope during this difficult time.

Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, MSW

Kaytee Gillis

Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board Approved Clinical Supervisor, Choosing Therapy

Know your truth, especially if they claim the victim role

Know your truth because there will be times when you will doubt yourself, especially if they claim the victim role. Be prepared to hear through others about all of the ways you have harmed them and are engaging in parental alienation, etc. — even if you know that these are exaggerated, embellished, or flat-out lies.

But remember that those who believe them are not there for you. Those who are truly there for you know the truth.

Related: How Do Narcissists Treat Their Exes (According to Experts)

Pick your battles

Do not attempt to rebuke every allegation and lie. If it doesn’t involve your children or your livelihood, let it go.

Try not to bash them

Even while defending yourself, keep the focus on disputing the untruths and not on the person doing the damage. Trying to prove your case by speaking ill of this person can have the unfortunate effect of making you also look vindictive.

Your best course of action is to let their actions speak for themselves. Do not attempt to expose them or “prove” what they are doing to you. Focus on keeping yourself and your children safe, happy, and healthy. Eventually, others will see the patterns.

Continue to conduct yourself professionally at all times

It is challenging not to react or to fight back, especially when they try to push your buttons. Make your interactions calm and firm — no emotional reaction.

I have developed a set of strategies that I share with my clients when they have to engage with a toxic person, especially an ex-partner with manipulative traits.

I call it the “N.E.B. technique”: N for necessary, E for emotionless, and B for brief:

  • N: Ask yourself, “Is this communication or reply necessary?” A nasty text about how ugly you are? Ignore it. A text about childcare? This may warrant a reply.
  • E: Next, construct an emotionless reply. Quick, professional, and concise with no emotion. Do not let your anger show through, as difficult as that is.
  • B: Lastly, make the reply brief. One or two sentences will usually suffice. I also recommend waiting about four hours before replying unless childcare or court orders state otherwise. This will allow you to reflect on your emotions and construct a professional and emotionless reply.

Decrease the common links

Do not try to convince mutual friends or family that this person is narcissistic, as this will only backfire and make you look vindictive. Unfortunately, this means that there will be some mutual friends who you have to decrease contact with. There is no easy way to do this, so don’t overexplain.

Simply wish them the best and move on. A simple “I have to take some distance right now and focus on my healing and my children” should work. Ideally, they will eventually see what is going on. If not, they were not a true friend, to begin with.

Related: 20+ Signs of Fake Friends: How to Spot and Deal With Them

Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, LCPC, LPC, LMHC, NCC

Suzanne Degges-White

National Certified Counselor, Choosing Therapy

Be crystal clear in the expectations you have of the narcissistic parent

You must have clear boundaries in place when co-parenting with a narcissist, and you must also be committed to enforcing those boundaries. Narcissists are extremely manipulative and instinctively know how to play people.

Related: 30+ Signs Someone Is Manipulating You (According to Experts)

To ensure that your child doesn’t suffer collateral damage from the narcissistic parent’s actions, don’t leave your ex-partner any latitude in their parenting responsibilities. Let their past behavior, not their false promises, guide your decisions about what you can expect from them.

Related: How a Narcissistic Parent Affects a Child

Keep everything in writing

Create a thorough parenting agreement and file this with your attorney or another legal representative. This agreement should cover the details of every aspect of a shared custody agreement, including the dates, times, and locations for transferring custody. Not only should you detail every aspect of custody, but you must also specify clear consequences for not following the parenting plan.

Detailed consequences should go as far as involving law enforcement personnel if the child is not returned at the specified time to cancellation of visiting rights for a specified period if the parent fails to show up as scheduled.

Keep communication to a minimum

When dealing with a narcissist, the more space you give them in a relationship, the more space they will take up and the more power they will be ceded.

Keeping your distance and communicating only in writing and only about essential topics is the most effective way to protect your child and yourself from the narcissist’s influence. When communication is required, don’t let your feelings control the narrative — stick to facts and data, not feelings and impressions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Know if You’re Co-Parenting With a Narcissist?

Lack of Empathy: Narcissists tend to lack empathy and have difficulty understanding others’ emotions and perspectives. They may seem indifferent to your feelings or the impact of their actions on you and your children.

Self-Centeredness: Narcissists often prioritize their own needs and desires above everyone else’s, including their children’s. They may be unwilling to compromise or make sacrifices for the sake of their kids.

Control Issues: Narcissists often need control and power, which can manifest in their co-parenting relationships. They may try to control every aspect of the co-parenting arrangement, including decision-making and schedules.

Blame Game: Narcissists have a tendency to place blame on others and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. They may constantly shift the blame to you, even in situations where they are clearly at fault.

Grandiose Behavior: Narcissists often have a grandiose sense of self and may display boastful or arrogant behavior. They may also try to diminish your accomplishments or belittle your opinions.

Manipulative Tactics: Narcissists are often skilled at manipulating situations and people to get what they want. This can include making false promises, lying, or using your children as pawns in their power struggles.

Difficulty with Boundaries: Narcissists may struggle to respect boundaries and regularly overstep their bounds. They may also become angry or defensive if you try to set boundaries or assert your rights.

Constant Conflict: Co-parenting with a narcissistic individual can lead to constant conflict and drama. They may engage in power struggles, create unnecessary arguments, or try to undermine your relationship with your children.

Unpredictable Behavior: Narcissists can be highly unpredictable and may have sudden mood swings or outbursts. This can create a sense of instability and unpredictability for you and your children.

Refusal to Cooperate: Narcissists may be unwilling to cooperate with you or engage in joint decision-making for the benefit of your children. This can lead to a breakdown in communication and make co-parenting much more difficult.

If you are co-parenting with a narcissistic individual, it is important to seek support from a therapist or counselor. They can help you develop strategies for managing relationships and protecting your well-being and your children.

Do Narcissists Want Custody?

Yes, narcissists may want custody of their children for several reasons.

Narcissists often view their children as extensions of themselves and use them to boost their own ego and sense of self-importance. They may also use their children as pawns to manipulate others or to control their former partner.

Also, narcissists may want custody of their children as a way to maintain power and control over their former partner. They may also use their children as leverage to extract concessions or to make their former partner’s life difficult.

However, it’s important to note that just because a person is a narcissist doesn’t mean they will automatically seek custody of their children. The decision to seek custody is complex and can be influenced by many factors.

What Should You Not Do When Dealing With a Narcissist Co-Parent?

Do not engage in arguments: Narcissists thrive on conflict and control, so engaging in arguments or power struggles with them will only give them more fuel. Instead, try to communicate calmly and rationally and avoid reacting emotionally to their provocations.

Do not try to change them: Narcissists are unlikely to change their behavior, so trying to change them is a waste of time and energy. Instead, focus on managing your own reactions and setting boundaries to protect yourself and your children.

Do not rely on them: Narcissists can be unreliable and unpredictable, so do not rely on them to fulfill their parenting obligations. Instead, make sure you have a solid support system in place and be prepared to take on extra responsibilities if necessary.

Do not criticize or blame them: Narcissists have fragile egos and are highly defensive, so criticizing or blaming them will only lead to more conflict. Instead, focus on expressing your concerns and needs in a non-judgmental way and seek solutions that work for everyone.

Do not let them manipulate you: Narcissists are skilled at manipulation, so be aware of their tactics and do not let them control or manipulate you. Instead, set clear boundaries and stick to them, and be prepared to disengage or seek outside help if necessary.

Do not take their behavior personally: Narcissists often lack empathy and are focused on their own needs, so do not take their behavior personally or as a reflection of your worth as a person or parent. Instead, try to maintain a healthy sense of self and focus on your own goals and values.

Do not engage in their drama: Narcissists can create drama and chaos in their relationships, so do not get sucked into their drama or try to fix their problems. Instead, stay focused on your own needs and priorities, and seek to create a stable and healthy environment for your children.

Do not ignore warning signs: Narcissists can be charming and seductive but also manipulative and abusive. If you see warning signs of abuse or neglect, do not ignore them or make excuses for their behavior. Instead, seek professional help and support, and be prepared to take action to protect yourself and your children.

Do not give up on co-parenting: Co-parenting with a narcissist can be challenging, but creating a functional and healthy co-parenting relationship is possible. Instead of giving up or becoming bitter, focus on finding ways to communicate effectively, set boundaries, and prioritize your children’s well-being.

Do not forget to take care of yourself: Dealing with a narcissist co-parent can be emotionally and physically draining, so do not forget to take care of yourself. Make time for self-care, seek support from friends and family, and consider professional help if needed. Remember, taking care of yourself is essential for being a good parent to your children.

How Do I Protect My Child From a Narcissistic Parent?

Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with the narcissistic parent and enforce them consistently. Teach your child to do the same.

Educate yourself and your child: Learn about narcissistic personality disorder and educate your child about healthy relationships. This can help your child recognize toxic behavior and understand it’s not their fault.

Seek support: Surround yourself and your child with a supportive network of friends and family. Consider seeking therapy for yourself and your child to help cope with the effects of narcissistic abuse.

Prioritize your child’s well-being: Put your child’s physical and emotional well-being first. This may mean limiting or ending contact with the narcissistic parent if necessary.

Teach your child to assert themselves: Empower your child to be assertive and stand up for themselves healthily and respectfully.

Keep communication open: Encourage open and honest communication with your child about their experiences with the narcissistic parent. Listen to their feelings and validate their experiences.

Stay focused on the goal: Remember, the goal is to protect your child from harm and help them develop into a healthy, confident adult. Stay focused on that goal, even in the face of challenges.

How Does a Narcissist Treat Their Child?

A narcissistic parent may treat their child as a mere extension of themselves, using them to meet their own needs and boost their own ego. They may neglect or abuse their child emotionally, physically, or financially and often have unrealistic expectations of their child’s abilities and accomplishments.

A narcissistic parent may also play favorites, showering one child with praise and attention while neglecting or criticizing another. They may also manipulate and control their children through guilt, fear, or shame and have trouble acknowledging their child’s feelings or needs.

In some cases, a narcissistic parent may even go so far as to project their own failures or shortcomings onto their child, blaming them for their own mistakes. This type of behavior can have long-lasting effects on the child’s self-esteem and can lead to them developing codependent or narcissistic tendencies themselves.

It is important to remember that not all narcissistic individuals are bad parents and that each situation is unique. However, it is crucial for individuals who were raised by a narcissistic parent to seek support and resources to help heal from the adverse effects of their childhood experiences.

How Does a Healthy Co-Parenting Look Like?

Healthy co-parenting is all about putting the needs of the children first and working together as a team to raise them in a safe and loving environment.

Here are some critical aspects of a healthy co-parenting relationship:

Communication: Open and honest communication is vital in co-parenting. This means respectfully and productively discussing important issues related to the children, such as their education, health, and well-being.

Flexibility: Flexibility is key in co-parenting. Being able to adapt to changes and unexpected events, such as schedule changes, can help minimize conflict and make the co-parenting relationship run smoothly.

Respect: Both parents should treat each other with respect, even if they have differences of opinion or have gone through a difficult breakup. This means avoiding criticism, blame, or negative language when communicating with each other.

Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries and sticking to them is important for a healthy co-parenting relationship. This includes agreeing on decision-making responsibilities, schedules, and each parent’s role in the children’s lives.

Consistency: This is essential for children and helps create stability in their lives. This means maintaining a consistent schedule, being consistent in discipline, and having consistent expectations for behavior.

Collaboration: Collaborating on essential decisions related to the children and working together as a team will help ensure the best outcomes for them. This includes decisions about their education, health, and other important aspects of their lives.

Empathy: In co-parenting, this means putting yourself in the other parent’s shoes and understanding their perspective. This can help reduce conflict and create a more harmonious relationship.

Support: Co-parents should support each other in their parenting roles. This means providing encouragement, help, understanding when needed, and being there for each other when challenges arise.

Avoiding Conflict: It’s important to avoid conflicts and arguments in front of children. This can have a negative impact on their well-being and create unnecessary stress in their lives. Instead, co-parents should try to resolve conflicts privately and find ways to communicate effectively.

Joint Decision-Making: Co-parents should work together to make decisions about the children’s lives. This means discussing important issues and making decisions together, rather than one parent making unilateral decisions.

Focus on the Children: The top priority is the children’s well-being. Co-parents should always keep the children’s best interests in mind and make decisions that will benefit them long-term.

How Can I Be a Successful Co-Parent?

Communication is key: Keep the lines of communication open with your co-parent. This will ensure that both of you are on the same page and can effectively navigate any challenges that may arise.

Put the children first: Put aside any personal differences and work together to create a stable, nurturing environment for the children.

Establish a co-parenting plan: Having a clear plan in place can help you and your co-parent avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. The plan should outline each parent’s responsibilities and how you will handle important decisions.

Be flexible: Co-parenting can be challenging, and there may be times when you need to be flexible. For example, if one parent is running late to pick up the children, try to be understanding and work together to find a solution.

Seek support: Co-parenting can be emotionally and mentally draining. Don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if you need it.

Avoid conflict: If a disagreement arises, try to avoid getting into a heated argument. Instead, take a step back and find a solution that works for both of you.

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