I knew going into my divorce that there would be no cooperation from my ex husband, and I knew that my kids would bear the brunt of his abusive ways, but even with this knowledge, without a doubt, co-parenting with a narcissist is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
Life with a narcissist is hard to explain. Unless you have walked the walk, the heart wrenching “make you sick” tactics of an ex-husband who will use their own kids to make a point or feed their ego are hard to convey to someone who has not experienced the long term fear only living with an abuser can instill.
I have been divorced for 15 years; our kids are teenagers now. As sad as it is to say, your narcissistic ex will most likely never stop trying to hurt you. Just last year, my ex husband refused to take my son to his football banquet and accused me of planning events during his scheduled time. The banquet was actually scheduled the weekend before but cancelled because of a blizzard. School activities are increasingly out of your control as coaches and school schedules dictate what your kids will be doing with the team. He knew I had paid for the kids and I to go, and that I had nothing to do with scheduling the event. My son and I had bought new shoes and an outfit for him to wear. My ex saw his chance to inflict pain and took it by not bringing them. It broke my heart.
As your kids get older, they will have to learn how to stand up to their narcissistic parent, but there is so much unfair and inappropriate pressure put on them by the narcissist in their lives, that you must watch them struggle to understand the dynamic and help them all you can through your unconditional love.
You will have to learn how to deal with the pain that comes from watching them suffer for no other reason than their parent is intentionally trying to hurt you. There will be no empathy for the kids. Buckle in and try to prepare in advance for how you will react to the narcissist’s terrible behavior. While you might not believe it now, your kids will eventually see the truth.
If you have found this page searching for answers and help navigating parenting children after a divorce with a narcissist, I sincerely hope to help as much as I can. Knowing that someone else understands this specific type of parenting pain brought me a measure of relief early on that helped me strengthen my resolve to do right by my kids.
Avoid Unnecessary Contact
I did not want my children to remember their dad and I ever being married, so I divorced him when they were very young. I had read a book called The Verbally Abusive Relationship- How to recognize it and how to respond, by Patricia Evans, about a year before I filed. If you have not read this book, you should. I believe it saved my life.
One of the main takeaways from reading this book is that your narcissistic abuser is looking for a response from you. If you don’t play, they don’t get the response they are looking for. This would be simple if kids were not involved, but when you don’t respond the way they want you to (or really for any reason at all), often they will covertly use the kids to get your attention. My ex husband knows that I could care less about him or what he thinks; he also knows that the only way to affect me at all is through the kids.
Because the kids were so small, a certain level of communication with my ex was necessary, but I learned quickly to limit all unnecessary communication. You MUST do this because they will do everything in their power to draw you in in order to get the response they crave.
Your narcissistic ex-husband wants contact with you. His goal is to remain in control and get a response from you. If possible, FROM DAY ONE, set appropriate boundaries. The best (and really only) way to enforce boundaries is through a court order. If your narcissist is anything like mine, they want you to play by their rules (and those rules will change at a whim). Everything they do is essentially a power play in order to denigrate and diminish (you specifically). It took me several months to finally get the court to see that there were specific needs the kids and I had that needed to be addressed. Here are a few:
- The only communication between you and your ex should be about the children.
- Communication should be via text or email only, and if that is not possible, then with a third party present. While it was not in use at the time I got divorced, Family Wizard allows all co-parenting communication to go through the court system and facilitates and coordinates parenting schedules, etc. Get it.
- Parents must respond to communication within a certain time frame (ours was within 24 hours- and sometimes he would respond at 23.59 hours, in effect only reinforcing that boundaries needed to be set).
- Exchanges were made at the police department when the kids were not in school.
- If children are school age, you might consider a parenting plan that limits contact by dropping off at school and picking up after school, so that you and your ex have no contact.
- Follow the divorce decree exactly. Do not give into schedule changes unless absolutely necessary and clarify the parameters of the change.
Commit To Being Neutral
Don’t try to understand or explain anything your narcissistic ex does. It is a futile exercise that will help you in no way whatsoever. They are often intentionally trying to confuse and wreak havoc on your life for fun. Vow to be calm, pleasant, and non-emotional.
My best advice to you is to TAKE THE HIGH ROAD EVERY SINGLE TIME. There is no way to “win” with a covert narcissist. They do not play fair or want to make anything better. Do not give them anything to use against you. Do what you know is right; do not get drawn in by their terrible behavior. Keep a journal to keep a record of any wrongdoing.
Avoid Trashing Your Ex
Somewhere along the way early on I heard a quote along the lines of “if you are ordered by the court to share custody with your children, then it is your job as a parent to make the relationship with the other parent as good as you can.” Kids model behavior; they learn to abuse from adults and from each other. You need to model good behavior.
One of the reasons I divorced their dad in the first place was to create a healthy space for them in which to grow and thrive and learn. If they are experiencing any abuse from the other parent, they need you (more than anything) to be a witness to their feelings about narcissistic and abusive behavior. Abuse should not be tolerated and they are going to need your help as a witness to their feelings.
They will need validation from you when they do not have the emotional maturity to understand what is happening. You need to teach them that you do not have to be abusive to stand up for yourself and for what is right. I am a fan of age-appropriate, straight-shooting communication, especially when the narcissism runs extreme, but remember that you need to respect your children’s emotions.
Take Care Of Yourself
Leaving an abusive situation can be difficult, especially with kids, but your kids need to live in a peaceful and loving home. You need to be healthy and safe. Staying in a marriage “for the sake of the kids” has no merit whatsoever when you are facing abuse day in and day out.
“If a child is abused or is a witness to abuse, the child suffers. Whether the abuse shifts to the child or the child just unconsciously absorbs the mechanics of an abusive relationship, it is agonizingly painful in the long run” – Patricia Evans
Take care of yourself. Many women who leave abusive men are helped through therapy. Don’t hesitate to find a therapist, but find one who understands the dynamics of verbal abuse and narcissism. Interview as many therapists as you need to in order to find one who feels right to you. Your only defense against a narcissist is to look after yourself and set the healthiest example you possibly can for your children.
Take Legal Action If Necessary
If you have children with a narcissist, you will never be able to entirely divorce them. They will always be there waiting to hurt you every chance they get. Healthy, responsible co-parenting will never happen. He will never cease to use the children to hurt you as much as possible and there is little you can do about it because they will work the law to their advantage. The best you can do is to protect your children by consistently showing them unconditional love. Teach them by example how to respond.
However, there may be times that you need to take legal action. I told my ex husband that if he ever broke the law, I would file a report every time. Your ex must know that you will follow through. Keep a diary or journal of key events, describing what happened and when. DOCUMENT any wrongdoing. Get in touch with your lawyer when you have questions or concerns. While I do not use my attorney all that much anymore, the fact remains that with a narcissist, you never know when you might need legal assistance.
While co-parenting is preferred, co-parenting is not the only option. There is also parallel parenting which can be very effective with high conflict custody cases and when someone is “co-parenting challenged.” A good lawyer can help you through the legal process.
Be vigilant. Fight the good fight. Redefine your parenting plan when you need to, and learn to adjust to solo parenting so you and your children thrive.