My ex and I have shared custody of our two boys. We endured a custody assessment, which was grueling, but I’m glad that we did it as we now have clear guidelines. We have a co-parenting coordinator who works with us and it is useful to have an outsider help us work through the many issues/battles to ensure the boys are getting the best out of both of us.
Unfortunately, my ex is a narcissist and that makes it very hard to co-parent with him. He is not so much interested in co-parenting as he is in control-parenting. It seemed an impossible task, but after several months of fairly successful co-parenting I think I have found some ways to make it work.
My tips on how to co-parent with a narcissist:
Pick your battles
There will be battles, lots of them. So choose carefully before you get into one. If it’s not something you really care about, then concede. My ex insists that the boys are dressed before they have breakfast – I don’t care, so they get dressed before breakfast. Would this be my preference? No. But is it worth fighting over? No.
But I do care very deeply about food being used as a reward/punishment. I think we must have had over 20 hours of discussions about whether or not my youngest (a very picky eater) should be given a treat in his lunch each day. He said no, I said yes. I called it the ‘lunch box wars’. He wanted to make sure that my son had a ‘healthy’ lunch each day, and I wanted him to have a lunch that he would eat – I did not want junk food at lunch, just a toasted bagel, and a treat as I knew he would eat that. The battle went on for weeks. I insisted that my son had a healthy diet and he was convinced my son was malnourished. Which took us to the next point.
Call in the experts
In the end, we took our son to the pediatrician on the advice of the parenting coordinator. Our son is small (1% for height and weight) and so they did a blood test to see if he was getting enough nutrients from the things he does eat. The results came back and they showed he is getting all he needs. A victory for me! But my ex would have never accepted this unless he had the doctor’s word for it. But the key was, I let him make the appointment and take the lead. He needs to pick the experts.
Although I have a say in who our children see in terms of doctors, therapists, etc. I also know that my ex needs to take the lead. Anyone who I recommend is automatically tainted. And after over a year of many therapists, mediators, doctors being involved, I know that they are all professionals and therefore, although the ones we have worked with may not have been my first choice, they will do the job well enough and if he feels that they are his choice, they have a lot more sway over him than I ever will.
Put everything in writing
I mean everything. I communicate by email as texts are easily ignored. I CC my lawyer and the parent coordinator on all important matters so everything is on the record. My ex is notorious for not really reading emails and will constantly complain that I am not communicating enough. I send a weekly email with the schedule for that week as well as important dates coming up. I also ensure that I respond to his emails quickly and directly.
I never ask for anything (as the answer will invariably be no), but keep straight to point. I state things as fact – i.e. the field trip on Friday will be $25, the boys will need to be picked up from the birthday party at 3 pm, etc. I keep it short and sweet so there will be no confusion.
Keep to the schedule
There have been a few times where it would have been a lot easier to switch nights/weekends and I have tried to be flexible on this front, but I have found that this doesn’t work out well for me. Therefore I now stick religiously to the custody schedule. I will rearrange appointments or turn down invitations on my days with the boys rather than ask their Dad to have them. It’s not that he’s unwilling to have the boys, it’s just much less hassle to stick to the schedule than to negotiate a different schedule with him.
Establish clear boundaries
My ex is not allowed into my house unless he has clear written permission from me. I have agreed to the same – although I co-own the house he lives in. He does have a key to my house, but if he entered my house without my permission I would call the police.
At one point we were meeting with the parent coordinator in each other’s homes, but I realized that he was using it as an opportunity to check up on me – looking for new purchases, letters of interest, what was in my garbage (I kid you not). I need my house to be my safe place, so I decided all future meetings were to take place in a neutral environment outside our homes.
Know your strengths and use them
A narcissist will do everything to beat you down and make you feel worthless, and it may take a long while for you to get your confidence back, but know this: You are better at some things than they are – and they know it.
I am particularly good at planning kids’ birthday parties. He knows this, but wanting control refuses to concede this. So instead of trying to convince him to do it my way, I just do it my way. I have custody of the boys for the weekend of my youngest‘s birthday so I’ve planned the party – their Dad is invited and encouraged to join in, but has no say in the party itself.
Give thoughtful gifts
Regardless of how much I hate my ex, he is still the father of my children and I think it is very important for them to appreciate him and love him unconditionally. So for Father’s Day or his birthday, I will ensure that they have thoughtful gifts for him – usually something bought on a special shopping trip and something homemade. Although I’m not personally giving him the gifts, I do want him to know that I also appreciate his love and affection for his children, regardless of our relationship.
Expect no returns
This is the bad news. Co-parenting with a narcissist is a thankless task. You will get nothing in return. Last Mother’s Day he took the boys to CVS and my youngest gave me pantyhose. But I look at it this way – I have the great fortune of sharing my life with two wonderful boys who bring me much joy and happiness. A pair of pantyhose is a welcome gift as they were picked out especially for me. As they say: It’s the thought that counts.
I feel your pain. My ex was, is, and will always be a self-centered, narcissistic rat jerk. Even worse, the sleaze he was sleeping with while married to me, who was the secretary at a business we owned together, and who is 17 years younger, is a narcissist too. They are now married. She thinks nothing of getting in my face. Setting the boundaries is imperative. I refuse to accept any communication from her. She is a bottom of the barrel psycho. Thankfully, my son lives with me and spends one night a week at their house.
The biggest piece of advice I would give to any woman getting married, INSIST on knowing the finances at all times. My ex hid so much money – which is easier to do when you own a business. By the time I figured out the affair and the unbelievable number of lies, it was too late. We had been married 14 years, I loved him, even though he was difficult to live with. I gave in to his way so many times, because I valued our marriage and loved him unconditionally. We lived off of my paycheck at another job, while he worked on getting our business started. I was supportive, a cheerleader and did not let my physical appearance go.
He is and was completely ruthless in divorce. The trash he was cheating with, was exposed and decided she had nothing to lose by showing her tail end. The attornies were stringing it along to milk as much money as possible. But at the end of the day, he made a fatal show of who he really is, and I used it to get a favorable custody deal. The Father’s Day during our separation period, he informed me three days before that he would be out of town for the weekend. I found out he was going on a cruise with sleazeball. I found out how much money he was spending and used it back on him. As you know, standing up to a narcissist is nothing short of a hell storm.
They pick us, because they can manipulate our tender hearts. It is truly shocking to them, when you stand up and fight back, after all, you don’t matter, it is all about them. Good for you for standing up. It is really hard, they can be do coldly manipulative and unconscionably evil. Unfortunately, when you have a kid, you can never truly get away from him and he will for man years try his best to dominate you. They are a special kind of hell to deal with. They know your buttons do well and enjoy nothing better than hitting them. Even worse, you have to let your child around that crazy. The very best of luck to you and I hope you have faith in God to pull you through. I would not have made it through without it.
Wow. This is me too. Yes. How is it possible this happens so much?
Lorrie, LLG Tactical Coaching says
While I am empathetic to your situation, I wonder if you are truly dealing with someone who has NPD. As a survivor of a 10 year contested custody battle with a Cluster B, a lot of your tips are not in line with what is actually best for most children of a disordered parent. It seems giving in is the road that you took, while I agree that one must pick their battles, I do not agree that one should give in to a Cluster B’s demands. When you give a Cluster B an inch, that doesn’t satisfy them. They continue to take, which puts your child in danger. It is not truly possible to co-parent with a narcissist, narcissists counter parent. What you have described does not look like co-parenting to me. It looks like he pushes you bend, this is what your child will come to understand as “normal” when it is anything but. Co-parenting requires two parents who are able to put the needs of their child first. It requires 2 parents who are able to love their child unconditionally. Good luck in the future, it’s a bumpy ride that is for sure.
I had the same thoughts. My ex has NPD and is obsessed with finding ways to circumvent the custody order, avoid paying child support and continuing to abuse me despite the passage of time. Trying to play nice with such individuals is potentially dangerous and will only result in further manipulation and abuse. I really think this blog should be taken down as the recommendations are not appropriate for dealing with a disordered ex.
I agree with you. My ex was recognized by the coparenting cooridinator and a therapist as NPD. I couldn’t do any of the things listed on this blog. It only escalated things. No matter what rules I followed, he’d circumvent them. He repeatedly broke the legal agreement. And if he didn’t get his way, he’d take it out on our son. During our marriage he was never abusive physically or emotionally with our son, but he started shoving our son, holding him down, locking him out of the house and calling him names. It was causing all kinds of problems at school. And the laws of our state and parenting agreement left me helpless. So I had to keep going back to attorneys until we basically took away his power. Now we only communicate through Our Family Wizard (a managed coparenting site for communication). My ex is now mostly managed. He can spend time with his son but it is more limited and my son can go home if things go sideways. Also — the gift thing? I let my son choose something and get his dad a card. And my boyfriend helps my son get stuff for me (sporadically my son’s dad will buy something for me…and only when my son forces the issue. My ex can’t even make himself say Happy Mother’s Day or Happy Birthday). My ex remains angry and unable to talk with me in any way 7 years later (he’s the one who cheated and left)! Real disordered people are not as easy to manage as this blog indicates. Please just stay safe. Protect yourself and your kids. And if things get crazy, don’t be afraid to get the law on your side. If he’s (or she’s) unwilling to coparent with you, then you do what you can to keep yourself and your children safe and sane.
What do you do when they do it to your kids ? Also I believe his girlfriend is almost as bad if not as bad ugh