As a loving parent, you may realize that you are having some difficulties in co-parenting during and after a divorce, but you might not be sure why. Ask yourself: Is your co-parent a narcissist?
The answer may be Yes if your co-parent:
- Causes you and your children to feel “not good enough.”
- Disparages the kids’ interests or achievements and pushes them to be involved in activities that the co-parent likes.
- Makes your kids feel bad, tentative or uncertain after visiting
As a starting point, it’s important for you to understand what narcissism is and how to detect it.
The three most basic signs of parental narcissism are:
- The parent displays a lack of empathy for you and the children.
- The parent cannot tune in to the emotional world of the children and hear and respond to their feelings.
- The parent is focused on what is best for himself or herself, instead of the children. He or she is more interested in how the children’s behavior reflects on the parent – more interested in what the child DOES, rather than who the child IS.
Parenting is more than putting a roof overhead and providing children with food and clothing. Kids receive that in an orphanage. Because you are the parent who bonds to your child, you will have to do “double duty” in the absence of an empathetic co-parent.
Parenting is all about empathy. So to counter the harm to your children of their narcissistic parent’s ways, you have to tune in to your child’s emotional world and parent from this viewpoint at all times. This is empathetic parenting. In situations that have emotional weight, the first thing that you do is empathize with, acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings.
When you develop that habit, your child will feel heard, seen and known. Children with empathetic parents also begin to learn to recognize their own emotional world, which will help them find their way through it. When children feel heard, it is much easier to work with their wants, desires, and needs because they feel that you have respect for them.
While practicing empathetic parenting, you will find that you will get to know your child more as a person, and you will enjoy even more what you love about his or her unique personality. You will also demonstrate for the narcissistic parent how important it is for children to develop their own healthy sense of self.
When parents are tuned in emotionally to their children’s feelings, and learn to validate their children’s perceptions, the children then grow up learning to trust their own feelings too which eliminates the crippling self-doubt that comes from narcissistic parenting.
Here’s a simple checklist to help you get started understanding your child’s emotions:
- Identify the feeling the child is having.
- Reflect back the feeling you are hearing or seeing to make sure you are correct. Don’t make assumptions.
- Give validation of the feeling. Empathize with your child.
- Then deal with the context of what is going on.
We all want to be seen and heard. Empathy is what develops true emotional intimacy with our loved ones. Empathy is important for children to learn for creating future healthy relationships, as well. Empathizing with your children does not mean that you allow them to manipulate you or always get their way. It just means you work to understand their feelings, and you let them know how important that is to you.
You, the “double duty” parent, can make all the difference in your children’s lives, even though they are being influenced by a narcissistic parent.
Learn more about this topic in Karyl McBride’s new book “Will I Ever be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist, and Heal Your Family” (Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster).