When my narcissistic ex tried to limit my parenting time by gaslighting my children I knew I had to fight back.
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It was an awesome summer for her…as she looked back on the Facebook memories, she saw pictures of them lovingly huddled together on the pontoon boat in red life vests when it was 55 degrees on the water during a crisp early summer Colorado morning.
There are pictures of her and the three kids sweltering in the midwest heat in front of a fountain at the Botanical Gardens while visiting her parents, the kids’ grandparents, in her hometown in June.
And her favorite of all was the picture montage of her with her 9-year old son. He begged her to order kid and adult sized t-shirts from his favorite Youtuber so they could “match” over the 4th of July weekend, as they spent together as a family in the Rocky Mountains.
He was hugging her around the waist as both were laughing hysterically in the red t-shirts, while he tried to lift her off the floor for one of the poses. They ended up in a giggling heap on the ground after the photos were snapped.
It truly was the summer of love 2017 for my client, so much so that she had recently let their nanny of two years go with gratitude and completion (the nanny had been with them during the time of the tough transition of divorce, and had been a huge help in supporting them as they established new routines and roles in the new home).
She said that it finally felt like “We had healed and were a strong unit and ready to move on together. The school year was starting soon, and we collectively shared the feeling of ‘we got this!’.”
And then her narcissistic ex dropped a bomb on all of us.
Maybe he knew that. Maybe the kids behaved too joyfully after coming home from one of the summer weeks with her. Perhaps he caught wind of the presence of her new boyfriend who had been spending time with her and the on some of their summer adventures. Or maybe it was the impending Hearing for Contempt, the fifth one she had to file, for his refusal to pay Family Support.
It was the kids’ 2nd week of school when she got the email from my narcissistic ex. “The kids don’t want to see you for dinner this week. They are scared to be with you so they are requesting not to see you.”
Because she had experience with these types of emails in the past, most specifically timed around any court action on enforce the divorce decree, she brushed off his words and assured him that everything was fine and that she would be picking the kids up later that day to exercise her mid-week dinner with them.
What ensued over the next seven days was nothing less than a parent’s worst nightmare thanks to her narcissistic ex.
In short, he told the story that she was an abusive mother to everyone who would listen. Not only the children but their schools, child protective services, his attorney…all in the attempt to keep the children from spending time with her.
She was shaking as she told me this, just remembering the week. The fear of thinking that she might not see her children, who she had 50/50 parenting time with since the beginning, for several weeks was bad enough. But the pain and confusion that she knew they were going through, being so polarized and manipulated by their narcissistic father, someone they loved and trusted, was almost more than she could handle.
The truth is, a narcissist will stop at nothing to try to destroy you, even if it means involving, and emotionally harming the kids. In their fantasy world, they will go to any and all lengths to promote the illusion that his beliefs are right and good, and you are bad and wrong and deserve to be punished.
And it may mean fabricating lies and manipulating the children, sowing seeds of doubt in them and in you, hoping to make everyone question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
This pattern of “gaslighting” was one that she knew all too well from their marriage and contentious divorce process. But now, he was drawing the children into believing his fabrications.
What it takes in extreme situations like this is for us as mothers and fathers is to stand strong in our power and inner knowing of who we are, and what the truth is. And we then need to protect our children from the emotional harm that some, unfortunately, know all too well from the experience of being married to a narcissist.
We must have tools so we don’t fall apart and so that we can be present and loving to our children when they do return to our homes. Whether it’s yoga, faith, meditation, therapy, or coaching…we NEED support. We have to be able to take care of ourselves unconditionally and compassionately so that we can hold space for our children’s reactions to the stress they are enduring.
I advise my clients with narcissistic exes to make sure parenting rights are thoroughly documented, and not to be afraid to involve law enforcement to protect these rights.
It wasn’t until all charges were ruled unfounded and the police joined her at the children’s schools later that week, the only public place she had access to them, where they explained to the kids that no matter what their dad said they were to be with her on her parenting week, that she was able to bring them home.
The experience was a snapshot of the harmful effects of children put in the middle during divorce.
Two of the three children missed multiple days of school due to stress-induced stomach aches and headaches.Their emotional states were volatile for weeks to follow.
The Narcissistic ex is not going to change, so it’s imperative to stay strong and steady, not putting the kids in the middle…ever. We must find self-care strategies that keep us afloat when the Narcissist tries to drag you under. We need to engage parenting professionals and therapists who understand these dynamics to maintain boundaries and advocate for our children.
And never give up. Never never give up. Our kids need us more than ever to maintain the role of steady, loving, honest and brave parent. They need to know the feeling of unconditional love and strength that we as parents can and will provide. Someday they will be old enough to discern for themselves between truth and lies, but in the meantime, it is our responsibility to steadfastly uphold and model our commitment to showing them a different way.