Co-parenting with a Narcissist: 6 Tips to Keep Your Sanity

Co-parenting with a Narcissist
Dr. Kristin Davin

By Dr. Kristin Davin | Oct 15th, 2019

Co-parenting with an ex can be challenging and often a work in progress. But having to co-parent with an ex who is a narcissist proves that much more difficult. Exchanges are often tumultuous and unpredictable. And if you are that person who has to interact with an ex who is a narcissist, no doubt these traits resonate with you. And if you are not sure, the following signs and symptoms will help you determine if your ex is narcissistic

Amy, 37 and Ken, 48 (not their real names) have one son together. He is six years old. They divorced about three years ago. One of Amy’s biggest issues (although there are several) is that anything she asks of him like switching a weekend, trying to plan a vacation, or asking if their son can participate in a camp is met with resistance. She feels it is never ending and this is all because he feels like he has to be in control of those things when he really doesn’t. He just needs he’s notified. Since they divorced and she has moved on with her life (she is currently engaged to another person), he has very little control of the situation anymore. So anything that he can grab onto and hold, he does. This type of behavior continues to show up, but she has learned through a lot of trial and error, that setting healthy boundaries with him, works. Having a supportive partner also is key. The challenges are real and at times frustrating, but it continues to be a work in progress.

How to Share Custody and Co-Parent with a Narcissist

A person having these personality traits and characteristics not only creates unhealthy and toxic relationships but has impaired interpersonal relationships (across the board). They often struggle in their work environment and may have several jobs. They have a tendency to also struggle with addictions, anxiety, and depression. 

Narcissistic tendencies run in direct contradiction to a healthy relationships: trust and respect, listening to the other person, being empathetic and open to change, having the ability for healthy communication, setting consistent rules and routines between two homes, putting their child or children first (and their own feelings last), and focusing on and doing what is right for the child. This bodes negatively not only for the other parent, but mostly for the child or children as they struggle to manage the emotional upheaval that often accompanies divorce. And because of that, children in these situations are now presented with not just one but many other challenges in the days and months to come. This is because the parents are constantly at odds with one another with the narcissistic parent demanding (in an unhealthy way) that the child be on ‘their side.’ 

Although the struggle is real, there are things you can do to manage the ups and downs through the years of having to co-parent with a narcissist. 

6 Ways to Co-Parent with a Narcissist (and keep your sanity) 

  1. There’s an App for that. This is a great opportunity to use a co-parenting app because it allows both parents to limit communication through phone calls or text. This also allows contentious conversations to not become toxic. In essence, it limits the emotionality of the conversations and creates a more businesslike tone with a focus on the topic at hand. The app also documents the conversations so there is no ‘he said, she said.’ The exchanges are timestamped and cannot be altered. This becomes all more crucial if you end up in family court. If you have to speak to your ex, sometimes it helps to write out a script to make sure you stick to the topic and manage your emotions and maintain a rational mind. Take notes and document everything. Sure it’s a bit more work at the front end but it will help you at the back end for the ‘just in case’ moments, which are all too common when you have to co-parent with a narcissist.
  2. Maintain a structured parenting plan.  This needs to be set up from the start, likely with help from an experienced lawyer. The parenting plan must be highly specific and spell out all exactly what days children will reside with which parent, how holidays and vacations will be handled, how transportation to and from school events will take place, among other issues. A parenting plan minimizes the need for contact with your ex and this also keeps both parties in check so that the uncertainty and additional questions are limited. 
  3. Set healthy boundaries – for yourself.  Limit your contact with your ex as much as possible. This is not necessarily a co-parenting approach, but a parallel parenting approach. Again, learning how to keep your emotions in check and remain rational to the degree you can is key. Healthy boundaries are also important when you have your children as well as when you do not. Not always being available for every issue, promotes self-care. This is important because this is one of the (many) ways, a narcissist ex will attempt to weasel his/her way into your life when it’s not necessary (baring any serious matter).
  4. Expand your tribe. You are going to need a lot of support whether that be with family and friends or finding a therapist or coach. You need your own place to vent and feel validated. This will also allow you to bring your A game to situations which will help feel more in control of the situation. It is all too common that a narcissist tells you things that make you lose confidence in yourself and your decision-making abilities. This is his/her goal. Don’t go down that rabbit hole remembering that they are that good. As a master manipulator, they continually provoke you to anger. They want to do this. So, reach out to your tribe that can help you manage your ups and downs the anger that they may provoke in you.
  5. Promote self-care. It is important to remember that you only have control over you – no one else. Don’t waste your energy trying to manage him or her. This is a waste of your time. Take your energy and use it towards yourself and your child or children. Learn how to manage your feelings especially when they are with your ex. Although this can prove challenging at times, the focus should be on your end game and doing what you need to do to. The narcissist will challenge you at every turn. Whether it be what time your children go to bed, they will extend the time just to spite you. Take a deep breath, exhale and move on. If you get upset, they will feel like they have won because it’s a power struggle with them. So, ‘never let them see you sweat.’ Bite your tongue, sit on your hands. The only time you should intercede is if you think your kids are in real physical danger.
  6. Model healthy behaviors. What do you want to emulate to your children? If it’s empathy, compassion, and forgiveness then choose those over anger and resentment. Create a vision for modeling healthy behaviors and do that. Children are simply paying attention! Children model their parents. What you put out, they will latch on to and think this is the way they are supposed to react. They are watching every move. Think about – what kind of parent do I want to be? What do I need to put aside so that I am being a good role model for my children? are not emotions your children are going to learn from their other parent. It would be best if you model these behaviors. Show your children love, stability, and support, things they may not be getting with their other parent as he or she will always love himself or herself first.

At the end of the day, surround yourself with other people who can help you and keep you focused on the goal at hand: caring for your children. And remember, this is the next chapter in your life. Choose how you want to live and live it. Do what you need to do to save your sanity in the long run – as you will need to. Doing things that will promote self-care and self-compassion is key. 

Stay strong and carry on!

Dr. Kristin Davin

Dr. Kristin Davin

Kristin Davin is a Relationship Therapist and Coach. She helps people embrace change, cultivate healthier relationships, and become more effective communicators.


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