It’s not easy to co-parent with a narcissist.
Statistics show that more than 40 million Americans are currently co-parenting children who are under the age of 18. There are no statistics about how many of those 40 million people are narcissists, but we can take an educated guess. According to an article published in Psych Central Magazine by Bree Bonchay LCSW, it is estimated that approximately 6% of the world’s population has narcissistic personality disorder and another estimated 3.3% suffers from having either a lack of empathy or no conscience at all. Taking the combined 9.3% and applying that to the 40 million Americans who are currently co-parenting minor aged children, we can conclude that approximately 3,720,000 Americans are trying to wend their way through “co-parenting” with a high conflict personality. And that’s just in the United States. Obviously that figure is much higher when applied to the world’s population.
The term “co-parenting” when one is dealing with a narcissist is actually quite misleading. Any activity using the prefix “co” implies some sort of “co-operation”, meaning that two people are working together. There is nothing “co” about dealing with a narcissist or high conflict personality – in any situation – much less dealing with what means the most to people – their children. Anytime children are involved in litigation of any kind, emotions will be high. Nothing causes a narcissist to move in for the kill faster than anything that is their target’s weak spot. They inherently know that because their target will do anything to keep their children safe. Thus, the children are inevitably low hanging fruit, bait if you will, for a narcissist to go after the other parent.
Narcissists have no inner sense of value, so in order for them to feel any sense of value, they have to suck as much value out of the people and things in their environment as possible. This is called narcissistic supply and it is their life blood, Without it, they don’t think they exist. Supply can come in the form of money, compliments, or prestige. But they also inhale supply from causing pain to people through devaluing, debasing or degrading them. This is why sharing children with a narcissist with whom you no longer are in a relationship is nearly impossible.
How to Co-Parent With a Narcissist
How does one “co-parent” with this heinous personality? The first thing to do is realize that the narcissist isn’t ever going to change. Sharing thoughts and perspectives on how their behavior is causing harm to the children is not only falling on deaf ears, but they actually enjoy the fact that their behavior is causing emotions to rise. Emotional responses are a form of narcissistic supply. No amount of reason will ever cause them to be reasonable. Accept the fact that they will not change. Ever.
After accepting that wishing, hoping and reason will not create change, turn to the places where change can be put into place. Overall, this translates as having as little interaction with the narcissist as possible.
Super Specific Parenting Plan
One way to minimize conflict is to have a super specific parenting plan. Specific really means specific. Include details of the day to day schedule such as where the children will be during the week, from what time, and where and how the pick-ups and drop-offs will take place. Also include details about the weekends, Monday holidays, major holidays, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and any other day that may be important to you. The parenting plan will also ideally include how school vacations will be handled as well as any details about travel plans. More detail equals less to fight about, which equals less interaction with the narcissist. Parallel parenting should be considered and that just means that the parents have as little interaction with each other as possible. The exchanges can take place at school or some other neutral location, and all details are pre-determined, thereby minimizing communication between the parents. The parenting plan should be reduced to a writing, signed by both parties, then rendered into some sort of court order. Without a court order, the judge will have no authority to assist with enforcement when the narcissist violates the agreement, which is a foregone conclusion and undoubtedly will happen.
Next, have super strict boundaries. One way to do that is to have just one form of communication. It should NOT be text. It should NOT be via telephone, and it should NOT be in person. None of those are great for use in court down the road. The best recommendation is to use some sort of co-parenting app for all communication. There are several on the market now and most of them include similar features. Having one form of communication also will reduce the toxicity because it will reduce the narcissist’s number of ways to cause misery. All communication will then be in writing, with time and date stamps, and can be downloaded and used as trial exhibits if need be. (Side note: Remember that ALL forms of writing are potential trial exhibits – so govern yourself accordingly.)
Document, Document, Document
Narcissists love to use the court system as a sword. But that being said, they are also manipulative pathological liars who are prone to impulsivity and tantrums. This is where having very thorough documentation will work to their disadvantage. Many of the co-parenting apps have private “notes” sections, or the Notes section of a smartphone will work too (be aware of cloud storage however and make sure to change any passwords often). Keep track of every detail including but not limited to what time the narcissist picks up and drops off the children, how often they ask for a schedule change, when they show up late, what they fed the children, and what the children did during their parenting time. The smallest and most mundane details often show up later as patterns. Those patterns then become powerful leverage which may be very useful if there is ever an enforcement action or a modification of the custody case.
Keep Emotions in Check
Narcissists will often send inflammatory messages perfectly and carefully curated in such a way that they know it will cause a huge emotional reaction. For example, they will accuse the other parent of being a deadbeat dad or a neglectful mother. For any of us, our first reaction would be to jump up, defend and react. These are the worst ways to respond to a narcissist. The best way to respond is to remain calm. Stay cool and collected and never explain, justify or overshare. Narcissists love nothing more than to drag their targets into the mud with them. Then they are getting the supply and attention they so desperately seek. Do not give it to them. When the narcissist’s supply source starts to wane, initially their narcissistic injury will be inflamed, which will trigger narcissistic rage, but eventually they will move on. They will realize that this source of supply is all dried up so they’ll go off in search of new prey.
Remember that narcissists won’t change. They are like wild animals that can never be tamed. But it is possible to build a fence around them in a way that will cause them to be contained. When you co-parent with a narcissist and keep them contained through the measures described here – while never a breeze – it will become more manageable, which will be better for everyone involved, including the children.
Rebecca Zung is one of the Top 1% of divorce attorneys in the country and is a master negotiator, bestselling author and media personality. She has been featured on Extra, Dr. Drew, NPR, Time, Forbes and Huffington Post and more. She’s also a popular YouTuber, and is the creator of the program SLAY Your Negotiation with a Narcissist. www.rebeccazung.com