Parenting with a narcissistic ex is difficult at the best of times.
Leaving the kids for visits can be heartbreaking. However, unless you have a court order stating otherwise, it is something that you must do. I would be really surprised if you had the court order. Narcissists charm lawyers and have no problem telling lies. We have a legal system, not a justice system.
So here we are. Christmas co-parenting with a narcissist is tough—really tough. It sucks balls, and it is hard.
Many of us have been through this, and a lot of my clients likely do it, so I thought I would write a short guide on how you can make the impact to your mind, body, and soul as small as possible.
Let’s get right to it.
It is so close to Christmas that I will try and make it as short and easy to remember as possible. We all know that when we are around a narcissist, we start to question ourselves and our brain might leave the building to cope.
Keep this on your phone and look at it before, during, and after the kid’s visit with your ex:
1. You have to do this.
Even if you don’t want to. It is better not to spend precious time and energy trying to work out how this all happened. Just do one thing at a time and try to avoid overthinking. You cannot understand their behaviour because you are not a narcissist. Yay, no amount of overanalyzing will help, so try to stop yourself from doing it.
2. Remember you are the adult.
Possibly the only actual functioning adult in the whole sh*tshow.
3. You absolutely need to be willing to look at your way of thinking and your behaviour.
I know you don’t want to be affected by the narcissist. “Be stronger.” “HTFU.” All that stuff. But you are not that kind of person. My guess is you are highly sensitive, and you need to see that this is a strength. It is also not something that changes—it does not happen. What we can change, though, is how we react.
4. In my experience, it will never be easy co-parenting with a narcissist.
But please, please give yourself credit for divorcing or leaving them. You took a giant step toward removing their influence from your life. Champion.
5. Realise that their number one goal is to get your attention.
6. Assuming you’ve spent enough time with them to have the kids, they have had exposure to your attention.
They become addicted to that attention, and they want more of it—positive or negative attention. They do not care—any attention is good attention. This is an important thing to remember. You were their narcissist supply. The only way to break this pattern is to not give them any attention.
7. Set boundaries about how you communicate.
This can feel strange and perhaps even childish or mean the first few times, but you have got to trust me with this—do it. Here are a few hints: they must use a reasonable tone (they often don’t understand this request), it must be about the kids, or they must have a reasonable reason for contact. All three boxes need to be ticked or no response from you.
8. Give yourself time to think about how you will respond.
Never respond right away because this is what they want: your immediate attention or reaction. You’re probably more likely to respond emotionally if you do it too quickly, and we don’t want to give them any emotional ammunition. Show a friend, allow your feelings to subside, and answer briefly and with facts. If they come back at you, just repeat your initial reply—over and over.
9. If you don’t want to speak with them on the phone—and I would highly recommend that you don’t—set up an email address specifically for them and only check it when you feel up to it.
Tell them that this is the method of communication that you want. It is great to have a record of your conversations anyway. You can check back and see that it is not you who is the crazy one.
10. Don’t count on anything that they say or promise.
They are not in any way trying to co-parent. Although, if other people are around, they sure as heck will be making it look like they are the parent from heaven.
11. Do what’s best for you.
I’m fairly sure they will ask to change plans—power games. Do not change them if it doesn’t suit you. At some time, they agreed to these plans. The first time you say no is the hardest. Say no. Do not explain. You do not owe them an explanation. No ammunition. No attention.
12. Accept that you can depend on them for nothing.
Full stop. End of story. Mic drop.
13. Validate your kid’s feelings.
I am sure I don’t have to remind you, but do this without placing judgement on your ex in front of them—no matter how old your kids are. It is a heartbreaking truth that when you aren’t there, your ex might use your kids to get their narcissistic needs met. Again—unless you have a court order—you can’t change this. You can only control what happens at your house.
14. Consequently, you need to make your home an emotionally safe place for your children.
15. Don’t spend even one second worrying about what other people might think or have been told.
Even mental health professionals struggle to spot a narcissist. They are charming and have been practising this their whole lives.
16. If anyone is being abused, this must be reported.
17. You are the leader here.
Don’t ask them questions. Don’t ask their opinion. Do what works for you.
18. Protect yourself and your resources (time and energy) by changing your thoughts and your behaviours.
Expend as little time and energy on the narcissist as you can. Do not get caught up in fear, obligation, or guilt. These are their tools of the trade. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but doing this is worth it, and it gets easier. Stop and check if you are feeling any of these three things and realise that it is not real.
19. You cannot stop this.
Your kids need you. You need you. I know you worry and will miss them but plan ahead. Find things that you love to do. Plan things that nurture you. You got this.
Please see a therapist if you need to. Everyone in this situation needs reassurance that they are not crazy or overreacting. Tell a good friend. Have someone on speed dial or text. This is not something you can do alone. And most of all, never, ever beat yourself up for getting into this situation.
Remember that your children have a safe space that you created for them. Make sure to be gentle with yourself. This too shall pass.