Co-Parenting With a Narcissist


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How does it feel to co-parent with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)? What kind of relationship problems might arise from having a parent with NPD? How can you effectively manage these challenges?  I shall try to address these questions in this article.

What does the term co-parenting mean?

Co-parenting is a term that has been used to describe the relationship between two people (whether married or not) who have children together but, for whatever reason, they choose not to live together.  However, they do agree to jointly parent the child/children, even though they live apart.

The Question is – “Is it Possible to Co-Parent With My Narcissistic Spouse?”

Co-parenting with a narcissistic parent is practically impossible, as it rarely works. When we speak of “co-parenting” we are speaking of both parents working together (focused teamwork) for the better good of the children.

It requires cooperation, understanding, and flexibility from both partners. However, with the narcissist’s sense of superiority, lack of empathy and inflated sense of self, these criteria result in their being self-focused, making it virtually impossible for them to co-parent.

Therefore, one can expect a narcissist to be focused on their own needs and wants at all times, even when it comes to parenting decisions around their children. This can lead to constant arguments over what the other parent should do, how the other parent should act, and where the child belongs.

Unfortunately, you can’t co-parent with someone who has little or no empathy, no remorse and no sense of responsibility. Furthermore, they are incapable of being in the same room with the other parent without feeling like they have to “win” or be right.

If your partner is narcissistic, then shared custody is going to be one of the greatest challenges that you will ever face. Therefore, you must educate yourself so that you know what is and isn’t helpful when dealing with a narcissist.

Knowing and understanding that there is no rational way that you can win when you’re dealing with a narcissist. When you can accept that a narcissistic person doesn’t care about anyone but themselves (not even their children), that fact alone can save you hours of painful disappointment and arguing.

What Are The Many Personal Challenges You Can Expect  When Co-Parenting With Your Ex-Narcissist?:

1. Constant arguments over what you should do, how you should act, and where the child belongs.  All this will leave you feeling like you are walking on eggshells around your ex-partner. Of course, when it comes to themselves, narcissists will not follow the ground rules or respect the boundaries you try to put in place to make parenting together easier.

2. If you allow it from the beginning, your ex-partner might try to take full control of every aspect of your family life, including your finances, your time, your friends, etc. They may try to manipulate you into doing things that make you feel guilty. For example, if you want to go out with your friends, they might try to guilt trip you into believing that you aren’t a good mother because you spend too much time with your friends instead of spending time with your children. They are still wanting to have coercive control over you.

3. They may use guilt trips to manipulate you into doing things against your will, especially where the children are concerned. For example, they might tell you that you don’t love your kids enough because you don’t give them enough attention.

4. They may lie to you and tell you that you don’t deserve anything because you aren’t a good enough parent. This is the narcissist continuing to gaslight you, even from a distance.

5. They may make up lies about you and spread rumours about you behind your back, not just to their friends and family, but also to your family.  They know the less support you have, the more you will have to depend on them. This gives them more power and control over your life and the children’s lives. They still want you as their “narcissistic supply”.

6. They may continue to instil fear in you and threaten to hurt you if you don’t comply with their demands. Narcissists have an extremely high need for control and domination. So, if you don’t agree with their demands, they will find ways to punish you.

7. They may accuse you of cheating if you spend more than an hour alone with another man. They may become jealous and try to sabotage your relationships before they even get going. Even if they don’t want you, they will not want anybody else having you or their children in their lives.

8. If the children are living with them, they may refuse to let you see your kids unless you agree to do whatever they want, and they may try to turn the children against you (Parent Alienation).

9. They may get angry if you dare to disagree with them or make difficulties around access.  If that happens, you can expect to be hauled through the Family Court.  They have no fear of the courtroom, in fact, they like the drama where they are the centre of attention…. and of course, they will do their best to seduce the Judge, and will tell as many lies as they feel the need to.  Unfortunately, many Family Court Judges fall for the seduction and lies.

10. They may blame you for everything that goes wrong in their lives. They will always blame you, and never accept any responsibility themselves.

11. They may not accept any criticism of themselves, but constantly criticize you and put you down. They may say things like: “You’re so stupid! You’re such a bad mother! Why did you marry me? I hate you!”

12. They may treat you like dirt and humiliate you in front of everyone, especially if they feel envious of you.  They may try to destroy your reputation by spreading rumours about you.

13. They may deny to others that they have done anything wrong, and project they’re failing onto you. They may claim that you are the problem (the crazy one) and that you need help.

All these behaviours (and more) are very wearing on the victim, and make the task of co-parenting very difficult. It is not unusual having to appeal to the courts to intervene.  Even though a court might change the terms of the custody arrangement, they usually think it is in the best interests of the children for them to see both parents regularly.  Unfortunately, most Judges do not understand narcissistic abuse, therefore they do not see through the narcissist’s manipulation and deception.  The same can be said of many lawyers.

What Will Be Challenging For The Children With A Narcissistic Co-Parent?

1. A narcissistic parent will not allow their children to make any decisions for themselves or express their own opinions.

2. They will constantly try to control everything that goes on around them.

3. They will guilt trips to manipulate the children into doing what they want.

4. They will lie to the children about who they are and how much they love them.

5. They will use threats to scare the children into submission.

6. They will use emotional abuse or physical abuse to keep the children under their thumb.

7. They are constantly trying to fight custody agreements.  This can affect the children who struggle with any changes to the arrangements.

8. The narcissistic parent expects excessive amounts of adulation, admiration, or recognition from the child. This steals their childhood away from them (role reversal).

9. Narcissistic parents assign roles to the children, roles that may make them feel either favoured or dejected.  For example, the golden child (who can do nothing wrong), or the scapegoat child (who can do nothing right).

10. The narcissist parent will often take credit for the achievements of the children, and then turn around and blame the children when something goes wrong.

Most of the time you can expect that the narcissistic parenting behaviours will tend to be directed primarily toward the co‑parent first, but unfortunately, the child will be negatively affected by the dysfunction regardless.

 You Cannot Always Predict How Your Narcissistic Partner Will Behave:

You cannot always predict how your former narcissistic partner will behave when interacting with your children, but you can influence how you act when dealing with him/her. Here are some important tips for success: –

  1. Establish good co-parenting boundaries because the narcissist’s sense of entitlement will cause them to test those boundaries time and time again. If you set limits, he/she will find ways to get around them, so you have to be firm (but fair also).  Well-set boundaries help you keep your distance (i.e., emotionally and physically) in check.
  2. Avoid confrontation at all costs, as arguments only serve to feed the narcissist’s ego, especially if they are having an explosive rage fit. To solve any problem and avoid conflict, I recommend using a non-confronting method. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be passive.  When you have a personal need regarding the children, rather than asking for that need to be met by your ex, it may be more productive to communicate a solid proposal.  So, for example, if you want to take the children away during the summer holidays, then email your ex stating the dates you have in mind, and ask him/her to confirm (as soon as possible) that these dates do not clash with their plans.  Don’t try to use him/her as a sounding board around arrangements, that will only cause problems. In your head, have backup dates just in case they do object to your initial dates. You then say you will take the back-up dates instead.  You should have this all in an email, just in case they try to put a spanner in the works later.
  3. Where possible, keep communication brief, informative, friendly, calm (always use the B.I.F.F. acronym), and always remain business-like (develop a business boundary when communicating with your ex). Document anything and everything that the narcissist says that is out of place. Texts or emails are usually better than phone calls, especially if you have an app that is time stamped and verbiage cannot be changed after the fact.
  4. Make sure to spell out the exact dates when the children are with each parent, including school breaks and holidays. Communicate the arrangements well in advance with your ex-partner. For example, who is responsible for picking up the children from school on any given day? Who brings the children to their extra-curricular activities?   It is important to know who is responsible for what, and what happens if there is a problem either way.  A comprehensive parenting plan or parenting agreement helps avoid a power struggle or conflict developing over any logistical details regarding the children in your everyday life.  If you can manage this, you will reserve your mental energy and time.
  5. Narcissists are always going to be difficult parents, so you must pick your battles carefully. Also, prepare yourself for rescheduling conflicts. They are bound to arise, because narcissists do not stick to the arrangements or hold the boundaries if it does not suit them. Some things you can let pass and keep your cool, but there will be times when you will need to fight the battle, especially if it involves safety issues for the children.

Don’t be naive. Do not expect your narcissist to change. That way, you avoid being disappointed when they fall short on responsibility.  Don’t react (negative reinforcement), that gives them satisfaction and attention and will encourage their bad behaviour again.  Find a way to resolve the issue.  You may find it helpful to acknowledge when they do something good or thoughtful regarding you or the children (positive reinforcement).  If they get your approval they are more likely to repeat the good behaviour. Remember, they are like emotionally hungry children, they crave attention and approval…. so give them praise when it is due. This may also help protect you and your children from the conflict and negativity that comes when you lock horns with your ex-partner (i.e., personal attack, ignored legal agreements, shared parenting time conflict, parental alienation, emotional manipulation tactics, etc.) in these high-conflict cases.

It May Work Better Utilising A “Parallel Parenting Style”:

If co-parenting becomes impossible because of feuding, then a better and safer option for you and the children may be to employ a “Parallel Parenting” process.  For co-parenting to work, both parents need to be able to co-operate together for the welfare of the children. Parallel parenting, on the other hand, is doing everything separately, but still sharing in the responsibility of the children.  The idea behind this is that you want to keep the children away from their narcissistic parent’s bad influence without the constant rows that are very upsetting to the children.  This kind of parenting arrangement can provide you and the children with a more peaceful environment.

Parallel parenting allows feuding parents to have significant roles in their child’s life without interacting much with each other. Parents choose how to raise their child within their household and agree to only collaborate on major decisions together (i.e., child’s health and welfare issues, etc.).  The main advantage of parallel parenting is that it allows the children to remain close to both parents, which means they won’t feel as though one parent has abandoned them. It also helps prevent the children from becoming too attached to one parent over another.

Although parallel parenting is not a legally recognised concept, it is a parental style that may work better when having to deal with a narcissistic ex-partner. This style of parenting may mean that you and your narcissistic partner may both get what you need from parenting together while maintaining separate lives. Even though you don’t live together, you still share the children.  So, you have to find a way to make it work, otherwise, the courts may become involved and take charge, where you could find yourself going through custody battles. This process may allow you to maintain some semblance of sanity and self-respect while your ex-narcissist is still having a somewhat toxic relationship with your children.

The beauty of this arrangement (Parallel Patenting Style) is that each parent raises his/her children independently of one another. Both parents have their own set of parental guidelines, which they follow in their own way when it is their turn to have the children. It is a way to keep both parties from interfering in one another’s business. However, you are going to need a good parallel parenting plan since each parent will have their own set of rules.  I would recommend that you may need to see a licensed therapist or parenting coordinator to help you reduce any unreasonable expectations that you may have.  They will also be able to help with building your sense of security having come through high conflict divorce or separation that goes on in  narcissistic domestic abuse.  They can also help you to deal with any difficulties arising out of this new co-parenting relationship, and of course,  develop a comprehensive working plan that will require minimal contact with your ex-partner.

Parallel Parenting is Marked by the Following Attributes:

The following attributes define parallel parenting: –

1. Separate homes.

2. No contact (or limited contact) between the two parents.

3. Each parent has his/her own friends and social circle.

4. Each parent has his own hobbies and activities.

5. Each parent has his/her own car.

6. Each parent has his/her own bank account and credit card.

7.  Each parent pays his/her own bills.

8. Each parent has his/her personal space.

9. Each parent has his/her individual time.

10. Each parent has his/her separate mobile phone number.

11. Each parent has his/her independent address.

12. Each parent has his/her private email address.

13. Each parent has his/her own computer.

14. Each parent has his/her own car and car insurance.

15. Each parent has his/her own health insurance.

16. Each parent has his/her own pension plan.

17. Each parent has his/her own passport.

18. Each parent has his/her own utility bill.

19. Each parent has their own rules when parenting the children.

20. Each parent has their own say about what happens on their watch with the children.


I hope this article has helped you understand the difficulties you may have to face even after you manage to separate from a narcissistic relationship.  When you don’t know what you are dealing with, you can think that you are going crazy.  Knowing what to expect can help you cope with things better, and make you reach out for support from the likes of Women’s Aid, Domestic Abuse Support Services, and other agencies.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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