Note from Tina: I recently came across an article titled, “How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce” and felt myself jumping up and down in my seat saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes! THIS is what is happening in my life!” — I felt like the Author had interviewed us and written about my custody battle. I hadn’t read anything that came so close to describing Seth and what he was doing to us. I quickly contacted the Author, Paula Lovgren and asked her to guest blog for One Mom’s Battle. I was honored when she said, “Yes!”.
Parenting with a Narcissist After Divorce: Set Your Boundaries, Empower Your Children
by Paula Lovgren
To parent your children with a narcissistic (N) parent, very little, if any of the traditional divorce/parenting advice is going to apply. Co-parenting? Not likely. Your number one job as the non-narcissist parent is to reduce conflict. You have to, because he won’t.* The N parent thrives on drama he creates because it provides him with narcissistic supply. He will take any form of supply he can get, even if it’s negative. Don’t engage with him. Reducing conflict with him is the best way to protect your children from the N’s behavior.
How can you do this? The following steps are pretty easy in theory, but as anyone dealing with an N knows, nothing is easy. The N’s behavior may escalate as he realizes you are disengaging with him. That can be scary for you. Stand your ground. In time, hopefully, when the N realizes that he’s not getting any supply, he’ll move on to other sources leaving you and your children in relative peace.
1. No face-to-face or phone conversations
The best way for the N to lie, manipulate and abuse is in conversations either on the phone or in person. It’s not necessary to put yourself in this position. Your job as a parent is to communicate important information about your children to the other parent. Communicating means to convey information, make known, reveal clearly. Nowhere in the definition of communicate does it mention talking.
Fortunately, we now have at our disposal a myriad of ways to communicate. Unfortunately, this has also led us (and in turn, our narcissistic abusers) to believe that we must be available at all times, to all people. Even if you are parenting with a former spouse it’s not necessary for them to every phone number, email address or social media contact. In fact, if you’re dealing with an N, they should not. One phone number to contact the kids, one email address to contact you and an emergency contact should they need to get a hold of you on short notice is all they need.
I suggest setting up a free web-based email account that can be accessed from any computer to be used only for communicating with the N parent. This is the only email address for you he should have access to. Sure, he may continue to rant, name call, threaten and otherwise try to bait you. Now you have it all in writing in one place. If he wants to put his bad behavior in black and white, well, good for you. Now you have a record and concrete evidence of his nasty behavior. You also have all agreements, schedule changes, and any other pertinent information in writing. That’s communication.
If you can have a separate phone for the kids, do it, even if it’s a cell phone that stays in the home and travels with you and the children on trips. The N does not need a personal phone number for you regardless of what he may think. He’s abused the privilege.. There are many free texting apps, if you have a smartphone, where he can still text you in emergencies without having your personal number. If he abuses this privilege, block him. You can also have a family member or close friend be the emergency contact who will then contact you in rare circumstances.
2. Have an iron-clad divorce decree
Get visitation schedules, holidays, phone calls, activities, pick-up/drop-off times and places and anything else that you see as potentially being a problem between you and the other parent explicitly written out in the divorce decree or marital termination agreement. Try to leave as little as possible open to negotiation after the divorce is final.
The divorce decree is your shield. At first, it may seem constraining because you, too, will have to abide by those agreements. However, in the long run, it will be easier and less stressful than trying to negotiate with an unreliable and unreasonable person. In addition, when you follow the decree as it’s written, anything he does in opposition to that is highlighted. Don’t argue with him. Let him hang himself with his own behavior. Just more good documentation for you.
3. Get healthy.
You have come out of an abusive relationship and now, you need to be as emotionally healthy as possible for your children. As easy as it is to write a list of what to do when divorcing a narcissist, every single one of us knows that it’s anything but easy. It takes time, healing and a really good support system to help you disengage from a narcissist and his crazy-making ways.
Seek counseling or a support group that focuses on abusive/narcissistic relationships. The N isn’t likely to change. Having a support system will help you hold your boundaries with him and focus your attention on yourself and your children instead of his antics. He’s had enough of your time and attention. Don’t give him anymore.
4. Validate and empower your children.
If reducing conflict with the other parent is your number one job, a close second is validating and empowering your children. You know how the N operates and he will treat his children no differently. You can’t change him and unless there is verifiable, concrete evidence that his children aren’t safe with him (physical/sexual abuse, drug/alcohol addiction) your children will most likely have to spend time with him.
As much as we want to, we really can’t protect our children from the N’s insidious behavior. As much as we believe it’s better for them to be shielded from it, they deserve to spend time with their other parent. Regardless of his behavior, your children love their other parent. They might not always like him, but they do love him and they do deserve the right to make up their own mind about their parent. I’m not going to lie, this is really hard. Really, really hard. As a therapist once said to me, “you have to let your children make up their own mind or they may turn their anger on you for cutting their parent out of their life. They won’t understand why, only that you ruined that relationship.” Ouch! Better to let the N do it himself.
What you can do is be your children’s number one support system and sounding board. Validate, validate, validate! You know how the N lies, manipulates and distorts reality. It’s not bashing your former spouse to validate your child’s feelings or to say that certain behavior is not okay. They need to be supported in their own reality because they already know something is wrong. They are looking for a mooring place in the rocky sea the N creates. Use neutral statements, like “I’m sorry that happened”, “I’ll bet that feels bad” or just simply “Ouch”. Above all, let your children know that their parent’s behavior and treatment of them has nothing whatsoever do with them.
Lastly, don’t take it all on yourself. Children can benefit greatly from having a therapist who specializes in working with children. Play therapy is wonderful. Children don’t even know that they are in “therapy”. They just know they have a really good friend who listens to them. Having a neutral third party validate the same things that you are takes away the “mom versus dad” mentality. They will begin to trust their own thoughts and feelings about the situation and to realize on their own that their parent’s behavior is not okay.
Reducing conflict with an N parent will often feel like an ineffective battle at best and additional fuel to the abusive fire at worst. At the outset, the N’s behavior is likely to escalate as he realizes he’s losing control. Stay strong and keep your focus on yourself and your children, not the N’s antics. Hopefully, when he realizes he’s playing his games with himself, he’ll get the message and find his narcissistic supply elsewhere.
*I realize that narcissists come in both genders. I only use “he” because that’s my experience. Same rules apply if the narcissist in your life is a “she”.
Paula Lovgren is a divorced mom of two kids and three cats. She has forged a workable parallel parenting arrangement with her former spouse and considers it a win. In addition, she is a freelance writer, garden designer and all around chauffeur for her kids. But not her cats.
Click the link to purchase Tina’s new book, “Divorcing a Narcissist- One Mom’s Battle.” You will find insight, red flag reflections and strategies on how to survive (and thrive!) while divorcing of co-parenting with a narcissist. Tired of panicking at the site of a new email from the narcissist in your inbox? Learn how to decode the emails and see them for what they are. You will learn to forgive yourself and you will begin to heal.