parallel parenting with a narcissist

Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist: Strategies for Success and Child Well-Being

atriumadminNarcissism, Parallel Parenting

Sharing parenting responsibilities following the end of a serious relationship or marriage can be incredibly difficult at the best of times, but for those facing the realities of parenting alongside a narcissist finding a safe and productive path forward can often feel impossible.


As part of the Cluster B grouping of personality disorders,  Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by a highly inflated sense of self-importance, extreme sensitivity to criticism, a lack of empathy for others, and a general disregard for “limiting rules” that challenge their sense of self-entitlement. These personality features can make it exceptionally challenging for a former spouse or partner to maintain a civil relationship with a narcissist, much less develop a feasible co-parenting plan that has everyone’s best interests in mind. 


In cases such as this, where maintaining the routine contact necessary for co-parenting isn’t viable for both parties, parallel parenting presents a healthier,  secure alternative. 


Below, we’ll take a closer look at parallel parenting, as well as what to be aware of when preparing to parallel parent with a narcissist. Read on to learn more. 


What Is Parallel Parenting?


Parallel parenting is a form of shared parenting that differs from co-parenting in that there is no mutual engagement between parents. As the name suggests, the intent is to parent in a parallel manner that, while separate from the other party, still has the child(ren)’s best interests in mind. Both parents are enabled to exercise independent parenting styles, thereby reducing conflict and removing the need for constant communication and collaboration. 



In parallel parenting,  there are clear boundaries regarding interactions between parents, including set rules on the frequency of contact, the content of communications, and the timing of engagements. For parents involved in a highly contentious separation and/or who may be dealing with a partner who has mental health considerations that make it difficult to remain “friendly”, parallel parenting is a cut-and-dry solution that gives everyone set terms of engagement and allows everyone’s well-being to be protected. 


Parallel parenting typically involves partnering with a third party that has experience in creating parenting agreements that are thorough and comprehensive enough to provide clear guidelines for all parties, including future plans for how to deal with evolving factors as your children grow.


Parallel Parenting With a Narcissist


Parenting with an NPD ex presents a wide range of challenges, largely due to the fact that narcissists have little concern for the harm they may cause to others, including their own children. Unlike other parents who may be involved in a high-conflict separation but who are able to put their feelings and own needs secondary to the well-being of their children, narcissists do not. In fact, a narcissistic parent is highly likely to use their kids to their own advantage through various forms of manipulation and control. 


In such cases, it is essential that the non-NPD parent knows what to expect and how to develop a plan that keeps their children secure and cared for at all times. When parallel parenting with a narcissist, it is vital to: 


Set Clear Expectations & Plans


The key to any successful parenting plan is clear expectations and objectives, and this becomes even more important when dealing with an individual who will push boundaries and test limits (more on that in a moment). All parenting agreements should be in writing and on file with the court, and no changes should be made unless both parties are clearly advised and in agreement. There should be clear repercussions for failing to abide by the terms of your agreement, and all elements included should be as thoroughly detailed as possible to prevent any accidental ambiguity or “wiggle room”. 


Consider any and all scenarios your co-parent may present, including worst-case scenarios you may not want to entertain otherwise; though it can be distressing to think about, it is far better to have a plan in place, and you will be in a far better position to exercise your legal rights should the need arise. 


 Detach and Maintain Boundaries

One of the most important things to keep in mind both when separating from an NPD spouse and preparing to parallel parent is that you will have your boundaries tested. Narcissists often believe that they operate with a special set of rules that allow them to disregard and disrespect normal boundaries, rules, and agreements, no matter how clear they may be. By detaching from your ex emotionally, physically, and mentally, you put yourself in the best position to protect yourself and your children, and to be able to react objectively should anything happen. It’s also important to remember that these detachment boundaries also extend to you. In order for your agreement to work, both parties must honour the other’s ability to parent separately and exercise control, even when you may disagree with the choices being made (this, of course, does not apply in instances where behaviours or practices constitute abuse or actively place the child in harm’s way). 


 Keep Communication to a Minimum, and Stay Cordial


Just like it’s important to let your ex parent separately, it’s integral to minimize your contact and stay cordial when you must interact. Narcissists enjoy “poking the bear”, so to speak, and alongside pushing your boundaries, will often try to get a rise out of you to serve their own means. Stay calm and collected, remain firm on the terms of your agreement and avoid making any emotional statements or reactions that could provide your ex with ammo to use against you. 


 Document, Document, Document

Documentation is crucial to successful parallel parenting. Keep detailed records of all interactions, such as texts, emails, in-person encounters, and any other forms of contact. Ideally, try to isolate all communication to text or (legally) recordable platforms and thoroughly document any threatening or uncomfortable situations that may affect you or your children. This documentation is vital when it comes to things like custody arrangements, protection orders, and other facets that may become involved down the line. 

Put Your Child First

Finally, even though parenting with a narcissist is incredibly demanding on the other parent, it’s most important to remember that your children always come first. No matter how exhausting your ex is, your children need you to be at your best, and that means you have to take care of yourself as well. Consider getting counselling for yourself, as well as your children (family coaching can be helpful here, too), and always remember that you are stronger than you think. 

Learn more about making a dedicated parallel parenting plan here.


Don’t Parallel Parent with a Narcissist Alone!

Pathways Family Coaching offers a wide variety of online courses and one-on-one professional coaching to help prepare you for parallel parenting and ensure you have a vetted plan moving forward. Our experts offer years of in-field experience as well as comprehensive resources such as our Pathways Through Conflict flagship online course.

Our expert coaches and comprehensive resources are ready to integrate with your existing legal and therapeutic teams, guiding you towards a healthy parallel parenting arrangement for you and your child.

Learn more about our services and how we can help bring balance to your family by contacting us today

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