Developing a parenting arrangement after separation or divorce is hard. As many parents know, underlying mental health issues can complicate the situation even further. One of the most common factors in a high-conflict separation or divorce is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy, NPD and other high-conflict personalities can make family restructuring an arduous task.
Whether your co-parent has been formally diagnosed with NPD or is simply exhibiting typical behaviors, it is critical to consider their personality in your parenting arrangement. Read on to learn parallel parenting strategies for dealing with a narcissistic co-parent.
Parallel Parenting vs. Co-Parenting
Before diving into specific tactics for parallel parenting with a narcissist, it’s essential to understand what distinguishes parallel parenting from typical co-parenting arrangements.
In a typical co-parenting scenario, both parents mutually agree on a parenting style to minimize disruption and give children consistent expectations in each home. Co-parenting is the ideal approach for the children in most cases; having clearly-defined rules across both households will help establish structure in their lives, as well as minimize the possibility of favouritism or alienation.
However, co-parenting with a narcissist can be an impossible task. Effective co-parenting is only possible when parents can openly and respectfully communicate with each other. As you likely understand firsthand, this is seldom the case when high-conflict, narcissistic personalities are involved.
Although a narcissist or disordered personality will make parenting difficult, it is possible (and common) to parallel parent effectively. A parallel parenting approach entails both parties parenting by their own rules with minimum communication and no disruption from either parent.
Parallel parenting requires more focus, attention to detail, and conflict management skills than a typical co-parenting structure. Because many narcissists are masters of exploitation and turning the tables in their favour, parallel parenting arrangements need to be free of loopholes or other ways your ex can continue to wreak havoc in your and your child’s lives. Below, you’ll find three guiding principles for parallel parenting with a narcissist.
1. Have a Detailed Plan (with Clear Expectations and Consequences)
Failing to plan is planning to fail; when parallel parenting with a narcissist, it is crucial to develop a detailed parenting plan. In addition to setting expectations, a solid parenting plan should have enforceable consequences for failure to follow terms. This could include approving and registering the agreement with the courts, or even police enforcement clauses for parenting time and other critical elements. Narcissists often cross boundaries out of a sense of personal entitlement; the threat of consequences may deter this behavior.
For help getting started, check out our Ultimate Co-Parenting Plan for a step-by-step guide to developing a comprehensive, airtight parenting plan.
2. Keep Your Relationship Business-Like
Make no mistake: parallel parenting is hard work. It often feels like a full-time job, so it only makes sense to treat it like one. This is especially true when it comes to communication practices with high-conflict personalities.
Always use written communication to speak with your co-parent. Communicating via email, text message, or other written means will help safeguard against manipulative in-person interactions that are the hallmark of many narcissistic personalities. Additionally, just like any professional setting, it is always wise to maintain a “paper trail” to avoid confusion and misunderstanding (intentional or otherwise). If you feel you may have to use this documentation in the court system, consider using our Behavioral Pattern Finder to log and categorize your communication with your ex accurately.
Like any good working relationship, it is essential to establish clear and firm boundaries with your ex. Narcissists feel entitled to everything, including your time and attention. If you give them an inch, they will help themselves to a mile; lay down the law early and often to keep your boundaries intact.
3. Minimize In-Person Contact & Emotional Conversations
Minimizing contact with your ex is likely something you’ll want to do anyway, but it’s especially important in a parallel parenting scenario. A great way to do this is to arrange for parenting time exchanges to occur at a public location, or at activities like before or after school or your children’s extracurriculars. This will help keep all exchanges brief, to-the-point, and minimize a narcissist’s window of opportunity to draw you in with their old tricks.
To that end, keep any in-person communication brief and to the point. Always stick to objective facts and ignore any aggressive or demeaning jabs. Narcissists often use long, drawn-out conversations to goad their victims into another pointless argument. There is no need to explain or defend your actions and decisions. Wherever possible, stick to “yes/no” or other one-word answers.
Additionally, do not become involved with their life, and do not share any unnecessary details about your life with them. Narcissists are master manipulators who twist and distort the truth to suit their needs; take everything they say about their lives with a grain of salt. Similarly, any information you give them about your day-to-day life may become ammunition used against you later. The best way to neutralize a narcissist’s influence is not to give them anything to work with.
Parallel Parenting Resources with Pathways
Pathways Family Coaching offers a wide variety of online courses and one-on-one professional coaching to help prepare you for parallel parenting with a narcissist. 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.
Pathways Through Conflict is our flagship online course, focused on building the skills to help you navigate the challenges of parenting with a narcissist through effective communication and conflict management strategies. Consisting of an eight-module online course, 12 one-on-one coaching sessions, and access to the Ultimate Co-Parenting Plan, Pathways Through Conflict gives you all the tools to manage conflict while providing a nurturing environment in which your children will flourish.
As noted above, parallel parenting with a narcissist can sometimes require legal intervention. Pathways’ Behavioral Pattern Finder is a revolutionary service for logging, evaluating, and presenting behavioral patterns in a high-conflict co-parenting situation. The BPF organizes up to 250 pieces of data into a digital timeline revealing trends that may indicate harmful parenting practices, while also highlighting your parenting strengths. The resulting timeline makes it easy for you and your team to demonstrate a narcissist’s behaviour in both clinical and legal settings.
Ready to Learn More?
Pathways Family Coaching understands firsthand that divorce and separation are hard on everyone. However, even the most high-conflict situations can be successfully managed through a comprehensive plan to protect family bonds.
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