Tips for co-parenting with a narcissist

Are you convinced you might be co-parenting with a narcissist? Here’s everything you should know.

What's Inside

What's Inside

Key Takeaways

  • Narcissists are people who believe they’re superior, need admiration, and lack empathy.
  • Narcissist behavior often manifests as a willingness to exploit and manipulate others.
  • Being parented by a narcissist may affect a child’s emotional development and personal growth.
  • Narcissistic parents may use their child to elevate themselves and show a lack of empathy for their child’s needs.
  • When co-parenting, narcissists have a tendency to gaslight their co-parent and undermine their authority.

When co-parenting with a narcissist, it’s essential to set boundaries, limit communication and take steps to keep conflicts from escalating.

7 Tips for co-parenting with a narcissist 

Co-parenting with anyone can be challenging. However, co-parenting with a narcissist exacerbates the difficulties that co-parents experience, forcing one to constantly face emotionally draining behaviors and actions performed by the opposing parent. 

Despite these difficulties, it’s important to remember that there are ways to deal with a narcissistic parent in an effort to make the co-parenting relationship as smooth as possible. Tactics for dealing with a narcissist may also protect you and your child throughout the co-parenting process. In this article, we define what being a narcissist means and the actions that tend to follow. We also illustrate some tips and strategies aimed at supporting a parent who finds themselves in the midst of co-parenting with a narcissist. And we address when it might be appropriate to speak with an attorney. 

What is a narcissistic parent? 

Defining and depicting a narcissist isn’t always a black-and-white process. Narcissism may come in many forms, ranging from a person who has an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement to someone with a clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). However, one doesn’t need to be clinically diagnosed to engage in narcissistic behavior.  

Narcissism is frequently associated with these actions2: 

  • Strong belief in one’s own superiority
  • Frequent need for admiration from others
  • Intense sense of entitlement that, if not fulfilled, may lead to anger
  • Deliberate willingness to exploit others
  • Lack of empathy and holding a belief that feelings equate to weakness
  • Consistent patronizing and condescending rhetoric

In short, a narcissistic parent is an individual who engages in these or similar actions, whether deliberately or not. Often, these actions negatively impact a narcissist’s child, the opposing parent or both. 

Co-parenting tips when dealing with a narcissist

Understanding the definition of narcissism is important, but it’s only one part of the equation. Knowing how to work with a narcissistic parent may help protect your child’s well-being and your peace of mind. Of course, each situation is different, but here are some tips on how to tackle co-parenting with a narcissist. 

1. Know the signs that you are co-parenting with a narcissist

Narcissistic tendencies in parenting may be hard to pinpoint at first glance. It also may seem tempting to give a co-parent the benefit of the doubt to keep the peace. Nevertheless, being able to recognize the signs of a narcissistic co-parent is crucial to protecting yourself and your child moving forward. 

The signs you are co-parenting with a narcissist may be categorized into two distinct groups: narcissistic behaviors directed towards you and narcissistic behaviors directed towards the child.

Behaviors directed toward the child 

Below are some examples of behaviors that a narcissistic parent may exhibit toward their child: 

  • Depriving their child of a sense of independence, highlighting the need to feel superior and maintain control. 
  • Using the child’s accomplishments as a means for self-fulfillment. 
  • Taking the child’s achievement and attributing the success to themselves, insinuating that the child’s accomplishments are a direct result of their parenting. 
  • Pointing out the mistakes and failures of their child.
  • Feeling threatened by the success of their child and seeing that success as a challenge to their importance. 
  • Unnecessary nitpicking, criticisms and invalidation.

Behaviors directed towards you 

Narcissistic traits may also be observed in behavior directed toward a co-parent. Common signs that you may be co-parenting with a narcissist include the co-parent: 

  • Using manipulation to get what they want, justify their behaviors and inflate their ego. 
  • Gaslighting you into believing that their actions aren’t malicious.
  • Refusing to accept or admit fault of their own and placing the blame on you, claiming you’re the cause of the issues that you raise.
  • Disrespecting boundaries that have been drawn for both parents and the child, contradicting rules you have set and allowing your child to do things you don’t allow.
  • Claiming that you’re not doing enough as a parent to best care for your child.
  • Making you feel like you’re to blame for your child’s behavioral or other issues.
  • Attempting to undermine your efforts as a parent and make you feel inadequate.

2. The impacts of narcissistic parenting on a child

Dealing with a narcissist as a parent is frustrating and emotionally draining. However, it’s important to remember that narcissistic parenting may also have a significant impact on your child. Understanding and recognizing these impacts may help you better tailor your parenting toward your child’s unique needs while managing the other parent’s behavior.

Finding ways to express your emotions is a natural and constant journey that occurs from infancy into adulthood. Unfortunately, some children who have a narcissistic parent as an example to learn from may never be given the opportunity to experience this opportunity for growth. 

Narcissists are notorious for lacking empathy and viewing emotions as a sign of weakness, unless they are their needs, wants and emotions. All their energy and attention is centered around themselves, leading them to neglect the emotional needs of their children. In instances where a child is hurt by their parent’s actions, these feelings of hurt are often dismissed, disregarded and manipulated to be perceived as the child’s own fault. This type of upbringing may make a child feel unheard, inadequate and alone, disrupting their growth and stunting their emotional development in the future. 

Pro Tip: If your child’s other parent is a narcissist, a good way to help your child cope may be to enlist the assistance of a qualified therapist. Your child will most likely continue to interact with their other parent for the rest of their life, and a therapist may help equip them with the tools they need to make that relationship as positive as possible.

3. Parent with empathy

While it may be emotionally draining, try your best to remember that your child may be lacking love, care and validation from the other parent. Keeping your child’s needs in mind may help you shift your focus from your frustration with the other parent to how to care for your child.

4. Learn what phrases to use when co-parenting with a narcissist

Narcissists often dislike being told they’re wrong and love being validated. Thus, it may feel difficult to hold your ground and assert your position on a parenting matter while also trying to prevent a heated situation from escalating further. To avoid or reduce conflict, you might find success in offering a compliment to a narcissistic parent before giving them constructive criticism.

And while conversations with a narcissist may be challenging and require a lot of patience, de-escalating the situation through your words may yield better cooperation and results from the opposing parent. Below are some potential phrases to use to de-escalate the situation in an effort to keep the peace when speaking with a narcissistic co-parent: 

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way.” 
  • “I hear what you’re saying, but we both have a right to our own opinion.”
  • “I can accept how you feel.”
  • “I see where you’re coming from, but I also want to share how I feel.” 
  • “I’m not going to argue anymore.”

These phrases may not always be effective, but may be worth a try if you feel you’re in a position to communicate safely without risk of retaliation from the other parent.

Pro Tip: You can’t change a narcissist but you can learn how to interact with them. The more you understand what motivates them, the better you will be able to effectively anticipate and respond to their behavior.

5. Keep your energy focused on parenting 

It may be easy to lose perspective, but at the end of the day, your main goal is to provide the best environment for your child and establish the best relationship with them that you can. Battling with a narcissist’s ego only allows them to thrive off the conflict.

6. Set boundaries and limit communication 

Take a step back and try to communicate only essential information. Narcissists often try to twist words. 

While you will need to communicate important information about your child to their other parent, you don’t have to communicate beyond that. And communicating with the other parent exclusively through text or other written correspondence may give you a reliable record of conversations that is harder for a narcissistic parent to twist.

Pro tip: There are several co-parenting apps that help parents schedule their parenting obligations and speak to each other in a neutral manner. If you have difficulty speaking face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) with your child’s other parent without succumbing to manipulation, a co-parenting app could be a great buffer to help you maintain healthy boundaries. 

7. Document, document, document

It’s imperative that you keep documentation surrounding any shared expectations and responsibilities. It may also help to keep a record of each violation if boundaries continue to be broken by the other parent.

Cooperating with a narcissist as a co-parent is inherently difficult. Make sure you’re giving yourself grace as you go through the process and find out what works best for you and your child.

Pro tip: Seeking counseling for yourself or joining a support group of other individuals who regularly deal with narcissists may help you keep perspective and a healthy sense of self.

How an attorney may help

If you have questions about whether and how to move forward with your co-parent, you might consider speaking with a family law attorney. 

While an attorney may not be able to directly change a narcissistic parent’s ways, they may be able to help you find legal solutions to address and combat their behaviors. For example, an experienced family law attorney may help advise you on your options and potential remedies, request modification of existing parenting plans or custody arrangements or pursue contempt of court or other penalties when a narcissistic parent’s actions are in violation of existing orders and arrangements. 

Share with

Bottom line

Our experienced team would love to help you move forward. Schedule a free 15-minute call so we can connect you with an experienced attorney.

Book a free call

Frequently asked questions

How do I protect my child from a narcissistic parent?

You may help protect your child from a narcissistic parent by setting strict boundaries, limiting communication, documenting interactions and communications with the co-parent and monitoring any changes in your child’s behavior after spending time with their other parent.

What are the signs of narcissistic parenting?

Signs of narcissistic parenting may include behaviors that impact the child or behaviors that impact the other parent. Examples of such behaviors often include depriving the child of independence, diminishing and inflating the accomplishments of the child, lacking empathy, gaslighting and manipulating the other parent, disrespecting boundaries and attempting to undermine the efforts of the other parent.

How can I prevent a narcissistic parent from getting custody?

Documenting your interactions and collecting evidence of the narcissistic parent’s actions may help you assert your parental rights. These actions may help prove that it’s in the best interest of the child to grant custody to you rather than the other parent. A child custody attorney may advise and guide you through the critical factors pertaining to your case.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

Share with

More resources