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Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist

Six tips for the constantly undermined parent.

Key points

  • People with narcissistic traits will often try to create chaos and conflict, undermining any attempts to co-parent.
  • Parallel parenting is recommended for those who must share children with a person unable to co-parent.
  • These tips will help create and enforce boundaries.

An ex who is out for revenge, especially if they possess traits of a personality disorder, is unlikely to be able to co-parent. Of course, we want a conflict-free environment for our children, but it can be difficult to reduce the children’s exposure to conflict when one of their parents is trying to create chaos. Many courts will request "co-parenting," which is commonly done when both parents are self-aware and willing to work together. Of course, this is the best situation for raising children.

Unfortunately, co-parenting will not be possible with someone who is trying to undermine your efforts. Instead, try what many call "parallel parenting." Each parent attempts to maintain relationships with their children while interacting as little as possible with one another. The goal is to always validate and support the children first.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Source: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

While it would take an entire book to go over the stressors and trials of parallel parenting, I have compiled a few tips here that have worked for many of my clients.

  1. Know your truth, because there will be times when you will doubt yourself, especially if they claim the victim role. Be prepared to hear through others about all of the ways you have harmed the children, and are engaging in parental alienation—even if you know that these are exaggerated, embellished, or flat-out lies. Those who believe the lies, are not there for you. Those who are truly there for you know the truth.
  2. Pick your battles. Do not attempt to rebuke every allegation and lie. If it doesn’t involve your children, or your livelihood, let it go. Limit or end contact with people who do not support you, you do not need the extra stress of trying to convince others of your position.

3. Try not to bash this person in front of your children and extended family. Even while defending yourself, keep the focus on disputing the untruths and not on the person doing the damage. Trying to prove your case by speaking ill of this person can have the unfortunate effect of making you also look vindictive.

Your best course of action is to let their actions speak for themselves. Do not attempt to expose them or "prove" what they are doing to you. Focus on keeping yourself and your children safe, happy, and healthy. Eventually, others will see the patterns.

4. Follow these steps for communication:

I have developed a set of strategies that I share with my clients when they have to engage with a toxic person, especially an ex-partner with manipulative traits. I call it the N.E.B. technique. N for necessary, E for emotionless, and B for brief.

N: Ask yourself, “Is this communication or reply necessary?” A nasty text about how horrible a parent you are? Ignore it (but take a screenshot.) A text about childcare? This may warrant a reply.

E: Construct an emotionless reply. Quick, professional and concise with no emotion. Do not let your anger show through, as difficult as that is. Some find benefits in waiting for an hour or two before sending the reply, so you can edit it for tone.

B: Make the reply brief. One or two sentences will suffice. More than that will open doors for manipulating or twisting words, or sucking you into an argument.

5. Have everything in writing. If an ex-partner is trying to create chaos for you, they will likely try to manipulate conversations they have with you and your children. Try to have as much communication as possible documented in writing. Do not try to reason or compromise. When trying to parallel parent with an abusive ex, they may ask you to make compromises: “Just switch Saturdays.” Or “A few hours here and there.” Do not agree to anything that is not in a court order. Doing so will come back to bite you in court. They might try to pin the changes they suggested on you, using it to show the judge that you are not following orders. Stick to the court orders as much as possible.

6. Limit the avenues of contact. An abusive ex-partner does not need every number, email, and direct messaging option available to contact you, but as a parallel parent, communication may sometimes be necessary. Create one or two dedicated lines of communication where they may reach you and use them for only N.E.B. communication. Many of my clients have created a separate email address or downloaded a Google phone number or a free texting app exclusively for communication with the other parent.

If possible, use court-recommended apps to communicate. These apps are usually court-monitored, and courts often recommend their use to save discussions with ex-partners. They also can include tips to help users create more appropriate messages, like how to make them less emotionally charged.

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