Having children with the narcissist is a binding contract that can be difficult to negotiate. Especially in the beginning. Since narcissists generally make bad parents, they will have very little hesitation to use the kids as pawns in their dirty game of power and control. How you approach the process early on will set the stage for the quality of the journey ahead.
Set Clear Boundaries
What’s essential here is not so much cutting contact entirely, as this can be near impossible— unless they lose custody, leave and/or the children choose not to have contact with them either. The sanity saver here is the practice of emotional ambivalence towards the narcissist.
Refrain from sharing any details of your life with your ex, especially the new and exciting things that may be happening in your life. You may have a desire to share some good news to subtly communicate to the narcissist that you are fine and have moved on. Don’t fall for that trap. There is nothing subtle about interacting with an erratic-dramatic Cluster B.
They will read into things and scheme to sabotage any inkling of your newfound joy or peace. Instead, be boring and plain. Get to the point quickly to make those interactions short and matter-of-fact. Refrain from saying anything that hits a sore spot, is offensive or could be interpreted as such, as that too can be fuel for more fires to have to put out later on. Instead, take the higher road, be respectful and get on your way. Focus on yourself and give them no emotional food to chomp on.
Interacting with a narcissistic parent is a lot like going through a black belt training in boundaries. It can feel like you are turning yourself inside out. But while difficult, it has the potential to making you incredibly strong. Sustaining and controlling the fiery emotions that may be building up within you will expand your capacity for emotional self-control — a great skill to have in life in general. Such daily practice can also inspire more fundamental changes, as your newfound strength and power begin to radiate into all other areas of your life. You can learn to harness this potential.
Communicate with Your Children
Communication with your children about what’s happening in a way that they can digest and understand will be critical. Children may lack a lot of life experience, but they can be excellent mood readers. Less influenced by clouds of self-doubt, they can easily tune into the atmosphere of any space and discern its temperature.
Check in with your children often and practice listening to what they have to say, regardless of whether you agree with them of not. Let them vent and communicate that you hear them and are there for them. This can be even more effective when done non-verbally with a hug and a nod, your face mirroring their emotions. It lets them know that you are there and you get it.
Under no circumstances lie to your children. Lying erodes the bond of trust children have with you and the bond of trust they are still developing with themselves. This can be done unintentionally. For example, if a child sees you sulking and they approach asking if you are okay, don’t say that you are just fine. They clearly can see that you aren’t. This seemingly innocent event can make your children mistrust their intuition. It will plant a seed of self-doubt. It takes a few solid years of training before children the notion of self-trust sets in. They learn it not by reading about it but by watching you and how you interact with them. Think of it as a subconscious programming.
Parents are children’s first and foremost authorities and models. This is why it is so painful to watch a child grow up in a toxic home — they end up soaking up loads of unhealthy behaviors they will later have to unlearn. But with open communication, things can make sense to them sooner and they will know whom to turn to when they need help or support.
So when your child asks you about how you feel, tell them the truth (validate them) and own it (model self-responsibility). Show then you are handling the situation and seeking help, if needed. This will teach them that their intuition is telling them the truth and that they are corrected to listen to it. Avoid putting the burden of your feelings on them. Training them to be your rescuer, no matter how adorable or cute it may seem at the time, can be the beginning of codependence training.
Remember, no parent is perfect. We are all in the school of life learning to do things better. It’s a process. Communication is a powerful tool for clearing away ambiguity, which can be a fertile ground for emotional abuse.
Build an Circle of Support
Having a support system in place — third parties that can help you negotiate with the narcissist, such a family, friends and attorneys — will be essential for your coping and healing. They form a buffer you can lean on in times of great strain and a well you can drink from when you need emotional support.
One of the tactics the narcissist uses early on is isolation. They are experts at inventing stories that pit people against each other. Triangulation is their forte. Gossip is their favorite form of entertainment. Creating conflict and watching people argue and fight with one another gives them immense pleasure. Unfortunately, this can erode your friendships and shrink your circle of friends. But it doesn't need to stay this way.
The damage of isolation can be undone and truth can save the day. Reaching out and opening up to your friends can be healing to both parties. Friendships can be re-kindled and deepened. In a way, the presence of the narcissist can act as a filtering mechanism for you to discern which people are really there for you and which turn their back on you in support of the narcissist. It goes without saying that you will want to erect strong boundaries with the latter group.
Establish A Firm Framework
Putting structures in place can be a life saver for when you must have an interaction with the narcissistic co-parent. For example, let them know that you will only be communicating with them, such as reading their emails or checking voicemails, between 3 and 4 pm on Wednesdays. If there is an emergency, they can reach your friend or sibling who will relay the message to you. This way you’ll avoid cry-wolf scenarios they can use to bait you into a reaction. In other words, by making it hard for them to reach, you communicate to them that they have zero power over you.
Another great advice I heard for managing the emotional upheaval caused by interfacing with a narcissist is to schedule special ‘me dates’ for the time immediately following an interaction. For example, if you enjoy massage, fishing or walks in nature, do that right after you drop off the kids at their place. Even if you find yourself triggered, your recovery from such an encounter will be that much faster if you have something enjoyable to look forward to afterwards.
I hope this post was helpful to you and look forward to meeting you in the comments. Feel free to share this article with anyone who may benefit.
If you are suffering from the shock of being subjected to narcissistic abuse, have a look into my FREE three-step SOS program available on my website.
For more info, check out the video below and another one titled 5 steps to leaving the narcissist.