Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

3 Jun 2024 | Lauren Hall
man with child

Table of Contents

Can You Co-Parent With a Narcissist?

Co-parenting involves two divorced or separated parents working together to raise their children. This method of parenting can provide a secure and tension-free environment for the children, but it can also be challenging, especially if the parents have different decision-making styles and communication issues.

However, when your ex-partner is a narcissist, co-parenting can feel like an uphill battle where you cannot do anything right. Putting good legal boundaries in place is key to making the arrangement work.

What is a narcissist?

Narcissism is a blanket term for a wide range of behaviours. At one end of the spectrum is a person who displays mild narcissistic personality traits. We’re all capable of being attention-seeking, arrogant or egotistical at times, so it’s somewhat normal for individuals to exhibit these characteristics every now and then.

At the other end of the spectrum is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is a diagnosable mental health condition where a person has an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

People with NPD may exhibit manipulative or controlling behaviour in relationships. They believe that their way is the only way, which can make co-operative co-parenting extremely challenging.

How does narcissism affect co-parenting?

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be incredibly difficult because their behaviour is often unpredictable and self-centred. For example, they may:

  • Refuse to be flexible, even if their demands conflict with important events in the child’s life.
  • Criticise your parenting style, badmouth you to the children or use them as messengers.
  • Struggle with empathy and fail to consider the child’s feelings.
  • Be obsessed with the child’s achievements and push them to perform well in exams, sports, etc, withholding affection if the child does not meet expectations.
  • Play favourites with the children, causing conflict and resentment.
  • Seek to exert control over your finances by doing things like signing the child up for an expensive holiday and asking you to pay for it.
  • Encroach on your time with the child by constantly phoning, texting or showing up at events they weren’t invited to.
  • Try to undermine you or compete for the child’s attention or affection.
  • Make important decisions about the child without telling you.
  • Place the blame on you which makes it impossible to resolve conflicts.

Can you ever co-parent with a narcissist?

The short answer is yes, but it won’t be easy. The following strategies can help make co-parenting with a narcissist more manageable:

Choose parallel parenting

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be chaotic, with constant conflicts, privacy invasion and no guarantee that your ex-partner will live up to their parenting commitments. One way of protecting yourself and the children is to implement parallel parenting.

With this approach, each parent takes responsibility for their own time with the child with minimal interaction between you. This might include arranging neutral drop-off points, using communication tools like email or text only, and alternating attendance at the children’s extracurricular activities.

Minimising contact means there is less room for arguments or excuses, and communicating in writing means you’ll have a digital log of any issues that might arise.

Put a legal parenting plan in place

An experienced family lawyer can help you put a comprehensive parenting plan in place and can apply to the court to have the arrangements made legally binding. This document provides a clear protocol for contact, handover, communication, and decision making, who pays for child-related expenses and every other aspect of co-parenting. If your ex partner steps outside the bounds of the agreement, you can have it legally enforced.

Drafting one with no grey areas can protect you from a narcissist’s unreasonable demands. For example, something like “Handover on Wednesday at 4 pm outside the library” is more effective than “[Name] has the children after school on Wednesday.”

Resolve disputes professionally

In an ideal world, you would make normal parenting decisions amicably with your ex partner within the context of your parenting plan. Unfortunately, disputes tend to be more frequent and harder to resolve when you are co-parenting with a narcissist, because narcissists often use conflict to assert control and get their own way.

Various dispute resolution services can act as a go-between and help you resolve issues in a professional environment. These include solicitor-led negotiations, mediation and collaborative law. Often, the agreement you reach through these methods can be brought to a judge to obtain approval and would then become court-ordered by consent.

If these options fail, or you need an urgent solution, your solicitor can apply to the family court for a child arrangements order, specific issues order or prohibited steps orders to stop any unreasonable or unsafe actions from your ex partner.

Do what is best for your children

When co-parenting with a narcissist, it’s important to stick to the letter of your parenting plan and put the children first in everything you do. That means communicating only in relation to the children, refusing to get drawn into arguments and resisting the urge to retaliate. Avoid getting drawn into tit-for-tat behaviour as this will not reflect well on you, should matters ever end up in court. Co-parenting with a narcissist requires you to be the bigger person for the sake of your children, even if it is a constant challenge.

Get Advice and Support

For help co-parenting with a narcissist or any other area of family law, please get in touch with our friendly, expert team by calling 020 7485 8811 or filling out the contact form below.


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