Parenting is arguably one of the hardest tasks we face, even with a loving and compatible partner. When you’re co-parenting with a narcissist… it becomes exponentially more challenging.

You’ll find that parenting is confusing, disruptive, and at times it can even cause feelings of anger and despair.

What’s even more painful is when you come to the realization that your narcissist ex is incapable of loving your children the same way you do.

Narcissists don’t have the empathy required to love unselfishly.

They often see children as extensions of themselves, who can be manipulated into serving their needs. And if the kids don’t play along, then they are easily ignored or cast aside when they lose their ‘value’ to the narcissist.

In cases where you initiated the break-up, the rejected narcissist is likely to hold a long-term grudge and may continually try to ‘punish you’ for triggering feelings of worthlessness.

However a relationship ends, a narcissist is likely to use every opportunity to bolster themselves at your expense.

They might criticize you in front of your kids, talk badly about you behind your back, ignore your boundaries, or undermine any attempts at co-parenting.


“A narcissist would rather impress a stranger, than be loved by his own family.”


We know how badly you want co-parenting with a narcissist to work. But teamwork is not part of a narcissist’s playbook, they don’t have the empathy necessary to build that kind of connection.

Plus narcissists by definition don’t play fair, or even nice for that matter.

That’s why most therapists and counselors will tell you to forget about co-parenting with a narcissist and embrace “parallel parenting” instead.

How do you know for sure if your ex is a narcissist? We’ll give you 10 warning signs to watch for.

We’ll also share 6 tips for co-parenting with a narcissist, or to be more precise parallel parenting, in order to help you maintain your sanity and make things easier for your kids.

when you're co-parenting with a narcissist
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10 Signs Your Ex Is A Narcissist


It’s easy to forget that genuine narcissistic behavior is a recognized mental condition.

People who have narcissistic personality disorder aren’t just selfish or vain, they elevate their specialness to the point of obsession, are charmingly manipulative, and have a genuine lack of empathy for others.


1. They Are “Special”

The narcissistic person is not only in love with who they are, but they create stories in which they come out as the hero.

They want to be seen as better and more capable than other people. The stories they tell reflect this.

Narcissists will tell others how wonderful and great their family is.

At first this can make them seem like a loving parent, but in reality they’re placing their family on a pedestal to further illustrate how ‘special’ they are.

RELATED: Co-Parenting Tips That Work, Even On A Toxic Ex!


2. Lack Of Empathy

Your narcissistic partner may have seemed charming at first, but at some point you will start to feel like they don’t ‘get you’ on a deep level… because they don’t.

You may be baffled by how little your partner understands the motivations and emotions of even their closest ‘friends’.

Narcissists tend to have great surface-level friendships, but deep connections elude them.


3. Immaturity

Since narcissists don’t empathize well, they often seem like teenagers even when middle-aged.

Narcissists can also be hyper-focused on appearance, which means they often work hard to stay in shape and dress well even when others their age relax a bit.


4. The Rules Don’t Apply

Narcissists believe that they are literally above the law, in all kinds of ways.

They have an innate sense of superiority, which makes them regard boundaries as a challenge to overcome…because why should the rules apply to someone as special as them?

As an example, if a narcissist cheats they expect you to forgive them, because in their mind you drove them to cheat in the first place. After all, if you had met their needs, been more attentive, etc. they would have never strayed. Sound familiar?

The catch-22 is that you can never meet a narcissist’s needs. It’s a hole so deep it can’t be filled.


5. They Challenge Authority

Narcissists are quick to dismiss experts or people in authority. If a narcissist is diagnosed by a psychologist, they often refuse to accept the diagnosis because the doctor “doesn’t know what he’s talking about”.

This is why counseling rarely works on narcissists.

They may also disagree with their boss who is clearly “less intelligent” than they are, or an industry expert who is “full of it”.

Anyone in a higher position can be challenged for dominance.


“Relationships with narcissists are held in place by hope of a ‘someday better’, with little evidence to support it will ever arrive.”

– Ramani Durvasula, author Should I Stay or Should I Go? Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist


Another trick used by narcissists is they challenge your perception of reality.

This technique, called gaslighting, is where they tell their own version of events to make you question your memories.

And of course, the narcissist will always come across more positively in their version of the story.


6. Competitive To A Fault

You are tired, they are exhausted. You don’t feel well, they suddenly get sicker than you.

In fact, a narcissist can do LOTS of things better than other people.

Don’t believe us? Just ask them and they’ll tell you how great they are.


7. People Are “Out To Get Them”

Their coworkers are trying to undermine them. A friend who didn’t show up to their birthday is a “jerk”. The brother who isn’t responding to their text messages “doesn’t care” about them.

In other words, it’s never the narcissist’s fault.

Everyone else has a problem, not them.


8. Jealousy Happens

Narcissistic people are envious of anyone that overshadows them.

If your ex can’t support your success, or puts you down to make you doubt your goals…you’re probably co-parenting with a narcissist.

They want to be the center of attention and view anyone else who upstages them as a threat.


9. No Respect For Boundaries

A narcissist uses other people to get their needs met, which means they feel entitled to everything in their environment.

They have little respect for your feelings, your privacy, or your things.

A narcissist lives by the old saying, “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.”

RELATED: Different Parenting Styles? How To Get On The Same Page!


10. Very Charming And Charismatic

So why would anyone get into a relationship with a narcissist in the first place?

Because they can be extremely charming and charismatic when they want to impress you. They are often the funniest, most exciting person in the room.

However, with narcissists these normally positive attributes get twisted up and become a form of manipulation.

They will say or do anything to sell themselves, including lying and exaggerating.  


Tips For Co-Parenting With A Narcissist

Here’s the sad truth of the situation… you can’t co-parent with a narcissist.

Someone who is this self-absorbed isn’t capable of the kind of cooperation or ability to place their kids’ needs first that co-parenting requires.

So what’s the solution? Parallel parenting.


“Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which separated parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited contact in situations where they have demonstrated they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner.”   Dr. Edward Kruk, Ph.D


Parallel parenting with a narcissist means you have a parenting plan in place with your ex, but you parent your kids separately with little contact between you.

Each parent can remain close to the kids and make the big decisions (medical, education, etc.) together, but the day-to-day parenting stuff is handled individually.

RELATED: 5 Secrets To Successful Parallel Parenting


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Here are six tips to help make parallel parenting with a narcissist work.


Tips For Parallel Parenting


1. Create A Detailed Parenting Plan

Spell out schedules, holidays, vacations, medical plans, etc. to minimize conflict.

Use a communication tool to share important details with your ex that can help you stay detached and business-like.

One tool to consider is OurFamilyWizard. It provides everything parents need to organize shared duties and reduce conflict.

It’s such an effective tool that judges in all 50 states have ordered families to utilize the site in certain contested custody cases.


OurFamilyWizard also serves as a reliable documentation source for court proceedings since all messaging is tamper-proof and stamped with the date, time, and name of the person who sent it.


No more he said/she said about the plan. If you communicate using this platform, it’s all right there.


2. Set Firm Boundaries

Since your children’s life with their narcissistic parent is likely to be unpredictable, you’ll need to provide some rules and stability.

Once you build your parenting plan and schedule – stick to it!

Your ex may try to change the plan. Be prepared and have a short but firm response ready such as, “We agreed on a plan. I’m not comfortable with changing it, that doesn’t work for me.”


3. Limit Contact

Co-parenting with a narcissist means you’re dealing with someone who is reactive, argumentative, and will do anything to prove they are “right” or better than you.

That’s why it’s in your own best interest to limit communication with your ex to just the essentials.

It gives them less ammunition to use against you.


4. Focus On What You Can Control

You’ll first need to accept that you can’t control your ex’s behavior, even if it sucks.

What you can control are your reactions to your ex, so that’s where you should focus your energy.

Your ex doesn’t need to know you’re true feelings, they’ll likely try and use them to manipulate you anyways.

Adopt a business-like communication style and don’t fall for any attempts to drag you back into their drama.


5. Be A Role Model

Be the parent that takes the high road. Don’t bad-mouth your ex in front of your kids.

It’s not healthy for children to be in the middle of a loyalty conflict between their parents.

Model resilience for them. We know it’s hard, but putting aside your frustration and emotional baggage for your children’s sake will help them have a more positive parenting experience.

Also it’s important to have faith in yourself and know that having one engaged and positive parent is better than having several bad ones. Really.


6. Get Help When Needed

Co-parenting with a narcissist is no picnic in the park. Which is why you want to get the support of professionals if and when you need them.

Talk to a lawyer, mediator, or psychologist who has experience dealing with a high-conflict ex.

Or join a support group of other adults facing the challenge of co-parenting with a narcissist.

Even though counseling isn’t effective at treating a narcissist, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a BIG help for you and your kids!

You can learn strategies for dealing with your difficult ex and find ways to minimize the damage to your children.


Co-parenting with a narcissist isn’t going to be easy. A narcissist thrives on challenge and conflict.

But by adopting a parallel parenting model and putting a strong parenting plan in place, you can create an environment where your ex isn’t able to manipulate, argue, or otherwise negatively engage with you.  

Once you accept that you can only control your own behavior, not the behavior of your high-conflict ex, your life will greatly improve.

The narcissist will find other, more interesting targets for their criticism, and your kids can have a better relationship with both of you.


RELATED: Top 12 Ways To Improve Your Parenting Skills Today


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