How to Co-parent with a Narcissist

Narcissistic personality disorder is described as an over-inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a general lack of empathy towards others. Other factors include,

  • a preoccupation with fantasies of success, ideal relationships, power, brilliance, and beauty

  • feeling entitled to special treatment

  • exploiting others

  • feeling envious of others

  • assuming others are envious of you

  • arrogant and belittling behavior

  • sensitivity to criticism

Pretty much everyone has a person (or 5) that comes to mind when they hear these symptoms. Heck, maybe it sounds like you, although most narcissists do not recognize their own negative personality traits as truth. “They’re just jealous!”…sound familiar?

People with narcissist personality disorder typically struggle with impulse control, other mental disorders like anxiety and depression, substance abuse disorders, and have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.

Knowing all this, you can imagine how difficult it can be navigating the waters of parenthood with one such individual. You’ve most likely recognized this disorder in your ex-partner and it’s probably a big reason why they’re no longer your partner.

Even if you are no longer romantically involved with them, if you share a child chances are you will still have to deal with them on a regular basis.

Here are a few simple strategies to protect yourself (and your child, if necessary) from getting sucked into their world of narcissism.

Create clear boundaries.

Clear boundaries are crucial in establishing a co-parenting plan with a narcissist. Many couples want to avoid going through the court system when deciding custody but I would strongly caution against this if your ex-partner exhibits narcissistic behavior.

If your ex-partner has a narcissist personality disorder, they will put their own needs first 99.9% of the time. Definitely before yours and most likely before the needs of your child. Keep this in mind when creating a parenting plan. Create a plan that is best FOR YOUR CHILD and stick to it.

Narcissists have a remarkable ability to turn on the charm when they are trying to get something they want. Don’t fall for it. The second they don’t, their lack of impulse control triggers emotional and often violent outbursts.

Having a parenting plan in writing through the court system can help decrease the chances of these outbursts because it’s not up for discussion. It’s an agreed-upon, legal document that can be referred to when they want to change their minds for their own benefit.

Do not react to their behavior.

Narcissists live for the attention of others, positive or negative. If they no longer receive positive attention, they will do what they can to get a rise out of you.

Losing your cool with your partner will only solidify to them that they still have control over you. Don’t give them that power.

If they start directing an outburst at you, remove yourself from the situation if possible. Hang up the phone, leave, whatever you need to do. If you are unable to leave the situation, stay calm and refrain from feeding the argument. You cannot reason with a narcissist, especially when they’re emotionally triggered.

Avoid expectations.

Do not put yourself in a position to rely on them. This will set you up for disappointment when they don’t follow through.

Child support, split custody, reasonable behavior…don’t count on any of it. I’m not saying it isn’t going to happen, but it’s much better to be pleasantly surprised than constantly disappointed.

The cold, hard truth is there is a good chance they will only act like a parent when it benefits them. They want the world to see them in a good light, so they will try to play the part of an all-star parent.

They will talk about how their child is their whole world and they would do anything for them, but might leave you hanging when you ask for diapers if it isn’t convenient for them.

NEVER confide in them.

There will be hard days as a single parent. As a parent, in general really, but the difficulty with single parenting is the overwhelming feeling of figuring things out alone.

Never, ever, ever vent or confide in a narcissistic ex-partner. They may be receptive and even supportive when you do, making it alluring at times when you’re struggling. But don’t think for a second they won’t use those moments of human weakness against you the first chance they get.

Narcissists innately belittle others in order to feel a sense of superiority. Confiding in them only perpetuates this delusion.

Confide in your own parents, friends, or even a support group of single parents. Anyone but them or the children involved (more on that below).

Appreciate their kindness, but don’t ever trust it.

Make a point to thank your ex-partner when they act in understanding and reasonable ways, regardless of if it’s genuine or not.

Showing your appreciation and giving them positive attention for pleasant behavior will hopefully motivate them to continue to do so.

Don’t expect this though. Most kindness expressed by a narcissist has ulterior motives. While it should be appreciated, it should never be trusted.

Do not speak ill of them in front of your child.

Many narcissists try to be the “fun” parent while avoiding real parental responsibilities. They will likely attempt to paint you as the villain to their friends and, worse, your child. It might even work for a short period. This can be beyond frustrating when it feels like you’re the only one carrying the financial and disciplinary burden.

Take heart and keep your mouth shut.

Narcissists love to talk, but most people will notice their actions don’t line up with their words.

Keep doing what you know in your heart is right. The people that matter will understand. As your children get older, they will notice who is truly there for them on a consistent basis. Children are more perceptive than we realize.

Co-parenting with someone who exhibits symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder is even more challenging than co-parenting with a sane, stable person. No situation is black and white. You may very well have your share of flaws or narcissistic traits, too. But as long as you keep prioritizing your child over your emotions, you will be on the right track.

If this post resonates with you, we would love to hear about your experience and how you’ve handled the situation. If you want to remain anonymous, email us directly at We can share your experience (only if you’d like) without sharing your identity. Your experience can help another person going through a similar situation.

If you know someone who might benefit from this post, please share it with them! The biggest aide to single parents is knowing they don’t have to face the burden of these obstacles alone.

We love you, single mommas. Keep kicking ass and knowing your worth!

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