If you have young children with a narcissistic (ex) partner it might be difficult to realize that you will have to deal with this person for another number of years. That is, if your ex-partner plays an active role in your child’s life. This realization might be very painful and discouraging.
The sooner you’re able to accept it, however, the better it’ll be for both you and your child(ren). At that point, you’ll be able to focus on protecting both yourself and your child, without losing energy battling the situation. The realization that children become increasingly independent as they age, decreasing the role of the emotionally unhealthy parent can be something to hold on to. Create a point on the horizon to grow and live towards and know that this phase, too, will end.
The most important thing to keep in mind while protecting your child is this: once the healthy, non-abusive parent gets better, the child does better, too. That’s why it’s extremely important as a healthy parent to invest in your emotional wellbeing.
There are a number of ways you can protect your child.
- Stay calm, stable and reliable. Mirror healthy behavior and try to be the living example of emotionally healthy behavior. This is very important to a child, especially when the other parent shows unreliable and unpredictable behavior.
- If you notice your child is having a hard time, worries or shows difficult behavior, give the child space to vent its emotions over the course of, for example, 15-20 minutes. Children often don’t want to talk about their feelings, but do experience fits of anger or sadness. Let them vent or, at least, give it time to blow over. If the child’s anger increases or it starts to mirror the other parent’s damaging (abusive) behavior, don’t be afraid to firmly intervene by, for example, reminding them; ‘I love you, but this isn’t how we treat each other!’
- Do not burden your children with your worries and frustrations. They cannot understand, let alone resolve, adult problems.
- Young children believe in honesty and justice. These concepts are frequently brought up in children’s TV shows and fairytales. It can be very difficult for them to understand that the real world works a little differently sometimes. Explaining how complicated the world can be will have to wait until they’re ready (and, in many cases, older). Until that time comes, focus on comforting them; you’re always there, no matter what!
- Show your child how capable you are of taking care of yourself. You are surrounded by lovely people that support you and your child does not have to worry about you. You got this!
- Please don’t feel obliged to paint a perfect picture of the world to your child. Sometimes, things just don’t work out and that’s okay. By explaining that people aren’t always friends forever they will quickly realize the dynamics of their own situation. After all, these experiences can be similar with their own friends. Consider their experiences and their perception when explaining complex relationships to your child.
- Most children think abuse means getting hit or punched. It’s important to clarify what abuse really means on a level the child can comprehend. Rejection, blackmail, bribery, neglect, isolation and incitation to any of these things are just as damaging. Discussing these topics with your child can help them understand a little better. It’s better not to directly pinpoint a parent’s narcissistic behavior; try to provide neutral examples to avoid blaming and shaming. The more loyal a child feels to the narcissistic parent, the further the example you’re using should be removed from the situation at hand.
- Besides talking and loving attention for your child, providing a sense of distraction works well, too. Take a trip to a petting zoo or pancake parlor if they appear to be struggling with questions or feelings.
- Keeping a diary may help channel their experiences and it is important to mention and highlight happy memories as well. Naturally, it’s best to keep this diary at the healthy parent’s home for safe keeping.
- For children of divorced parents, dividing their time between both parents and both houses can be hard, even when there’s no unhealthy parent present. Rules and general atmosphere can starkly differ between the two households. A child is suddenly required to learn three new languages: that of the mother, of the father, and of their own heart. This can be very challenging to children and the skillset they need can be difficult to develop. It’s a lonely path for a child if they are facing this alone. This can result in fatigue or petulance whilst they try to adapt. That’s normal and healthy. You can support them by giving them space; there’s no need to smother them in love and attention all the time.
Support for you
Over the years I have gained knowledge and experience in dealing with organizations such as child protective services and custodial institutions that are often involved in custody battles. I strongly recommend you to inform yourself as to how to deal with these institutions. In general I have found these institutions quite lacking in terms of insight into (undiagnosed) personality disorders such as narcissism and how this can cause problems in a custody battle.
The first advice I’ll give you is to keep track of every time your contact with the narcissistic parent escalates. If they are consistently unreliable, write it down every time. Are you being threatened? Print every email and Whatsapp message. If or when authorities get involved, this will help you prove your case. Getting written input from teachers or other experts will also help. If you live in the Netherlands, I can provide you with a list of lawyers specialized in problematic divorce cases.
Try to lay out custody and other rules in a co-parenting agreement. For a manipulative narcissist, rules exist merely to bend or break them, so make sure this document includes everything that matters to you. For example, clarify that the contents of the parenting plan are non-negotiable and that any attempt at bargaining won’t take place over the phone – especially not over your child’s or anyone else’s phone. Another rule could be that any potential new partners will not be responsible for the child’s care on the parent’s appointed day. These things fall under ‘house rules’, it’s entirely normal and healthy to want to set clear boundaries for both yourself and your child. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t worry about coming up with too many rules; in case authorities would get involved, your parenting plan is your back up plan.
On this website, I can only share so much information. Please feel free to contact me if you need more help. My expertise is here to support you during this often difficult process, to ensure as small a chance as possible of you or your child getting hurt along the way. Making an appointment can be a good first step.