Co-parenting with someone with narcissistic traits can be challenging. Tips include parenting with love and empathy, engaging in support, and involving lawyers, if need be, to establish boundaries and a firm parenting plan.

It is important to remember the distinction between having narcissistic traits and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), as NPD is a mental health condition. Someone with narcissistic traits, however, may not be mentally unwell, nor do they have a personality disorder.

Narcissism itself exists on a spectrum, and some attributes may be mild and not affect others. Narcissistic traits may include a grandiose self-view, arrogant behavior, self-serving thoughts, and a need for admiration. The primary imperative is to ensure it does not affect the children involved, for example, by the narcissistic parent putting their needs above the child.

Other narcissistic traits include a lack of empathy and parenting with someone who has empathy issues can make it hard, as they may not be capable of experiencing something as the child or the other parent does.

This article details five essential tips for co-parenting with someone who has narcissistic traits but is no longer or not in a romantic relationship. It will also explain what challenges a person may face and where to find help and support.

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Interacting with a narcissist may be challenging enough without having children involved. A person with narcissistic traits may be uncooperative, which is the main attribute needed for co-parenting. As someone with narcissistic traits tends to consider themselves above others, they may not feel the need to be agreeable, even for the sake of their children.

However, there is no reason why both parents cannot reach agreements amicably, even if it is frustrating. It is essential to stay in control when dealing with a narcissistic parent, ensuring the child or children remain at the forefront of everyone’s best interests.

Learn all about NPD and narcissistic traits here.

Planning ensures a person is as best prepared as possible, particularly as someone with narcissistic traits may make it deliberately difficult for situations such as:

  • time with each parent
  • school-related situations, such as picking up from school or communicating with teachers
  • anything medical, including doctors appointments or hospital visits
  • visitation for holidays and vacations

Someone with narcissistic traits may suddenly decide they want more or less time with their children at any given moment. They may not consider other people’s schedules or the child’s emotions and well-being and can even go as far as creating drama to punish the other parent.

Legal parenting plans or custody agreements can help manage frustrations over the years of parenting. It is essential to plan extensively regarding child care and to document the plan and conversations about it. This way, everything is concrete and in writing, with no gray areas or methods for the narcissistic parent to manipulate.

A person should document every conversation they have with the narcissistic parent regarding child care so they have everything in writing. Involving legalities such as lawyers or a court-appointed person can also ensure the plan is enforced externally.

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Having everything in writing is essential if a person has a custody agreement or a legal parenting plan. Other legal frameworks that can help include:

  • a Guardian Ad Litum (GAL), which is a court-appointed person or lawyer to represent the child’s best interests
  • a mediator who can communicate between the narcissistic parent and the other to avoid conflict
  • lawyers

Conflict can arise if there are disagreements about the child’s upbringing. Documenting and planning everything, as well as using legal support, can ensure the least amount of conflict possible. This can include:

  • who the child spends time with or not, for example, grandparents
  • what kind of education they have, including which schools to attend
  • what religion do they bring them up in, if any
  • what medical decisions to make, including treatments for chronic illnesses or conditions

A person with narcissistic traits may try to control everything, so legalities and plans in place can ensure both parents get a say in the upbringing of their child.

The need for control is usually a symptom of a person with narcissistic traits, which can be thoroughly frustrating.

Sometimes, a person on the spectrum of narcissism may want to get a reaction out of the other parent and exert control without any actual or potential benefit for the child. The downside to this is the negativity and conflict when engaging in their narcissistic behavior can have adverse effects on the emotional well-being of the child.

A tip for avoiding unnecessary conflict or negativity is to treat the relationship like a business partnership, keeping emotions under check and not rising to any baiting. Speak only in regards to child care, avoid discussing anything that can give rise to an argument in front of the child, and try to avoid revealing any personal or emotional information to the other parent.

This is important as arguments and conflict can cause the narcissistic parent to use the child as a go-between or an emotional pawn. Examples may include:

  • issues with sticking with time frames, resulting in arguments that end up with the child being stuck in the middle, and being denied time with one parent
  • speaking ill of the other parent to the child, aiming to turn them against them
  • forcing the child to agree with them

Remember that it is only working together with the narcissistic parent for the good of the child. There is no need to engage on any other level with them, particularly if it is harmful to anyone’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

A tip for not engaging is called the “gray rock method.” This involves becoming as unresponsive and unreactive as possible, like a rock. This can include avoiding eye contact or showing little emotions, so the narcissist will lose interest.

Keep the relationship strictly “business,” and avoid discussing anything disputable in front of the child. This can prevent emotional conflict and negativity that ultimately affects the child.

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Setting boundaries is essential for maintaining emotional and mental well-being. As mentioned, someone with narcissistic traits may feed off reactions, so setting boundaries means there is no space for anything contentious or negative to happen.

Setting boundaries can include:

  • discussing anything regarding child care or co-parenting through a medium or the courts
  • speaking only through text rather than in person
  • refusing to divulge any personal information with the narcissistic parent to stop an invasion of privacy or using anything personal against them in future

It is important to remember that upbringing and parental behavior have a direct effect on the child, with studies showing positive parental relationships being overly beneficial. That being said, a person with narcissistic traits tends to lack empathy and have a grandiose view of the self, meaning they view themselves above others — even their own child.

A person cannot control the narcissistic parent, but they can control their own behavior toward their child. It is essential to display love, care, compassion, and empathy for the child, particularly as these traits may not be shown by the narcissistic parent.

Further studies have shown that having a narcissistic parent has a direct impact on their child’s self-esteem and may even cause the child to develop NPD later on in their own life.

A person should

  • provide a safe space for their child to discuss or communicate their feelings openly, without judgment
  • give the child praise to build up confidence and self-esteem
  • show their child love and affection
  • spend quality time with their child, taking note of their favorite activities and pastimes
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There are many support groups out there that can help with any parenting challenges, including issues with co-parenting.

Some groups include:

It is better to ask for help and support than to face challenges and difficulties alone. Therapy can also help by talking through situations that occur and learning best how to navigate them with the child’s best interests at heart.

Learn more about recovery from narcissistic abuse here.

If a parent with NPD or narcissistic traits begins to directly affect the child emotionally or physically with their behavior, then they can lose custody altogether. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help, including reaching out to local child protection services and support groups.

It is important to recognize when a parent is displaying narcissistic traits toward parenting, to be better equipped to deal with them and not let it result in an adverse reaction.

Some examples include:

  • deliberately changing or interfering with appointments for the child
  • refusing to cooperate for no valid reason, such as not agreeing to arrangements
  • acting nasty or mean, even around the child
  • trying to turn the child against the other parent
  • using the child for validation purposes only or to get back at the other parent
  • putting their own needs in front of the child
  • expecting the child to also act as a caregiver
  • being overly possessive and controlling

Co-parenting with someone with narcissistic traits can be a challenge, but tips can help a person navigate it to avoid any emotional or mental adverse effects for both them and the child.

Tips include setting firm boundaries, documenting and planning with the law in mind, focusing on love and empathy for the child, and not being afraid to reach out to support groups for help.