Co-Parenting with a Narcissist
The biggest thing that has always been my question is, is this really happening to me?
When you have been able to name the following two things when looking to co parent your children after separation or through the courts is narcissism and parental alienation. It is much easier to seek understanding for what is going on and it is not you. And yes, it is really happening!
You don’t have to do any more, be any more, say any more. In fact, it is better to not reference yourself from your ex’s point of view. Extracting both yourself and your children from this is harder than a diagnosis.
It is the most bizarre situation, it really is, you can’t quite believe what is going on, never mind working out how to handle it, it is likely you have no point of reference for it, as you have never been a part of this before, which is why you got caught in it in the first place.
Like any diagnoses though, it gives you a base to seek help, to reach out to others and see if they are having the same feelings as you are. Number one job is to remove your self from as much interaction with your ex as possible. They will not change because of something you say or do, the situation will not be better if you say or do anything. You have already tried that whilst you were with them. Isn’t that why you were able to leave?
The children, whatever parenting arrangement you have be it 50/50 or whatever, you can only help them when they are with you to feel safe having feelings and being heard. They are in this as much as you are. Yes, you are likely to have to do more than your fair share, get used to that! You were before anyway. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it was fair or not, you did the best you possibly could do with the time that you had with them. I had a couple of goes at this.
Firstly, when we first separated, the boys were babies, and I had main care of them, a little easier, but they did have to go and spend time with their dad. I could not control what went on when they were there. So, I had to ensure that the time they were away from me, I was focused on what I needed to do for me, so that I had more energy for them when they came back home.
Second time was when they were 5 & 6 years old and somehow I had got caught again by the lies and deceit that he wanted to be a part of parenting them with his new wife. The real reason was so that he did not have to pay child support, that aside, he had no interest in being a part of their development. He would tell the court that he did but would just stop them from attending whatever extracurricular activity that they had written in a court order as soon as it was signed. I focused on what I could do, and then when it was apparent that the children had to attend those sports/activities in his time (I was paying 100% for everything) I would have to collect them and drop them back home to him. This was so the time wouldn’t change, and he would still have 50% of the nights in his care which was enough to fulfil the child support arrangement.
This went on for 5 years and through that time there were 4 parenting agreements written and about 10 different court applications. This paid off though, because in the end, the children attended and developed in these sports and they now know that they can only do them when in my care, which ended in our being awarded through the court a relocation as well as full time in my care with a clear arrangement about them attending their sports.
Does it matter that it wasn’t fair during this time and even now (he still doesn’t pay child support)?
No, it matters that the children are thriving, that they have had the opportunities for development as well as their self esteem built and a feeling of control over what they can do. They seem to have a clear understanding that their father has no interest in supporting them and will not turn up to an event unless it totally works for him, for example recently whilst asking to collect Oliver and seeing only one of his events as he had to show a boat in Whangarei, so it was easy for him to drop in on the way back to collect him and then take him back to his house. I felt terrible that this was the case when I told my son he couldn’t turn up until later and Oliver just said, “Of course it is like that, there is always another reason, it has nothing to do with me!”
This has no effect on their father’s behaviour though. But what I am trying to convey, is that it does have an effect on Oliver’s. It does not impact his self esteem as this is typical behaviour and he knows it now. He does not need to understand narcissists to know what it feels like that his father does not show up for his son.
Secondly, Parental Alienation. When this is going on, the other parent puts you down and tells lies to the children about you until they believe them and lie for them. This is akin to mental and verbal abuse of the children. How does this look? Well the children believed the lies of my ex and his wife so much that they would write about it and talk about it with the lawyer for the child. Who seemed to have no understanding that this is what was going on.
So how would I know that they had taken on these lies. They would say them to me, as if it were true. I would try and say that it wasn’t and would talk about what was true. But they would still say it. How did I find out more, well when asked to describe who they are or where they were from they would state these things as being highly important. They looked very out of place in a school year book as well as just introductions in their school work to new teachers. It is subtle, but it is powerful. It is also incredibly frustrating as the court does not seem to be able to see it. Although, let’s just say that they lawyers don’t see it, but the judges can. If it is presented clearly.
The other thing is the put downs, in my case, they were very, very clear in these put downs, they were even written into documents that were presented in evidence from the father’s affidavits. I know that the children were horrified to tell me that their father and his wife call me ‘the maggot’ so was I, as I found out once when I called their home and overheard it. Later when the children told me as well. It was probably easier to actually believe this were true as I had overheard it.
One of the things that was truly fascinating is that the children would always talk about what happened and some of the funny/humorous goings on at their father’s house. I would always listen and ask questions politely and smile at their jokes. This is hard to do, but they are not allowed to talk about anything that goes on in our house there as they don’t want to hear it and make a big issue about it. Unless of course when they were drilling the kids for things that they would use in court that were deemed “forbidden”, then they were very interested, the children got wise to this though as they were keen to protect us/me. Refusing to talk to them. Thus, shutting down entirely their communication.
It is important to listen politely to your children about anything that is happening in their lives and work on not being triggered by their happy memories at your ex’s place, it is not about you, they are not trying to hurt you they are just talking about things as they would anything else. So, keep that communication open, as that models’ normal healthy relationships. The children get it, they don’t need to be told what is right and wrong. But they can be listened to in their frustrations and allow them to be real and not always what happens to other children. My children have their grandfather who comes along to their sports and shows support as well as talking to them about it and they also see other fathers attend games with their children. They learn about what they like and what they don’t and which they would rather have happen when they are parents.
So, in summary, notice and diagnose what you might be recovering from be it a relationship with a narcissist only if you are a parent as that is the only reason you are going to have to deal with them going forward. Or if there is parental alienation going on, of which you are not a party to. Ensure that your children have access to your ex (their father) – obviously put boundaries in if it is not safe for them, generally though, a narcissist is only interested in hurting you, they just don’t realise that they hurt the children as well as they do this. What it does do is damage their relationship with the children, but they won’t realise this. You do not have to do anything; they will do this themselves.
It is your job to focus on the children getting the best out of life and to develop strong self esteem and get the help that they need as they grow up in dealing with their own relationships.