In many ways, co-parenting with a narcissist ex can be a far more crippling experience than the experience of the relationship itself. Given that we are now finally apart from this person, the fact that we have to continue to suffer simply because we have a child together is a frustrating dynamic. I speak with people every day who are beside themselves trying to co-parent (in a civil manner) while dealing with the continual narcissistic chaos. I believe there is a way to deal with this and it involves (what I think) is a simple 5-step strategy (coming soon in Part II) that starts first with understanding the following 3-point summary of what the narcissist is doing and why he is doing it.
Okay…so check it out….
1) Narcissists don’t change. This being true, why do we expect that co-parenting with a narcissist is ever going to be easy? We already know that a narcissist can no more love his or her children any more than they can love a partner so there isn’t a reason on this earth why we should expect miracles. It is the narcissist’s job on this planet to make us miserable and co-parenting is the perfect opportunity to continue the legacy. The fact that we become so exasperated at the way the narcissist behaves is mind-boggling. The very fact that you are FREE from this person as a “partner” is the key to your power. Understand this and prepare to stay in control as a co-parent.
2) To a narcissist, co-parenting is all about bullying and intimidation. From the moment you become separated, the intimidation factor – in essence, the fear factor – becomes the weapon of choice for narcs, both male and female. My son’s dad (not the narcissist of my books yet, in so many ways, worse) thrived on making me anxious about everything and I allowed him to do this for years. Whether it was the anxiety of never knowing where my ex was living and thus, where my son would be staying during visitation or the frustration of never being able to make my own plans because of visitation no-shows and last minute cancellations, I was always on the edge of my seat. And circling above me like a dark cloud was always the ever-present and not-so-thinly veiled threat that he would take my son from me forever as punishment for divorcing him. This particular fear paralyzed me, as a mother, from ever standing up for myself but it took one pinnacle experience where I stood my ground for me to realize that the power had been mine all along.
One summer during a weekend visitation, my ex called to tell me that his grandfather had died and that he wanted my son to fly with him to Oregon for the funeral. Because he actually seemed civil – and because this would mean a week or more of extra FREEDOM – I gave the go ahead. They would leave at 11am the next morning so there would be no time to talk again and he would call me from Oregon. I spoke to my son, told him how much I love him, hung up the phone, and called my then-boyfriend to get the party started!
Fast forward to the next morning and there I was sleeping like a baby in my boyfriend’s bed when suddenly I sat straight up. I kid you not, a voice from somewhere, clear as a bell, had whispered in my ear, “he’s not coming back”, waking me right out of a dead sleep. It was so real, the hair on my neck stood straight up. The time was exactly 9:15am and all I knew was that I had to get to that airport fast. Suddenly everything about this Oregon trip felt very wrong and no reassurance from the cute guy lying next to me could change it. I still remember the crazed drive to the airport as I pounded my fists against the steering wheel. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
Mind you, this was before everyone had cell phones so calling my ex was not an option. However, this being 4 years before 9/11, I was able to head straight through security for a boarding gate interception. Thankfully, my ex was late, giving me plenty of time to formulate a plan and calm down but this never happened. It was a quiet Sunday morning at the Tucson airport and the more I thought about my ex’s possible intention, the more anxious I became and the stranger I looked. Slowly but surely I began to draw attention to myself. Within just minutes of my arrival, four cops – three male and one female – appeared from behind and approached me. I became fairly hysterical but still managed to share my kidnapping theory behind the trip. I produced the court paper stating that I had primary physical custody just as my ex came running up the concourse, carrying my son and a briefcase. The plane was now boarding and the fight was on.
Now, just prior to my ex’s arrival, the cops were doing everything to calm me down. For the most part, they were trying to get me to give in, to allow him to go on the trip because he was, after all, my son’s father and perhaps kidnapping was not his intention. Even the female cop appeared to agree, making me cry even harder. How could she not understand? Strangely enough, my ex, although obviously shocked to see me there with the police, seemed to know exactly what was happening because he didn’t ask a single question. Instead, he just dropped to his knees and, true to his dramatic self, started begging me to let him go. It was a very odd scene, leaving the three male cops sympathetically speechless and the terminal as quiet as a church. The female cop, however, after about five minutes of this, had an entirely different take on my ex’s behavior. She turned to me and, out of earshot of the male cops, quietly whispered, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” That’s all I needed to hear. I grabbed my son and refused to let them board.
To make a long story short, the police, after separating us to get both sides of the story, were finally able to convince me to let them catch the next flight, assuring me that, because he was in the military, if he didn’t return, they’d know exactly where to find him. They had gone through his briefcase, getting me the address of his relatives in Oregon and other bits of information (including his elusive local address) and I suddenly felt comfortable. Had kidnapping my son been my ex’s intention? I’ll never know that. What I do know is that, even after the police left the scene, he never tried to convince me otherwise as we sat in awkward silence waiting for the next plane. For the first time since the divorce, I had shown some balls. After he and my son returned from Oregon, my ex never again tried to intimidate me during visitation. His hatred for me remained clear but he knew that when it came to me and my kid, all bets were off.
3) For a narc, co-parenting is never about the kids (so get this through your head). It’s always going to be all about YOU. Narcissists love to pretend that they are just the best parents in the whole wide world even though they were barely parents at all while you were together and even though even now, while pretending, they still can’t make it happen. They go on and on about visitation and how they should have more of it and then they simply don’t show up. They’ll quiz you unmercifully about who you’re dating at the same time that they’re moving a new lover into their apartment. The co-parenting rules that apply to you never apply to them and, even with a court order, they seem to make them up as they go along. Why does this happen? Because co-parenting is all about YOU and has absolutely nothing to do with the children, that’s why.
The children become mere pawns of the game….a tool by which the narcissist can punish you for either daring to get out of the relationship or for daring to survive the fact that he or she got out first. In order to understand why they act the way that they do in a co-parenting situation, you must accept that nothing they do represents undying love for their children. No matter what they say or how much they push the lie, if you know this, you can learn to live with it and actually have a life of your own.
We can’t control the behaviors of these creatures but we can certainly control our reactions to all of it. In this, we have total control.
Stay tuned for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist 1012, Part II. In Part II, I will explain the no-brainer 5-step strategy for dealing with the narcissistic co-parent that will absolutely set you free.