Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

narcissistI recently saw a meme that triggered me, and if I wasn’t divorced and sharing custody of my kids, I would have totally related to it and laughed and moved on. But, I am divorced and sharing custody of my kids. Let me first say that I am not offended easily, but this meme hit me because while I could see its humor, I live on the other side of it.

In short, the meme was a mom who said something like, “I wish I wasn’t in a happy, healthy marriage, so I only had to deal with my kids every other weekend.” At first, I laughed because I get it — what mom doesn’t need (and deserve!) a break? Then I read it again. I wasn’t in a happy and healthy marriage, so I made the decision to leave. I made the decision to break apart my family. And I live with that guilt every day. I would give anything to have my boys home with me all the time, but that’s not the reality of a “broken home.”

I could go into all the details about why sharing kids sucks. But I want to address why this meme triggered me. If you’re the mom who laughed at something like this, please, laugh louder! I’m not saying you’re wrong for feeling this way; I get it… I did, too, once upon a time. But, for the moms who do have to share custody: I see you. Trying to co-parent in the healthiest of relationships is hard, but trying to co-parent with a man who resents you so much because you finally saw through his lies and deception is 1000x harder.

Co-parenting with a narcissist is not for the faint of heart. Let’s face it — if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, you’ve already survived being in a relationship with one, so how hard can it really be? The answer: HARD!

I’ll be the first to admit that the label “narcissist” is overused and most of the time misrepresented. But, for those of us who have truly experienced it, it’s the most “Ah-ha!” moment when the cause of your trauma is defined. But, despite this reckoning, I still blame myself for everything and still allow his manipulating and gaslighting skills to bring me down and make me question my every decision and my own self-worth.

When I was married to him for 14 years, I was able to change the narrative to make everyone else happy. To keep the peace. To make him look like the man I thought I married. But now we are divorced with two kids, and my focus has shifted from protecting him to protecting my kids and myself.

I could seriously write a book, but since this is a blog, let me give the CliffsNotes about how hard it is to co-parent with a narcissist who constantly manipulates your kids through the things he says. Here are a few examples of the things he has texted our 12-year-old son:

  • “Always reaching out to your mom and constantly praying that we can all come back together, I really truly mean that. I love all of you guys more than you know.” –A text he sent while he was dating another woman, after our divorce was finalized.
  • “I really wish we could watch the game together. I will continue to ask your mom if she would allow us to spend some extra weekends together, especially when we get in the home.” –A text he sent when he couldn’t commit to keeping them on a specific schedule but wanted to make me look like the “bad guy” who was controlling the schedule.
  • “I hate having to drop you off. I get pissed not being able to spend more time with you.” –Honestly, this one triggered me so much when I re-read it that I just kept scrolling, so I have no idea what the context was… but you get it.
  • “You are allowed very little time with me. I do not want that time spent being punished suffering consequences for bad attitude and poor behavior.” –A text after our son had a bad day at school, and we got an email about it.

That is just the tip of the iceberg and does not include the 10-page emails I still get about everything I’ve done wrong and what an amazing father he is. This blog could go on forever, but the reason I’m writing it — outside of my own selfish reason for having a safe space to vent and self-reflect — is because I know I am not alone. I know I am not the only one who didn’t think I was good enough for anyone else and fell for the love bombing, which then spiraled out of control. So, if you are that other mom, here are a few things I have learned, or in some cases, am still figuring out but at least have started to recognize:

1. You’re not the villain. Let him tell that story, but DON’T BELIEVE IT. I believe(d) it and still blame myself for everything even though in my heart of hearts I know I did what was right. This month will be three years since I left, and there are still days that I think staying would have been easier… but most days I know that’s not true, and those are the days that count.

2. You are making the best decisions on behalf of your kid(s). The narcissist will convince you that you’ve made the wrong decision because it doesn’t fit his agenda. Just know that if you’ve put your kid(s) first, then you’ve made the best decision.

3. Stop worrying about what others think. This one is hard for me. The narcissist will paint a picture of you, but that picture is actually a self-portrait of himself. If this is a portrait he paints to his friends and family, then let them believe it… who cares! If this is the portrait he paints for your kids, then just keep showing up consistently. You are their safe place.

4. You control your happiness. I still haven’t quite figured this one out, but I’m trying. I still take the maximum dose of depression medicine to function (sometimes tied in with anti-anxiety medicine when it gets really bad), but there are more moments now that I see the sun shining through the clouds and realize I create my happy. I can continue to let him control me and not get out of bed for days, or I can say, “Screw you,” and just do me. Do.  You.

5. Last, but definitely not least, don’t be afraid to trust again. I say this cautiously because it is way easier to say it than to actually do it. I met a lot of good guys in my post-divorce dating life (that is a whole different blog), but they were just good in that moment of my life. Then I met a man whose actions actually speak louder than his words. On one of our first dates, I literally let out a sigh of relief when he walked up to me after I had a rough day at the office. He calms me. He loves me for who I am, all my faults included (and he has seen all of them). He is an amazing father to his kids and is just as good to my kids. As a divorced 42-year-old mom with two kids, all of this means more than anything. I still can’t comprehend why he has stayed and am waiting for the giant red flag that he has to have hidden somewhere to come out, but after a year, I see nothing but white flags. I have surrendered my emotional baggage to him, and he hasn’t run. He has seen the chaos that is me and my kids, and he hasn’t run. He has listened to me vent and cry time after time when I get an email from my ex-husband, and he hasn’t run. He has met my huge Irish Catholic family, and he hasn’t run. I don’t know that I will ever fully believe that he doesn’t have his running shoes packed at all times, but for now, I am going believe that I am actually enough.

And so should you.


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