A divorce is likely to amplify some of your spouse’s narcissistic tendencies. The only thing more challenging than a divorce from a narcissistic spouse is helping your children through having a narcissistic parent. Since narcissism can present itself in varied ways, managing co-parenting and navigating your children through the difficult territory, is a complicated and challenging scenario.
Narcissistic parents lack empathy, are entitled, arrogant, validation-seeking, grandiose, egocentric, and can be quite rageful. They often disregard other people’s needs and concerns, including their children’s, because they believe their needs and feelings are the most important. Whether it’s inconsistency, criticism, control, manipulation, or gaslighting— children in these situations often struggle with tremendous anxiety. Through this chaotic time, protecting their calm and giving them a sense of security, is going to fall on you. That means managing your anger and attempting to control your emotions in front of them. They already have one angry parent – don’t make them have two.
What are you able to do? Divorcing a narcissist will be difficult for you but can be even more difficult for your child. Using these tips can help you make the process easier for them.
- Don’t fall into the narcissistic parent’s trap. Their goal will always be to get an emotional reaction from you. They love to play the “victim” while painting you out to be the bad parent. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, stay focused on what is in your child’s best interest.
- You mustn’t speak poorly of the narcissistic parent to the child. Read that sentence again. You will agonize and wish you could just spell it out, to your child but you can’t! Sadly, no matter how poorly children are treated by their parents, they often maintain a fierce loyalty to them until they can have their process as adults and come to these conclusions on their own. There is no pushing fast-forward on this and let me stress the importance of not trying to do so for them. If you should disparage their parent, this will only backfire on you in your future relationship with them as adults. By doing so, you may confuse your child who may still view their parent as a parent and have some good moments with them as you once did.
- Give Your Children Validation. Narcissists are exceptionally good at making you feel like your feelings aren’t valid. This can be especially damaging to children. Without disparaging the narcissistic parent, let your children know you see and hear them, and that their feelings are valid. Getting that support from you can help them better deal with invalidation from the narcissistic parent. If they want to discuss a scenario they had with their parent, always remind them they can discuss it with you, it’s a “safe space.” Offering them validation and empathy is very important as you reassure them that none of this is their fault!
- Have empathy in YOUR household. Being present and providing a “safe” space for your children to have conversations is crucial to their well-being. When your child talks about their narcissistic parent, offer empathy and support. Choose age-appropriate books, movies, and discussions regarding emotions, feelings, etc. Teach your children how to express how they are feeling. For example, reading a book to your young child followed by asking them how they think the characters were feeling. Another great way to build a child’s or teenager’s feelings vocabulary is to use GROK cards. This is a fantastic way to do this while playing a card game.
- Practice consistency with stability and structure. Narcissistic parents and their households are notoriously inconsistent. One day they are the “fun Disneyland parents,” and the next they are running their home like a drill sergeant. That may put you in a difficult position of being the buzzkill parent having to deal with homework, school routines, and bedtimes. Despite the complaints, children welcome and need routine. They may gripe, but it is reassuring to have at least one parent maintain that routine. It will foster a sense of safety and self-regulation in your child.
- Consider therapy for your child. Narcissistic parents are notorious for being difficult. With that said, they are also very concerned with how they are viewed. Be prepared for them not to view therapy for your child as necessary and most likely impede on your ability to get your child into therapy, since they will be concerned about what will be said about them. It will be crucial for your child to learn tools to manage their anxiety, anger, guilt, and other negative feelings.
- Document your co-parent’s misconduct and enforce court orders. Whether you witness the abuse, or your child informs you, documenting every incident is crucial for action to be taken by the courts or authorities. If you are represented by a lawyer with experience in narcissist divorce, they likely would have ensured court orders contained provisions that help mitigate abuse of the children by the narcissist parent. Here are a few examples of what that may include:
- Counseling for the child or even therapeutic visits where the child and narcissist parent meet with a therapist together to help repair the relationship.
- Non-disparagement clauses prevent parents from disparaging the other to the child. This can even include preventing the narcissistic parent from disparaging the child.
- Clauses that prohibit certain types of discipline including corporal punishment. In some cases, supervised visits may be required.
Children of narcissists are negatively affected in many ways. Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) can have detrimental long-term effects. This is why I stress to my clients the importance of being a parent who supports their children while providing stability, calm, unconditional love, and assurance.
The Divorce Coach for Men