Decorative title image. Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist Will Make Your Life Better

Are you struggling to co-parent with a narcissist? Parallel parenting with a narcissist may make your life better. There are many elements to parallel parenting; the parenting plan, communication, meeting safely, and setting strong boundaries. Parallel parenting can change the toxic dynamic and protect you from further emotional abuse from the narcissist.

Peaceful parallel parenting is better for the children than chaotic co-parenting. If you are facing power struggles, abusive communication, and counter-parenting I think parallel parenting will help you improve your situation.

Successful Co-Parenting May Never Be An Option

Even with the best-laid plans your co-parent may still go by their own set of rules for parenting your children which can cause havoc for your household.

Co-parenting with a difficult person may be especially frustrating in the beginning. They will try to push your boundaries, cause chaos at custody exchanges, and refuse to agree on things like medical care or counseling for the children.

Narcissists undermine your authority as a parent while you are still in a relationship with them. After the breakup, their behavior will become even worse. This can cause your children to doubt your ability to lead and care for them.

The sad truth is you may never be able to co-parent peacefully with a narcissist.

Power Struggles

Sometimes the only way to end power struggles with someone else is by laying down your end of the rope.

Your co-parent will provoke you to attempt to control your emotional reactions to them and the situations they engineer. If there is no reaction there is nothing to control. This is an ever-evolving skill which you will improve over time.

When you can let go of what is going on during the narcissist’s parenting time you will find more peace.

Of course, I am not suggesting that you let go of safety concerns but there are many things like keeping the children on a similar schedule or having the same rules for each home that you can let go of.

Even if you and your co-parent have set rules for the children to follow in both homes it is unlikely that the other parent is carrying them out.

When you let go of expectations for your co-parent and focus on making the best life you can for yourself and your children you rob the narcissist of the supply they crave and keep that energy for yourself.

Check out this article from Psychology Today to learn whether co-parenting or parallel parenting will work better for you.


 “A narcissist will never co-parent with you. They will counter-parent. They don’t care about the emotional damage that the constant drama inflicts upon the children as long as it causes emotional drama to you.” – A. Price

Counter-parenting is common for those co-parenting with a person who has narcissistic personality disorder. Counter-parenting is one of many tactics the narcissist uses to maintain control over you after divorce or separation.

Counter-parenting examples: letting the kids stay up all night so they come back exhausted and have trouble getting up for school. Not providing adequate clothing at their house, refusing to return items to your home, or allowing the kids to do things you both agreed they shouldn’t do.

They will expose your children to people who have previously been off limits, allow dangerous activities, and spoil or over-punish them.

They may use anything that goes against how you parented and ran your home while you were together to counter-parent.

Your co-parent operates from narcissistic traits that make communication difficult. Abusive texts and phone calls make you wonder about the effect this is having on your mental health. This behavior is common after a high-conflict divorce.

You may have gone back to family court to change the custody agreement. Even with a new parenting agreement in hand co-parenting can still be impossible. Parallel parenting may be the answer you are looking for.

Photograph of little girl looking through a heart she is making with her hands.

Parallel Parenting with a Narcissist

What is parallel parenting? Parallel parenting is a method of co-parenting in which each parent has their own set of rules for their home. Each parent raises the children the way they want to without interference from the other parent.

You have gone separate ways and the narcissistic seems to have become another person altogether. They now parent the children in a way that is very different from your previous shared home.

Parallel parenting helps you let go of expectations that the other parent will try to cooperate with you to make a consistent environment for the children in their separate homes.

To make this work you will have to adopt a new philosophy of parenting with someone who does not want to parent with you.

Your home is your home and not to be influenced by the other parent in any way. Most of this change starts with you.

You will teach the children that each home is separate with different rules, parenting styles, etc.

There are clear boundaries around your home and your time with the children when you are following parallel parenting. You keep the influence of the other parent out of your home and parenting time.

You will discipline the children for things they did on your time while they are with you. You will not involve the other parent in discipline matters.

You are truly a single parent without backup from the other parent. The sooner you start to live that way the sooner you will be able to embrace and enjoy and fully live your new life.

When you parallel parent you stay out of the other parent’s business and expect the same from them. You build a happy bubble of peace around your home and family that keeps the influence of the other parent away.

You may start new traditions and let go of the things that no longer serve you as a single parent. You embrace your new start in life and live your life well without checking out the grass on the other side of the fence.

Following the Parenting Schedule

If you have previously been flexible with following the court order and the other parent has taken advantage or doesn’t reciprocate it may be time for a reset. You can begin following the order as written.

This will diminish any arguments about extra time, etc. Your answer to requested deviations can simply be, I will follow the parenting plan, thanks.

Diffusing the situation in this way can help both sides calm down and find a more peaceful middle ground. After some time you may want to be more flexible. Always know you can go back to following the plan as written if arguments begin again. After all the best way to deal with a narcissist is not to.

When you choose to follow the plan this also protects the children from being used as messengers to make you change things. You just let them know there is a parenting plan given to you by the court or judge that you have to follow. The narcissist will still try to use the children but eventually, your children will begin to understand what is going on and no longer expect you to do whatever the other parent wants.

Protect Your Mental Health

You have to consider your own needs when you are setting up your new life as a single parent. The stress of difficult communication steals parenting time from your children. You have to guard your home from the influence of the other parent especially if it is stealing your peace.

Protecting your mental health helps you provide an emotionally safe home for your children. They are watching you grow and heal and will model your new behavior.

Photograph of children lying on the floor in a circle.

Build Your Support System

Connecting with others who are going through a similar situation will keep you from feeling isolated and alone in your struggle to parent with a person high on the narcissistic personality scale.

Look for support groups in your area. Any group with single parents may help you find others who are struggling to make co-parenting with a difficult person work. Hearing about how other members are surviving and finding ways to navigate difficulty will help you have more confidence.

There are Facebook groups that you can join to help you find a sense of community. It is nice to have a group where you can get answers to your specific problems.

Developing Healthy Habits After a Toxic Relationship is important for your recovery.

What Is in the Best Interest of the Child

Help your children heal from the divorce by establishing clear and easy-to-understand values, boundaries, and rules. They need to feel safe by knowing what to expect.

Give them a home where they can live in peace, express themselves, and feel loved.

You want to diminish the negative impact an unhealthy parent and living situation can have on them through what you can control; your parenting and environment.

Having a schedule you follow helps the children feel safe and secure. They need the comfort of knowing what to expect each day to feel grounded and at home in their environment with you. This is more important for the youngest children and can be relaxed as the children grow older.

Teach Your Children to Take Care of Their Own Needs at the Narcissistic Parent’s House

You will have to teach your children how to take good care of themselves in your home so they can stay healthy and safe at their other parent’s house.

Teach them right and wrong, good touch bad touch, and how and when to advocate for themselves.

Now that you aren’t around to be a buffer for them they will have to learn how to stay out of trouble with the other parent. Support them in going along to get along to stay safe.

Encourage them to stick to healthy routines. If they don’t have a set bedtime at the other home and come home tired and grumpy use that as a teaching moment. They will learn that it may be fun to stay up all night but that they don’t enjoy being grouchy the next day. They can choose to go to bed earlier next time.

Children in this type of situation may be forced to grow up sooner than usual. You can make sure they are well cared for in your home to balance things out as much as possible.

Photograph of a mother and son making a heart with their hands.

One Good Parent

Set aside the pressure to be a perfect parent. Knowing you love them unconditionally is more important to your children than perfection.

When the children complain about the other parent and home listen and empathize. They just need to share their frustrations. You don’t have to solve the problems at the other house.

To make going back and forth easier you can have them take comfort items, clothes they need or are comfortable wearing with them. You can give them extra clothing to keep at the other parent’s house if it won’t cause a problem for any of you.

You can have them take a photo of you with them or some other item to remind them of you if they need it.

If your children aren’t allowed to bring things with them you can come up with creative ways to help them feel connected to you.

You can use temporary tattoos so they have a reminder of you. There are “tattoo” pens you can buy so you can write a message or draw a picture on their skin that they can look at. It’s fun for them to put a tattoo on you also. Little ones want the reassurance that you are thinking of them when they are gone.

Use a wall calendar to mark the times they are with you and when they are with the other parent. If your child has a planner for school you can mark the days in their planner also. This works well for younger kids who may have to get off at a different bus stop for each home.

Being emotionally regulated helps you stay present for your children. EF Bomb Coach explains, The Role of Mindfulness in Emotional Regulation

Clear Boundaries for Communication

Setting boundaries around how you communicate with your co-parent is essential. Boundaries help you respond instead of react. They also show the other parent that you won’t be pushed around by them. Strong guidelines can bring more peace to the process of communicating about the children and their needs.

You set the boundaries for yourself and how you will communicate. You don’t have to send a list of your new boundaries to the other parent. You just start living by them.

You may have to let the other parent know that you will no longer take phone calls and will now email about anything other than last-minute notices for pickup and dropoff if you choose to use those boundaries.

Every situation is unique. Choose the boundaries you need and leave the rest.

Good boundaries to Set Include:

Use a specific email address for the co-parent and limit how often you check it. I suggest once or twice a week.

Only use text messages for last-minute changes to pickup and dropoff.

No phone calls

No in-person meetings unless they are planned ahead of time, you are in a safe place, and you have a specific topic to stick to. You also need to know that you can and will walk out if you are no longer safe.

Once you set strong boundaries for yourself expect to receive pushback from the other parent. Just stick to your new way of communicating and they will realize that if they want to be in contact they have to do so in a non-abusive way.

Co-Parenting App

You can choose to use a co-parenting app for all communications. The other co-parent will have to agree to this unless you have it written into your parenting plan.

A co-parenting app can be expensive to use. They range from free to monitored by professionals.

The communications within the app can be used in court and are good for documentation. Most apps also include a calendar and a way to track shared expenses.

Phone Calls with the Children

You may or may not want to call the children while they are with the other parent. In some situations, it can cause more problems with the co-parent especially if the children are young or don’t have their own phones.

You can have set times and guidelines for phone calls written into your parenting plan. Be aware that the other parent may not follow them even with a court order.

When the other parent calls your home to talk to the children it’s important to set limits with where the children may talk and if they can use speakerphone or a video call. You need to know your triggers and set up calls in a way that you don’t have to hear or see the other parent if that disturbs your peace.

Phone Calls from Your Co-Parent

You don’t have to accept phone calls from the other parent. You can request all communication be done via email.

If they call you anyway let it go to voicemail. If it is an emergency you will know from their message and can take appropriate action.

If you do allow phone calls you may want to record them so that you have documentation of any agreements made. You can follow up via email to confirm your agreement in writing. This keeps confusion to a minimum and is helpful for both parties and the children.

Text Messages

Receiving texts from someone who was abusive to you can make you dread text notifications. You can change the way you communicate to make the situation better for you.

You can let the other parent know you will no longer text about anything that needs to be agreed on for the children’s medical care, school, etc. Communicating only via email can slow response time and give both parties time to think before hitting reply.

Your main goal with parallel parenting and how you communicate is to increase your peace and allow yourself to heal.

Once things calm down you may be able to loosen your boundaries around text messages.


Your co-parent may be fond of sending you long emails full of false accusations to try to get you to react to them. You don’t have to play along.

If you let them know often enough that you will only stick to the main subject they may slowly change their behavior. Some days it will be very difficult not to take what they say to heart. Just remember most of their personal attacks are projections of their behavior and not true about you.

Use email to document any agreements you need to make with the other parent, give notice of appointments for the children, and anything else you are legally required to let them know. Keep your emotions and personal information safe from the narcissist. You are all business now with a hello, good morning, and have a great day thrown in to show you are in no way trying to carry on whatever the narcissist initiates.

Sometimes the best response is no response when you are dealing with a narcissist.

Tina Swithin of One Mom’s Battle has excellent information on Implementing Yellow Rock Communication When Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Photograph of a father and his baby daughter.

Firm Boundaries for Custody Exchanges

When we protect ourselves we protect our children. What happens in front of the children can hurt them emotionally and psychologically. If the other parent becomes angry or violent while the children are present they are in danger of being hurt also.

It is best to meet in a public place that has security cameras and a quick emergency response time. Also, if the meeting place, such as a big box store has a security team that can be helpful as well. Sadly, you never know when or if any of those things will be necessary but safer is better for everyone involved.

If you have experienced personal attacks during custody exchanges you will need to set clear boundaries for how you meet. If your kids are older you can just wait in the car while they go from one car to the other.

If you fear for your physical safety you can wait inside a public and busy place for your kids to come to you. You will have to arrive well before the agreed-upon time and have a backup plan in case the other parent is there before you.

Police stations/custody exchange centers are also an option but may have to be written into the parenting agreement for the narcissistic co-parent to comply.

Professional Help

Sometimes nothing you do seems to work. You may have to get professional help to make your situation better.

You can return to family court or go through mediation to change the parenting plan to one that is easier for both parents to follow. Maybe you need to include guidelines about communication or a better plan for custody exchanges to keep everyone safe.

Co-parenting counseling may be helpful in some cases. Only try this if you are sure you will be physically safe. Ask that the counselor has clear rules for communication that everyone has to follow. Know your boundaries and be ready to walk out if the session becomes unsafe for you.

Your children may need counseling to help them after the separation of the family. Any child of a narcissist can benefit from counseling especially if they are taught how to set boundaries and communicate safely with their parents.

Counseling and/or coaching may be helpful for you too. When someone can help you view your situation from a broader lens you will gain new insights which will change your life. They can help you set boundaries and make goals for yourself, your future, and your children.

Best Thing for Your Future

Co-parenting with a difficult former partner can be incredibly stressful, damaging to you and the children, and even impossible. Parallel parenting with a narcissist may be what solves many of your problems.

Remember, you deserve to live in freedom and peace.

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