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10 Signs That Your Ex is a Toxic Parent

by | Oct 11, 2021 | 19 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

You’ve broken up with your partner, and there is a child involved.

In a lot of (happy) situations, the initial feelings of bitterness and anger tend to dissipate as both parents, and their child, settle into the new family situation.

However, there is a special breed of ex that will fight to ensure this happy ending will never happen.

They will hold you in contempt for ruining their life by leaving the relationship and doing everything they can to make each step of the separation difficult and painful.

I’m talking, of course, about toxic exes.

While it may not be quite apparent that you’re dealing with a toxic baby daddy or toxic baby mama, you know you are being treated in an unfair and abusive manner.

Even if you know your ex is toxic, you may be inclined to believe that they are only treating you horribly.

I mean, how could they possibly mistreat their child?

They can and they will. I’m not saying that all toxic people are physically abusive and complete garbage parents to their children – but they are often not wired to parent in healthy ways.

In order to become more aware of whether or not your ex’s toxicity is affecting your child, here are some signs your ex is a toxic parent:

Signs of a Toxic Parent

1. They Use Their Child to Seek Ego-Boosting Attention

Toxic people often live by portraying a superficial image. They publicly display material possessions, their physical appearance, their job, and even their child in order to advertise how “awesome” they are.

Their child is seen as a trophy, and they use them in public and through social media to gain attention. When someone compliments the child, the toxic parent internalizes this as praise toward them.

2. It Is Always About Them

Most toxic people are self-absorbed and are only interested in their own thoughts and feelings. Everyone around them is irrelevant.

They don’t listen to their child’s feelings or necessarily care about them. How they make others feel does not register as important to them.

They may lie about illnesses or over-dramatize their experiences in order to gain attention and pity.

3. They Put Their Children Down

Toxic parents will often put their children down in order to raise themselves up. They lower their child’s confidence through insults in order to boost their own self-worth and maintain feelings of superiority.

Oftentimes, they will feel threatened by their child’s success and marginalize those successes through criticism and nitpicking. They will reject their child’s accomplishments.

They will also invalidate their child’s positive attitudes and emotions in order to make themselves feel better.

4. They Try to Live Through Their Child

Many toxic parents will try to live vicariously through their children and set expectations of their children in order to fulfill their own needs and dreams.

They raise their child to become an extension of their own personal wishes.

They will push their child, through high demands and pressure, in a direction that the child may not want to go in, such as specific activities they enjoy or once enjoyed.

When a toxic parent pushes their child into their own interests, they are not encouraging them to develop their own personality, dreams, and wishes.

And if they don’t abide by their parent’s wishes, or they do not perform to their standards, they are often punished or degraded.

5. They Lack Empathy

Many toxic parents completely lack empathy because they only care about their own thoughts and feelings. They are unable to understand why other people feel or think the way they do.

In fact, they don’t even try to understand how their child is feeling and will invalidate their child’s feelings.

Instead of comforting an upset child, for example, they will question the emotion:

“Why are you crying?”

They can’t wrap their heads around why their child would be upset – unless something blatantly injurious happened, like a cut or a scrape. Otherwise, they can’t put themselves in their child’s situation to understand where the feelings are coming from.

6. They Have Dependency and Co-Dependency Issues

Toxic people often have dependency issues when they expect their child to take care of them, even if the child is young and their other parent is in perfect health.

They may manipulate and guilt their child into prioritizing their needs, such as expecting their child to forego a social life in order to take care of them.

Co-dependency issues occur when the toxic parent tried to make their child remain dependent on them. They may do this by enabling the child’s underachievements, irresponsibility, or addiction.

They discourage independence in order to maintain control over their child.

7. They Are Inflexible and Unstable

Toxic parents can easily switch from giving positive attention to being angry and abusive.

Most of the time, these behaviors are unpredictable. However, they are unlikely to change their behaviors because of their desire to control others.

They are rigid when it comes to how they expect their child to act and can be easily triggered. Yet, their reasons for being irritated are varied and unpredictable as well.

8. They Use Guilt to Manipulate Their Child

Nobody likes to feel guilty, but toxic people are usually adept at using guilt to manipulate their children while at the same time deflecting their own guilty feelings.

They will emphasize every single thing they do for their child and accuse the child of being ungrateful and do this in order to validate their own self-worth.

They also use their child as a scapegoat and blame the child for their own shortcomings. Instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes, they push the blame on their child.

Toxic parents may also use guilt and blaming to get what they want out of their child – whether that is dependency or to push their child toward their own dreams, as mentioned above.

9. They Are Neglectful

While some toxic parents smother their children with (negative) attention, some are so self-absorbed that they completely ignore the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of their children.

To a toxic parent, everyone else is usually unimportant, and they focus primarily on themselves.

This is because their own self-interests are more exciting than dealing with their child.

This often leads toxic parents to only associate with their child if it serves a purpose, such as gaining attention and praise.

10. They Construct a False Self and a False Life

Toxic parents often pretend to the world that they are the perfect parent and use image and pretense to elicit envy from others.

In this case, they present their child as an object, not a human being. It’s never “My child is awesome!” – it’s usually “Look at what I’ve created.”

They show off their child as an extension of themselves and take all the credit for how their child has turned out.

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Signs of a Toxic Parent: My Ex Ticks The Boxes, So What Do I Do?

Give your child what they will never receive from their toxic parent.

The best you can do is model for them love, safety, and stability. By constantly filling in the holes left by their other parent, you can show them what an appropriate parent-child relationship is supposed to be.

Depending on your child’s age, it is difficult to explain to them exactly why their other parent acts the way they do.

It’s going to be hard, I know. There are days when you’ll want to lay it out for your little one and tell them what a garbage human their other parent is.

This will do your child no favors. Instead, offer a contrasting environment to the one they are experiencing with their other parent.

If you feel that your ex’s parenting is detrimental to your child, you can always have them assessed by a mental health professional.

In very extreme situations where abuse is suspected, you can involve your local child protection agency as well as the courts.

Do you deal with a toxic ex? How is it affecting your children? Feel free to share your stories in the comments below:

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Let’s create a supportive community and navigate the complexities of co-parenting with strength and resilience!


  1. Avatar

    I can only imagine how hard it must be to have a partner that isn’t supportive and does things like put their kids down!

    • Chelsy

      I was fortunate enough to know what kind of, ahem, “individual” my ex was when I left him during the pregnancy. I never expected any kind of support from him.

      Unfortunately, there are some mothers that don’t realize what they’re dealing with until later on. My heart is with them. <3

    • Avatar

      The hardest part is definitely having to fill in for there narcissistic father that has no interest in our twins life and like it says I can’t explain to my 5 year old twins hey your dad acts like you don’t exist because he’s a narcissist, it’s actually starting to affect my son who thought he was gonna have a dad to do things with and now that he’s 5 he sees mommy and sister do a lot why doesn’t t dad love me enough to do the same, when it’s not him it’s his self absorbed, adderall stealing, which lead to him giving me a black eye, and sadly I can’t go i and on he’s a nightmare and I’m living in it! I want out

      • Avatar

        When my twin boys (now 11) were at that age; is about same time I left their dad, and when they began to understand and know they had a dad, he wasn’t really around much at all when we were married. And at that age they had some of those same feelings like they thought they would have a good dad but.. and like you at that age there wasn’t much I could say (and didn’t know really what to say cause I never thought in a million years I would hear the things I did..) Kids even at that young age will surprise you.. just listen to them, validate feelings, and love them unconditionally.. I know you have probably already been through so much, but you can do this and get through it. You will find you are so much stronger than you ever imagined. sometimes it takes thinking with your head not your heart.. keep your head up.. held high.. and your feet planted firmly on the ground. Prayers going out to you.. keep your head up you got this.

  2. Avatar

    This is scary thought, but important information to have about traits or signs of a narcissistic parent. It could be helpful to protecting a child from damaging life experiences.

    • Chelsy

      Absolutely! Like I mentioned in another reply, some mothers don’t even know they are dealing with a narcissist – whether they are still together or not.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

      • Avatar

        My ex husband is all the above. This past weekend he was like a caged animal at our 14 year old daughter to the point she peed on herself as he called her a little b**** and was yelling and demanding respect from her

        • Chelsy

          That is terrible 🙁 Your poor daughter…Is she at the age where she can choose whether or not she wants anything to do with her father? If she doesn’t, even if he takes it to court, incidences like that should work in her favor.

      • Avatar

        My ex is a Terrible narcissist, she gaslighted me into believing I was abusive has gaslighted my son to believe the same, it is the worst hell a parent can endure short of the death of a child.

        My advice is to NOT get a parental psyche evaluation. The narcissist will take to that challenge with the same lying and manipulative behavior they do their other adult food sources. The psyche evaluation is why my ex has any legal custody at all. She fleeced the evaluator and wove such a delicate tale of woe that it destroyed all of the other evidence I had gathered for my custody case and in NC the default is 50/50.

        • Chelsy

          I 100% agree! My lawyer did suggest it at one point but warned that if he passed it, it would be a waste of money and make him look better in court. We decided to let his actions and attitudes speak for themselves in front of a judge.

          I’m sorry to hear you are going through all of this – but thanks for the invaluable advice.

  3. Avatar

    Your points are really valid. We really need
    To be mindful of how our children are being treated.

    • Chelsy

      Yes! It could make all the difference in their lives if we notice how they are being treated and act accordingly.

  4. Avatar

    This is all great information! It’s hard living with a narcissist or trying to co-parent with one. Thank you for this post. It’s such beneficial information and I hope it helps many many others.

    • Chelsy

      Thank you so much for your comment! I hope it helps many many many mothers out there!

  5. Avatar

    My husbands father was literally all of the above. But it has made my husband such a great parent to model his behavior by doing the opposite!

    • Chelsy

      I know someone who was raised by a narcissist and he is the sweetest and most sensitive guy I’ve met – he also had an amazing mom by his side. With that extra love and care, kids can definitely come out the other side as wonderful individuals and parents. <3

  6. Avatar

    My husbands Ex is showing some disturbing narcissistic tendencies in her parenting style. They share 2 teenagers and they are the typical golden child / scapegoat. Their mother is pushing and manipulating the oldest, a girl, to be a version of herself and has extremely high expectations of her and both me and my husband can sense that she is stressed and dealing with low self-worth. The boy on the other hand is belittled and shamed all the time. He is so sensitive and fragile and it hurts so bad to hear what his mother is saying to him. She even gets her own father (the granddad) to be after him also on her demand. As hard as it can sometimes be to be a stepmother, then it’s even worse in this situation. All I can do is support my husband in being the loving and caring father that he is, but I feel so bad for them and I don’t really dare to say anything because I’m afraid it will turn them against me if she gets the knowledge of my interference. But for many years I wasn’t aware of what the problem was and now that I am pretty sure she is borderline NPD it’s easier to understand some of the truly crazy stuff she has put my husband and their kids through, and why he is always taking the minimal contact and no conflict communication style with her.

  7. Avatar

    My husband’s ex is a narcissist and manipulative, and they have two boys together. It’s hard for the boys and getting them to sports because their mom has a new boyfriend and thinks it’s more important for them to spend time “as a family” with him than it is to get the boys to practices and such. And the boys get really frustrated because they WANT to go to practices and games and such. Thank you for the given information. We make sure to get them to and from practices and show them that they are loved and what a “normal” relationship looks like.



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