Do you struggle to deal with a narcissistic ex?
I know your pain. Before my daughter was born, I had been harassed and threatened by my ex to the point where I developed anxiety issues.
Luckily, I learned the trick to co-parenting with him (which isn’t really co-parenting at all) and stopped responding to his ridiculous accusations.
Eventually, things calmed down to a point where dealing with him is now manageable.
However, even though I’ve figured out how to deal with him, my daughter is beginning to navigate the confusion of why her father acts the way he does and says the things he does.
Supporting your child when their other parent is a narcissist can be a slippery slope. You want to encourage their relationship but you don’t want to give your child false hope that their other parent genuinely loves them.
You also don’t want to put the other parent down or express your anger about them. Your child is going to associate their identity with both parents, even if one of them sucks.
So how do you go about talking to your child about their narcissistic parent?
Here are some tips you can use to find a balance between helping your child understand their other parent and allowing your child to love them anyway:
First Things First: Is Your Ex a Narcissist?
So many times I’ve seen people throw this term at others who are simply just rude, inconsiderate individuals.
Narcissism is so much more than that. It’s actually a complex psychological disorder.
They aren’t jerks for the sake of being jerks. Narcissists have a fervid compulsion to gain control and attention from everyone around them.
This need is so great that they will manipulate, lie and abuse just to get it. They don’t care who they hurt along the way.
Everything a narcissist does is to serve their own self-interest at the expense of other people. They possess virtually no empathy and can be incapable of feeling or expressing love.
But don’t let that fool you, because they can play the part to get what they want by being loving, charming, and attention-giving.
When it comes to children, they treat them like trophies, flood them with gifts and attention and then expect them to bow to their every whim. The narcissist will try to live vicariously through their children and place high demands and expectations on them.
To get an idea of what signs to look for, especially when it comes to how narcissists treat their children, check out my post here.
Explaining Narcissism to a Child
I suppose you can use these tips whether your ex is a narcissist or an ass-hat.
The difference is, however, that an ass-hat could very well change their ways. A narcissist likely never will.
So you have to be prepared for the long haul when it comes to helping your little one deal with their narcissistic parent because, unfortunately, it’s probably never going to get better.
But as your child ages and comes to their own understanding of what is going on, they will begin to make their own choices for dealing with that parent.
Before I get into the tips I want to give you an example. My daughter video chats with her father once a week (he lives out of province) and knows when to change the topic if he’s badgering her about something or asking her questions she doesn’t like.
Prior to this, she would leave the conversation and come to me in fear and confusion, unsure of what to say or do.
So, like anything when it comes to dealing with a narcissist, it does get easier over time. It’ll never be perfect, but it can be easier.
1. Be Honest
There’s a fine line between being honest and being brutally honest. When it comes to talking to your kids about their narcissistic parent, it’s important not to be brutally honest.
You don’t want to share every gory detail of the train wreck that was your relationship.
When it comes to honesty, you simply need to be frank and matter-of-fact about the reality of their relationship with their other parent.
This means not sugar-coating the situation and pretending that everything is normal.
When your child is upset about something their narcissistic parent said or did, don’t try to sweep it under the rug with, “Oh, your mother/father still loves you.”
Listen to their concerns, validate their emotions, and explain that their other parent is different and doesn’t understand how what he or she does hurts other people.
If your child begins to question the behaviors of their other parent, answer them honestly and age-appropriately.
I wouldn’t tell my young daughter that her father is a narcissist, but I do explain that he has a hard time being nice to people because of who he is.
For now, I’m going to leave it at that.
2. Teach Them About Love
How do narcissist parents behave when it comes to love?
A narcissist uses love as a commodity that must be earned and will teach their children this as well. They do not know how to love and care for others in ways that are not self-serving.
I remember one day when my daughter was having a visit with her father (before he moved), she didn’t want to go. His words of comfort and encouragement?
“Why don’t you want to spend time with me. Don’t I buy you things?”
Fast forward to just a little while ago (after he moved) and my daughter tells me: “I love Daddy because he buys me things.”
He was basically buying her love.
I told her that she shouldn’t love something just because of what they buy her – that she can appreciate the gifts but love has to be based on other factors.
So it’s important to teach your children what love really is – respect, care, and compassion.
If they ask why their narcissistic parent can’t provide those things, explain that they love in a different way.
Just make sure your child understands that at no point do they have to accept mistreatment from their other parent.
3. Talk About Boundaries
Children tend to develop a “parent as authority” mindset and believe that they are required to do whatever their parents say.
Especially young children, who don’t understand the concept of boundaries.
Narcissists will exploit this and place ridiculous demands and expectations on their children, usually to reap the benefits of their children’s achievements or sometimes simply to quantify their love.
Your child is allowed to say “no” to certain situations, especially ones that have nothing to do with their responsibilities or safety.
This can be difficult for younger children, who don’t want to “get in trouble”. However, as they age, they will need your guidance in knowing when they can put their foot down.
Boundaries also include what your child is willing to take personally. Narcissists will verbally assault their children and others in their life, so it’s important to talk to them about not accepting what their other parent says as truth.
For instance, my daughter brought her grandmother (my ex’s mother) up in conversation one day. My ex hates his mom, so he told my daughter that her Nanny was an idiot.
This upset her, obviously, but we talked about how what her father says about other people isn’t true – that she is allowed to love her Nanny, despite what her father says.
For a while, she was afraid he would call other people idiots until one day she said, “If Daddy calls people ‘idiots’, that’s his problem.”
It sure is.
Putting Your Child First
You can’t change the fact that you have a child with a narcissistic parent – and you can’t change how that parent chooses to treat their child.
However, you can take control of how you explain narcissism to your child and how you provide them with love and support.
The most important thing about talking to your child about their narcissistic parent is putting your own feelings toward that parent aside and putting your child first.
They are going to need lots of support, love, and guidance as they navigate their relationship with their other parent.
Are you dealing with a narcissistic ex? How do you approach this with your child? Let me know in the comments!