Join my Facebook Support Group for those dealing with toxic exes and co-parenting struggles. Click here!

How to Establish and Communicate Boundaries to a Toxic Co-Parent

by | Aug 21, 2023 | 0 comments

parallel parenting boundaries. a woman talks on the phone and looks annoyed.

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.

TINY - Pins - Short (7)When I wrote the first edition of my book, You Can’t Co-Parent With a Narcissist: A Guide to Parallel Parenting, I kind of skimmed over the concept of boundaries.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think boundaries were important – at the time, I just didn’t know what kind of boundaries could be established with a narcissist and how to establish them.

But when I was working on the second edition of the book, I really dug into what boundaries could look like and how to stick to them even when a toxic co-parent is purposefully overstepping them.

Overall, parallel parenting minimizes direct interaction between co-parents that can’t get along (for whatever reason) while prioritizing the well-being of the child.

Establishing and communicating boundaries has to be part of this process, but I know how hard it can be sometimes.

If this is the case for you, let’s take a look at some practical strategies for setting parallel parenting boundaries and communicating them to your difficult ex.

Co-Parenting Boundaries List

parallel parenting boundaries (7)

Before we delve into the strategies, let’s create a foundation by outlining a co-parenting boundaries list.

These boundaries are essential guidelines to ensure a structured co-parenting relationship that minimizes conflict and stress.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Communication Channels: Define specific channels for communication, such as email or a co-parenting app, to reduce direct contact and maintain a record of interactions.
  • Parallel Communication: Embrace the concept of parallel parenting by limiting direct communication to essential child-related matters. Keep interactions brief, business-like, and focused on the child’s well-being, avoiding personal conversations or emotional entanglements.
  • Schedule Adherence: Agree upon a consistent co-parenting schedule that outlines when each parent will have custody. Stick to this schedule to provide stability for the child.
  • Respect for Personal Lives: Respect each other’s personal lives and avoid prying into each other’s affairs outside of parenting matters.
  • Child-Centric Approach: Always prioritize the child’s well-being in decisions and discussions, focusing on their needs rather than personal disagreements.
  • Conflict Resolution Mechanism: Establish a method for resolving disagreements, such as involving a neutral third party like a mediator or counselor.
  • Financial Arrangements: Clearly define financial responsibilities and adhere to agreements regarding child support and other financial matters.
  • Boundaries During Transitions: Set boundaries for transitions between households. Establish guidelines for drop-off and pick-up times, as well as locations. Having a clear plan in place can reduce stress and uncertainty for both the child and the co-parents.
  • Decision-Making Protocols: Define protocols for making major decisions about the child’s life, such as education, healthcare, and extracurricular activities. These protocols can involve joint discussions, third-party mediation, or adhering to legal agreements, depending on your situation.
  • Emergency Protocols: Develop protocols for handling emergencies, including how you will communicate, who will take the lead in decision-making, and how you will keep each other informed during critical situations.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: While boundaries are important, also recognize the need for flexibility and adaptability. Circumstances may change, and being open to adjustments in your co-parenting arrangement can help maintain a cooperative atmosphere.

How Do You Set Boundaries When Co-Parenting With a Narcissist?

parallel parenting boundaries (11)

Navigating co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-partner can be exceptionally challenging due to their tendencies toward manipulation and self-centered behavior.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to effectively communicate boundaries in such situations:


Prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. Recognize that you have the right to set boundaries for your own sake and that of your child.

Define Boundaries Clearly

Clearly articulate your boundaries in a concise and non-confrontational manner. Focus on the impact of the behavior and the benefit of the boundary for the child.

Maintain Calmness

When communicating boundaries, remain calm and composed. Narcissists might try to provoke reactions, but your emotional stability will prevent them from gaining control.

Use Written Communication

Communicate boundaries in writing to maintain a record. This can deter a narcissistic co-parent from twisting your words or denying agreements later.

Involve a Third Party

If necessary, involve a neutral third party to mediate boundary discussions. This can prevent manipulation and ensure a focused conversation.

Set Consequences

Establish clear consequences for boundary violations. Communicate these consequences calmly but firmly.

Narcissists may be more likely to respect boundaries if they understand that disregarding them will result in negative repercussions.

Stay Resilient

Expect resistance from a narcissistic co-parent when you establish boundaries. They might try to challenge, manipulate, or guilt-trip you into bending the rules.

Stay resilient and reiterate your commitment to the boundaries you’ve set.

Limit Personal Information

Narcissists often exploit personal information to exert control or manipulate situations.

Avoid sharing unnecessary personal details during interactions to prevent them from using this information against you.

Practice Self-Care

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be emotionally draining. Prioritize self-care and seek support from friends, family, or therapists.

Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being is crucial for maintaining your strength and composure.

Focus on the Child

Ultimately, the primary focus should always be the well-being of the child. Frame your boundary discussions in terms of what is best for the child’s emotional and psychological development.

This perspective can help shift the co-parent’s attention away from their own desires and towards the child’s needs.

How Do You Respond to a Toxic Co-Parent?

parallel parenting boundaries (15)

Dealing with a toxic co-parent requires strategic responses to protect your well-being and your child’s.

Here are effective ways to respond:

  • Gray Rock Technique: Emulate the uninteresting nature of a “gray rock.” Keep interactions emotionless and minimal, providing little fodder for manipulation.
  • Boundary Enforcement: Politely but firmly reinforce your boundaries whenever they are crossed. Stick to the agreed-upon guidelines.
  • Selective Engagement: Choose your battles wisely. Not every issue requires a response; sometimes, disengagement is the best response.
  • Document Everything: Maintain thorough records of interactions, especially instances of toxic behavior. This documentation can be useful if legal action becomes necessary.
  • Seek Support: Lean on friends, family, support groups, or therapists to help you navigate the challenges of co-parenting with a toxic individual.

Establishing Parallel Parenting Boundaries

Navigating a co-parenting relationship with a toxic ex-partner requires diligence, patience, and a strong commitment to the well-being of your child.

By establishing clear boundaries and maintaining your focus on your child’s needs, you can minimize the impact of toxicity and provide a stable environment for your child’s growth and development.

Remember, your efforts will make a positive difference in your child’s life, and that is the ultimate goal.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on navigating co-parenting challenges. Share your insights in the comments below and contribute to the supportive community of parallel parents striving for the best outcomes for their children.

TINY - Pins - Long TINY - Pins - Short

Related Posts:

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



  1. Effectively Setting Boundaries With A Narcissistic Co-Parent - […] […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get In Touch!