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Understanding Counter-Parenting: Definition and Impact

by | Apr 3, 2024 | 0 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.

Parenting is hard enough without having someone trying to manipulate and undermine everything you do.

This is what can happen when you are co-parenting with a narcissist.

Counter-parenting is exactly as it sounds:

Your ex intentionally and actively works against your efforts and authority.


For control, basically.

Narcissists want to control what you do and how you feel.

By counter-parenting, they are trying to change your parenting style while upsetting you and stressing you out.

Sometimes, during a separation, there are bad feelings, and people act like dicks while adjusting to the new situation.

When it comes to normal people, the co-parenting situation works itself out over time.

With narcissists, it will never change.

That’s why it’s important to understand their behaviors so you can proactively avoid their bullshit.

So, let’s take a look at what counter-parenting is and how you can deal with it:

Are You Parenting With a Counter Parenting?

Before we get into anything, it’s important to recognize whether or not you are dealing with a counter-parent.

Again, some people may just be annoying and need time to adjust. You’ll know you’re dealing with a temporary situation because things will start to get easier over time.

But when these behaviors persist, you know you’re dealing with a counter-parent.

Here are some of the signs to look for:

  • Consistently undermining the other parent’s authority: This may involve contradicting disciplinary actions or openly criticizing decisions made by the other parent.
  • Interfering with communication: A counter-parent may attempt to control or manipulate communication channels between the children and the other parent, leading to strained relationships and misunderstandings.
  • Alienating the children: In extreme cases, a counter-parent may engage in behaviors that result in the alienation of the children from the other parent, causing emotional distress and long-term damage to family dynamics.

Examples of Counter Parenting

Now that you know what counter-parenting with a narcissist is, let’s look at some specific examples so you know what to look for:

Undermining Authority

  • Selective Enforcement of Rules: Deliberately ignores your rules while strictly enforcing their own. For example, letting your kid stay up late and eat junk food, knowing it goes against your rules.
  • Discrediting Discipline: Downplays or dismisses disciplinary actions. They may say things like, “Your other parent is being too strict, it’s not a big deal.”
  • Undercutting Decision-Making: Consistently makes unilateral decisions regarding your child without consulting you. 
  • Rewarding Defiance: Praises or rewards your child for disobeying or disrespecting your rules. For example, if you impose a consequence for breaking a rule, your counter-parent may give the child a treat or privilege.

Interfering With Communication

  • Creating Barriers to Contact: Deliberately blocks or restricts communication between you and your child. This can involve withholding access to electronic devices, intercepting messages or calls, or constantly monitoring interactions.
  • Undermining Quality Time: Consistently interrupts or distracts the child during your parenting time. They may insist on calling the child or cause fights with you to compromise your time.
  • Misrepresenting Communication: Manipulates the content of messages between you and your child, selectively sharing or withholding information. They may distort the context of conversations or misinterpret your intentions to cause confusion and mistrust.

Alienating the Children

  • Planting Seeds of Doubt: Constantly undermines your child’s trust in you by planting seeds of doubt about your love, care, or reliability. They may try to get your child to question their relationship with you.
  • Isolating the Child: Actively discourages or restricts the child’s interactions with family or friends. This isolation reinforces dependence on the counter-parent.
  • Guilt-Tripping: Manipulates the child’s emotions by guilt-tripping them into choosing sides. They may use phrases like, “If you really loved me…”

FYI, parental alienation is a real thing and illegal. Click here to learn more.

How to Manage a Counter-Parent

parallel parenting boundaries (1) - a woman holds her arms across her chest like the letter x.

Dealing with a counter-parent requires patience, resilience, and a strategic approach. Here are some ways that you can deal with them:

Set Boundaries

When co-parenting with a narcissist, traditional forms of communication and compromise usually don’t work.

Instead, establish firm boundaries to protect yourself and your children from manipulation and toxic behavior.

Clearly outline schedules, communication channels, and decision-making processes. If you have to, do this in a legally binding manner (a court order) to minimize opportunities for the counter-parent to exert control.

Parallel Parenting

If you’re in a counter-parenting situation, then you can always parallel parenting.

This approach allows each parent to operate independently within their parenting time, minimizing direct contact and reducing opportunities for conflict.

Basically, you each stay in your own lane when it comes to parenting by focusing solely on your responsibilities during your time with the children.

You can learn more about parallel parenting here!

Document Everything

Limit your communication with your ex to writing and keep everything!

You should also write down and keep track of incidents of concerning behavior.

This can all be used as evidence in court and can help substantiate claims of parental alienation or manipulation.

Limit Exposure to Conflict

Your kids already have enough on their plate with a narcissistic parent who counter parents. 

Do your best to keep your kiddos out of the conflict by not bad-mouthing your ex, exposing them to arguments with your ex, or complaining about your ex in front of them.

I actually just did an episode about this on the podcast if you want to listen:

Support Your Children

Overall, it’s important that you support your child through this situation. 

There’s not a whole lot you can do to change the way your ex acts or treats your child.

What you can do 100% is give your child the love, support, and consistency they need to avoid being negatively impacted by their narcissistic parent’s behavior.

You can’t completely protect them, and it will affect them, but you can help them build resilience against fear, hate, and anger.

Give them a nurturing environment where they can be themselves, talk about their emotions, and feel like a valued human being.

Basically, give them everything their narcissistic parent won’t or can’t.

The Effects of Counter-Parenting

Okay, so I don’t want to scare you with the effects of counter-parenting.

However, understanding these effects is another way to recognize if counter-parenting is happening.

It’s also important that you understand that these effects exist in a spectrum.

Not all kids in this situation are going to end up with these effects—and if they do, they can vary from mild to concerning. Depending on the situation, these can be temporary struggles or long-lasting effects.


Children may develop feelings of insecurity and instability due to the constant conflict and manipulation orchestrated by the counter-parent.


The ongoing tension and uncertainty surrounding parental relationships can contribute to heightened anxiety levels in children, impacting their overall mental health and well-being.

Low Self-Esteem

Children subjected to counter-parenting may internalize negative messages about themselves and their worth, leading to diminished self-esteem and confidence.

Dysfunction in Future Relationships

The patterns established in childhood through counter-parenting dynamics can influence the way children perceive and engage in relationships later in life, potentially perpetuating dysfunctional patterns.

Counter-Parenting Challenges – You Got This!

Counter-parenting is a challenging dynamic that can make parenting just that much harder.

But by understanding what it is and how to deal with it, you have the power to create a better situation for your kiddos.

Remember, prioritizing the well-being of your child is your superpower, and just by wanting to do better for your child, you are a hero.

How do you deal with counter-parenting? Any tips to share? Leave them 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!


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