One of the most difficult situations I encounter in my work counseling people who have been involved with a narcissist is when there are children involved. If you have children with a narcissist, it can feel you are in a prison for the rest of your days. Your own imprisonment is one thing, but what about the children? You can go “low contact,” no energy, but your kids don’t have a choice. The court systems decide how much time your kids spend with their narcissistic parent. The court systems also don’t recognize narcissistic personality disorder as something that is damaging to children.
There are two typical scenario’s I run into with children of a narcissistic parent. One is the children love their narcissistic parent and the non-narcissist is terrified the children will be manipulated and turned against them. The second scenario is the children are terrified of their narcissistic parent and don’t want to go for their visitations. There are other scenarios too, where the narcissistic parent has no interest in his/her children and the non-narcissist wants them to be more involved. This is actually the scenario that most parents in the other situations could only hope for.
The most difficult situation to deal with is the one where the children don’t want to go and look to their non-narcissistic parent to protect them. The children often experience physical illness, anxiety and they may do poorly in school.
It seems nobody really listens to the concerned parent or the children, because now there is so much emphasis on parental rights to visitation, especially for the Father. These are the situations where my codependent rescuer wants to come out and build refuge camps in select area’s out of the Country. I want to say “take your children and get them across the border where our laws can’t force your children to be abused.” But even in these situations a letter from the narcissistic parent is often required in order to take the children out of the Country.
It is ironic that if one parent physically neglects or abuses his/her children and the other parent doesn’t do anything to protect the children, both parents are punished for the crime of abuse. The courts do recognize that it is the parent’s duty to protect that child, but the abuse has to be of the extreme, obvious variety. Once again narcissistic abuse isn’t recognized because the narcissist is so covert in the way they abuse.
One of the saddest situations I have ever come across was when a young woman got pregnant by a narcissistic man who tried to force her to have an abortion. She left him and said she was going to have her baby and he didn’t need to be involved. She didn’t hear from him until her baby was a few months old, and then he showed back up and sued for custody. He didn’t get full custody but he was awarded 50% custody and the young mother was forced to turn her infant child, who was still breast feeding, over to this monster, half of every week. When the baby returned home, she was so stressed that she would cry for days before she settled back down. The narcissistic Father really had no interest in the child. He was simply punishing the Mother for having the child; for going against his wishes. He knew the thing that would hurt the Mother the most was to take her child from her. He likely felt that the Mother chose the child over him so he was going to punish both Mother and child. This is the sick, twisted psyche of a narcissist. There is no concern for anyone but his own selfish needs. In this case, the need to “get even.”
The courts often see couples fighting over custody and visitation and sum up a parents concern as petty. But with narcissistic parents, the issues are anything but petty; they are seriously damaging to the child, and the non-narcissistic parent has no right or ability to protect the child.
Although this scenario is most often a narcissistic father and a mother who is deeply concerned for her child, it does also happen the other way around.
This is the part of the article where I am supposed to give solutions, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of solutions in such a case. A parent must protect his or her child to the best of his or her ability to do so.
Some Mother’s I’ve talked to won’t leave their narcissistic spouse because they know if they do, the narcissistic father will have access to the child alone, without her protection. In a case like this, she chooses to sacrifice herself and her needs for the children’s protection. But in some cases, the Mother is so stressed out and even ill, as a result of being with the narcissist that she knows, intuitively that she won’t survive living with him any longer. It is better that she is alive and available to her children then dead, which would leave her children no other option then to be with the narcissistic parent full time.
It’s a tough decision for any parent to make and nobody can make this decision for you. The best I can offer in a situation like this is support and some major lessons in boundaries.
Understanding that the narcissists motivation is not usually to have a loving, caring relationship with his children. His, or her motivation is to use the children as narcissistic supply or to punish the other parent by exercising his/her power and control. Most narcissists have pretty bad parenting themselves and with their lack of ability to reflect and grow beyond their parent’s issues, they normally just continue the pattern with their own children, which can easily breed more narcissists.
A non-narcissistic parent’s worst nightmare, is that their child will become a narcissist, and this does happen. Narcissists breed narcissists. But the child will have a much better chance of being healthy if they have at least one healthy and loving parent. So, if you are a parent in this kind of situation, your role is to get as healthy as you possibly can. This means taking good care of yourself, and your children, and learning healthy boundaries. You need to learn really good communication skills to communicate openly and honestly with your children. Remember that narcissism grows in the darkness. It is a web of lies and deception. You have to stop living the lie yourself and be as open with your kids as you can.
The rules, “don’t talk negatively about the other parent” don’t apply in this case. It is important, when the child is old enough to understand, to educate your children about mental illness and personality disorders. Don’t just say “your father is mentally ill,” because they won’t understand this, and this is likely what the narcissistic parent will say about you. The best thing you can do is encourage open, honest communication with your children, so they know they can talk to you about how they are feeling. Let the children know their feelings matter and they are important. Listen to their feelings about the time spent with their narcissistic parent and learn to put your own emotions aside so you can be there for your children. For example, if the narcissistic father has a new girlfriend and has introduced her to the kids, you will certainly have feelings about this, and your feelings are important, but now is not the time to express your feelings. If you become “reactive,” every time your children spring a new issue or situation on you, regarding their father, your children will begin to develop protective measures and stop telling you about things, because they don’t want to upset you. In this case the children are learning how to be codependent. They become protectors of “your” feelings.
Your feelings need to be dealt with in therapy, a support group or a close friend who doesn’t mind listening. Your children are not your sounding board for your issues with their father. But you are their sounding board, so you have to work to get yourself strong and learn to put your emotions aside until you are in the right environment to deal with them. Journaling is really great, because it gives you an immediate outlet for your emotions.
If there are signs of abuse with the narcissistic parent, document everything, including what the children tell you, their mental and emotional state, physical symptoms and other symptoms. If the narcissistic parent is obviously being abusive to the children, don’t make them go. Document, exactly why you refused the visitation. Talk to your local police and an attorney about what is going on and get their input. Find out if the police will enforce visitation if you are witnessing verbal and/or emotional abuse. Find out from your attorney how the courts are likely to view the situation. Many parents tell me their attorney tell them they have to encourage the visitation even if they suspect abuse. There is something seriously wrong with this picture. If your child is screaming bloody murder when their narcissistic parent comes for a visit, you might want to video tape your child (find a stealth way to do this) and deny the visit. The courts may not allow for the video, but you can take it to child protective services, your local abuse shelters, and get your community involved.
Of course all young children have separation anxiety. If you leave your child at daycare, they may scream for a while and then settle back down. You have to be able to determine what kind of scream this is. You have the right to ask the court for supervised visitation until it can be determined how the children are being treated. The court may not grant supervised visitation, but you can continue to ask.
Court business is very expensive. Especially if you have a narcissistic parent who has access to the funds to keep dragging you back to court on a continual basis, just because he or she can. You may not have access to such funds, which puts you at a disadvantage. You will have to ask your attorney if he/she can ask the judge that the narcissistic parent to cover all court cost, every time he/she takes you back to court. Once again it is a crap shoot, what the judge will do, but you have to try.
If you have family or someone you can live with that lives in the same state but much further away from the narcissist parent, you may want to consider moving. You can ask your attorney to present your move in such a way that you can’t afford to live where you are because of the lack of child support or finances and until there is fair compensation for you and the kids, you need to move. Usually moving in the same state is not a major issue. There are laws about moving across state lines and big laws about moving across Country borders. Research your state to find out what the laws are. Become educated. If you live much further, visitation will be much more difficult for the narcissistic parent. Seeing the kids may involve long drives and the narcissistic parent may elect to keep those drives to a minimum. If you have parents or family in another state, you can always present that case as well. Sometimes permission is granted. It depends on the case.
There are also state laws that allow the child, at a certain age, usually around thirteen, to make their own decision about where they want to live and most often the child has the right to refuse visitation with a parent. Find out about your state law. Your teenage children may “opt out” of the visitation arrangement if their narcissistic parent is abusive. Some teenagers will “opt out” without the law giving them permission. They get busy with their lives and tell their parent “I’m not coming because….”
I only suggest moving out of the area if you are in financial straights and/or the narcissistic parent is truly abusive to the children. Some narcissistic parents can be “okay” parents. They may spoil them and do a lot of fun things with them. Although you may fear the children would rather be with their Disneyland parent then you, it is not the best reason to move, especially if the children want to spend time with their “other parent.” The best you can do in a situation like this is to keep a stable, loving and nurturing home. Children are known to migrate to the most stable parent, both emotionally and financially. So work on being that stable parent.
You can never go back and “not have children” with the narcissist, so it won’t do you any good to waste your energy wishing things were different. It is better to spend your energy trying to make the most of a bad situation. Nurture yourself, develop your inner strength, develop your ability to support your family, and be that loving, nurturing presence for your children. Get support! Don’t feel you have to do this alone.
Remember the burden of healthy parenting falls on your shoulders. Learn everything you can about how to be a healthy parent and keep working on your own health and emotional well-being. This is the most important thing you can do for your family.