How I’m Surviving Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Co-parenting with my ex was never going to be easy:  if he were willing to see other points of view; if we shared at least some of the same life values; if he were able to listen, we would probably be co-parenting as a married couple rather than co-parenting as separated parents.

Life doesn’t feel fair when you are co-parenting with a narcissist.

A narcissist believes that rules are for others – he doesn’t need to follow them.  My ex agreed with me when I suggested that in order to provide some stability for our son we should try to stick to a routine.  But this rule only really applies to me; he regularly requests changes to the routine to accommodate his golf weekends, surf weekends, work nights out, watching the football in the pub with his friends.

A narcissist is feels entitled…to everything.  My ex feels entitled to see our son whenever it suits him, but at the same time feels entitled not to look after our son as arranged because it doesn’t suit his work schedule or because he wants to go away for a few days.  My ex believes that I should feed his cat whilst he goes away on holiday.  The list goes on.

A narcissist doesn’t listen.  My ex asks questions about our son: “what have you done today?”  “how did he sleep?” but he doesn’t listen to the answer. My family noticed this trait in my ex years ago, but I didn’t.  I was probably blinded by my ex’s charm.


These are my tips for surviving co-parenting with a narcissist

1.   Take your time

The early months of our co-parenting journey were characterised by a barrage of angry emails and text messages from him to me.  Every time I checked there were more emails, more texts, more demands, more accusations, more threats.  I still get fairly regular emails but these days they are primarily demands. 

I learned not to reply to most of his emails or texts.  My aim has been to demonstrate to him that he will only get a response from me if he can be polite and civil.  I also leave it a few days before I reply.  By leaving it a few days I give myself the time to get the tone of my email just right, to draft and re-draft, so that, by applying the rules below, I stand the best chance of getting the outcome that I want.

2.    Negotiation with a narcissist is difficult unless you put the focus on why it is best for them

A narcissist is incapable of seeing anything from anyone’s view point but their own.   I also find that my ex acts in haste and doesn’t think through the implications of his demands.  He recently requested a change to the schedule that would have meant that he wouldn’t see our son on his birthday.  I knew, upon receipt of the email, that my ex hadn’t checked his diary.  This was an easy one because I was easily able to suggest that the original plan was better for my ex.

3.  Persuade the narcissist that he will derive something significant from what you want

I know from the constant requests to make amendments to our son’s routine that my ex feels that having our son for two nights a week has a negative impact on his social life.  I also know that my ex would never admit that our son is not his absolute top priority. 

This is a tricky balance for me to play, but to get what I want (to stick to the agreed routine) I have to present a solution which enables my ex to have the best of both worlds.  I gently propose (and it has to be gentle because a narcissist does not like being told what to do) an alternative which “enables you to go on your Golf weekend and to see your son”, but also works for me, and most importantly our son. 

4.  When the chips are down the narcissist has to feel that they are the victim

Despite his charming façade, my ex is a glass half empty kind of guy and always has been.  He is the victim because I left him, he is the victim because I am, in his eyes, “dictating when he can see his son”, he is the victim because he is a single dad, he is the victim because he is in his mid-40s.  The list goes on. 

Any opportunity to recognise in conversation how difficult life is for my ex is worth taking.  I know that it is really difficult for you to drive to see your Mum” (it’s not difficult he has a car and she only lives an hour away), but this kind of conversation will turn the focus of the conversation to my ex and a narcissist always likes to be the focus of a conversation. It will also put him in a less combative frame of mind for negotiation. narcissist

5.  When it comes to negotiation a narcissist always has to win

But, he won’t feel that he has won if you give up too easily.  Learning how to stand up for myself has been one of my biggest challenges.  My ex has a bit of a temper (not unusual for a narcissist) and during our relationship I used to let him have his own way to avoid his mood swings.  It takes me a lot of time to prepare myself mentally for our meetings and I still get really apprehensive.

When in negotiation with a  narcissist pick a number of issues that you want to discuss.  Prioritise them.  Pick the less important things and capitulate on these at the last minute so that he can feel that he has won. 

6.  If you concede to a Narcissist’s demands he will want more and more and more

…but you cannot go to battle on every issue.  You will stand a better chance of getting the outcome that you need if he is not in a combative mood, this means really picking your battles and being smart about what is important.

7.   Find yourself an honest cheerleader

I often discuss the conversations I plan to have with my ex with my mum.  I send her the draft of my emails to my ex. I know that she will be honest and will tell me when I need to be a bit firmer, or when the tone of my email could be a bit softer. 

flower-1322723_19208.  Put everything in writing

Oh my goodness, this is the most important lesson. 

There have been times in the last year when I have wondered whether I have been living in a parallel universe to my ex.  A narcissist doesn’t listen, or at best they have selective hearing.  We have had occasions when we both have a completely different recollection of what we have agreed.  My ex has claimed that I have agreed to things which I know I haven’t.  We now minute our meetings and I often refer back to these minutes when my ex claims that we’ve agreed something that we haven’t.  It is working.  

Surviving co-parenting with a narcissist is immensely tough, but, as I like to remind myself, being married to one would have been a whole lot tougher.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
And then the fun began...



  1. July 9, 2016 / 9:49 pm

    Your restraint is admirable. I very much admire how you handle your situation and I always enjoy your posts. I hope it gets easier for you. #KCACOLS Xx
    Sarah recently posted…Tefal’s Cook4Me showcaseMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:57 pm

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment . I really appreciate it. Pen x

  2. July 9, 2016 / 10:08 pm

    Yup I agree – it’s tough! (I have an ex too) And you’re right – there are often parallel universes going on so carry on writing it all down. It does get easier though – I promise. Just keep remembering your final thought and that you dont have to be married to him anymore x #KCACOLS
    Alex recently posted…Tea and Tittle-tattle on the Cromford Canal – A Fun Family Day Out.My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:55 pm

      Hi Alex,

      Thank you. I am pleased to say that my last comment about the benefits of not being married to him is an easy one to remember. He kindly reminds me every time I see him. Thanks for your comment Pen x

  3. July 10, 2016 / 7:06 am

    Oh gosh co-parenting with a narcissist sounds like such a nightmare. Having said that you seem to be doing a fantastic job and have worked out some really clever ways of dealing with him. Great tips.xx #KCACOLS
    Mommy’s Little Princesses recently posted… ​Bradgate ParkMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:52 pm

      Thank you. Pen x

  4. July 10, 2016 / 8:00 am

    Thank you so much for this post. I feel that someone has finally recognised and not only that, articulated what I too am dealing with. You seem to have such a good grip on it. You are extremely aware and perceptive – I totally admire that. Your ex could be my ex. It can make life complete hell. I try to ignore e mails and find that the hardest thing to do. I too send my draft replies to my mum or best friend for approval. I will be keeping your post in mind and re-reading it for support. Alison x #KCACOLS
    Alison (MadHouseMum) recently posted…Setting the Benchmark for the BeachMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:52 pm

      Hi Alison,

      thanks so much for your comment. I am really glad that you found the post useful, I keep having to remind myself of my own tips too! I am also secretly glad that I am not the only one dealing with this s**t – that would be rotten luck. Pen x

  5. July 10, 2016 / 8:21 am

    This sounds really hard work. I can’t imagine having to keep negotiating everything and making sure it always looks like the other person. Is winning. Well done you for being such a patient person to spend your time doing this so your son can have a decent relationship with his dad #kcacols

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:50 pm

      THank you. Pen x

  6. July 10, 2016 / 10:42 am

    This sounds really tough and I know people in similar situation and you are doing the right thing by putting things in writing and only responding when the tone is appropriate. Of course, you shouldn’t have to make such considerations when it comes to parenting but as you say, you made the right choice for you. Don’t let it grind you down #KCACOLS
    Nicky Kentisbeer recently posted…When Scary Mary Shows UpMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:50 pm

      THanks Nicky,

      I appreciate your encouragement and your comment of course. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:48 pm

      It would indeed and I keep reminding myself of that. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  7. July 10, 2016 / 1:58 pm

    A lot of this sounds very familiar to me! It is really hard to try and deal with people like this and I a glad you are finding ways of doing so.

    • thesingleswan
      July 10, 2016 / 8:48 pm

      Hi Ali,

      Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  8. July 10, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    I’ve always considered my ex to be more akin to a person with borderline personality disorder than narcissism but a lot of what you describe here definitely applies to him. He most definitely thinks of himself as the world’s biggest victim. I am often re-arranging when I ask for certain things or try and make certain suggestions or arrangements dependent on how combative a mood he seems to be in at any given time. He definitely doesn’t think through the consequences of his demands and never seems to check the diary. He hated it when I typed up his list of agreed contact dates (he’d just given me a scruffy print off of his duty roster with a few asterisks scribbled on) but it has definitely been worth having as he has denied certain things and I’ve just referred him back to the agreed schedule. Bloody hard work isn’t it?! 🙂
    Sam recently posted…The Truth about… #82My Profile

      • thesingleswan
        July 12, 2016 / 9:06 pm

        My pleasure. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:16 pm

      Ahh Sam, I have yet to find anyone who finds co-parenting easy and yes, it is bloody hard work. I hope we can meet soon and compare notes. I suspect we can both learn from each other. Pen x

  9. July 11, 2016 / 6:00 am

    I can’t imagine what this is like! To have to battle for everything, to not know if you are coming or going and to want to be postive about him in front of your son when your feeling like you want to kill him. I come from a split co-habiting family and my mum is certainly and was back then a narcissist. me and my sister found out soon enough why we where messed around so much and it really effected or relationship with her. She regrets it now of course but hey. Good luck and I love this!! It’s so truthful and full of emotion! #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:13 pm

      Thank you. I appreciate your comment. Pen x

  10. July 11, 2016 / 6:36 am

    Gosh, I really feel for you – I have encountered one narcissist in my life, and made the decision that he wasn’t someone I could maintain any kind of a relationship with. It must be so much harder when he’s the father of your child and you need to maintain some level of contact. This is really good, balanced advice – I’m a bit in awe of how well you are able to handle the situation! #KCACOLS
    Katy – Hot Pink Wellingtons recently posted…Living Arrows 28/52My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:12 pm

      Yes, you were very sensible to make the decision that you didn’t want any kind of relationship with before you had a child. I should have done that. Oh well, nevermind.

      Don’t be in awe of how I manage the situation. The post probably makes me sound better than I am. It takes a lot of advice, restraint and family support for me to manage the situation like this. I don’t always succeed. Pen x

  11. July 11, 2016 / 6:48 pm

    This sounds really difficult. My friend is just going through similar. I am going to send this to her so thank you for posting it. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:10 pm

      My pleasure. I hope she finds it useful. Pen x

  12. July 11, 2016 / 10:23 pm

    This sounds like a nightmare! I admire you for finding ways to work with it – I don’t know if I’d have the restraint!

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday!
    Jess Powell (Babi a Fi) recently posted…This Week #43My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:10 pm

      Thanks Jess. I appreciate it. Pen x

  13. July 12, 2016 / 5:42 pm

    Sounds like you are handling this very well, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be! Nicely written and great advice, hang in there 😊 #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:08 pm

      Thanks Kim. Much appreciated. Pen

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:07 pm

      True! And I am so very thankful that I am not still living with him. Pen x

  14. July 12, 2016 / 8:56 pm

    My friend reminded her ex husband (over the phone) the other day that she wasn’t his wife, couldn’t speak to her in that tone and put the phone down…I blooming loved that 🙂
    Best of luck on your daffodil journey of greatness

    • thesingleswan
      July 12, 2016 / 9:05 pm

      Love it! Sometimes I feel like reminding my ex why we split up, but actually life is too short to dwell on the past. Pen x

  15. July 14, 2016 / 6:18 am

    Wow, your patience is clearly enormous! I’m so sorry to have to deal with such a (total prick) difficult person. I love your strategies though xx #thetruthabout
    Laura recently posted…Why I Gave Up Fighting AnxietyMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      July 14, 2016 / 9:12 pm

      Thank you Laura. I appreciate your comment. Pen x

  16. July 15, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    Pen this is a fantastic post and so useful to many. My ex (which one?!) has a lot of these traits. My son’s dad was a nightmare to deal with for AGES and I still have to be ‘clever’ in the way I handle disputes because if I go in guns blazing he becomes diabolical. I do a lot of what you do; let him think he’s making decisions and winning when really I’m manipulating him. These days I try to play the long game but it’s not always easy biting your tongue is it?! Sounds like you’re doing great though. Hope you and your boy are well. Thanks for your recent comment on my post. Take care xxx

    • thesingleswan
      July 17, 2016 / 9:18 pm

      Hi Tor,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I hope that you are okay. You are right about playing the long game, but it is tough to work out in your own mind what you can tolerate and what it just too much and you have to protest. Anyway, thanks for your comment. Take care of yourself too. Pen x

  17. July 16, 2016 / 8:57 am

    Oh my goodness, this must be so tough for you. I have read a lot about narcissism and a narcissist sounds like the most difficult of characters to deal with. It sounds like you are doing so well at managing him, although I am sad for you that you have too. And sad for your son that he is not top priority in his Dad’s thoughts and actions. Your son will come to see this when he is older, so the narcissist will be the one losing out in the future (not that he will understand that of course!). Best of luck for the future. You have great strategies in place. xxx Kathy #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      July 17, 2016 / 9:16 pm

      THank you Kathy for your comment. I appreciate it. Pen x

  18. July 19, 2016 / 11:46 am

    I feel very lucky to not be in this position! Your ex sounds like a very difficult man, and I would be tearing my hair out at him not sticking to the agreed routine. You’re a fab parent, keep doing what you’re doing. Xxx

    • thesingleswan
      July 19, 2016 / 9:29 pm

      thank you! I appreciate it. pen x

    • thesingleswan
      July 31, 2016 / 8:41 pm

      Please don’t apologise for being late in commenting. I am glad you have. Pen x

  19. Ellen
    December 14, 2016 / 1:07 pm

    This is exactly what I’m going through, apart from I definitely haven’t learnt any of the tricks I need to make it bearable. It’s a complete disaster. My daughter is 11 months, and her dad moved out almost two months ago. I thought when he left life would be a lot easier, but it’s now just spinning out of control. He has cannabis psychosis and gets really angry very quickly about quite unpredictable things. It’s exhausting and terrifying. And it is a complete and utter narcissist, as discribed above! His bizarre thinking knows no bounds and he is now saying he is going to take me to court to get full custody. He only ever put her to bed 3 times before he moved out! He also has 2 other kids from a previous relationship and he once abducted them. Needless to say, I’m pretty stressed. Thank you for your article, I will try to put some of these ideas into practice – having the energy to do it after having to deal with him is the tricky thing!! Ellen

    • thesingleswan
      December 14, 2016 / 9:27 pm

      Ellen, If you don’t mind me saying, it sounds like you are going through a lot worse than I went through. I guess the cannabis psychosis might have something to do with it. If it is any comfort whatsoever, I do think that a lot of what he is saying is likely to be hot air. He won’t take you to court and if he did there is no way that he would get full custody. Any family lawyer or mediator with a child’s best interest at heart would see clearly that an 11 month old needs to be with its mother. That doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t get to see his daughter. He would and probably should. Keep a written record of everything! Good luck. Pen x

  20. March 29, 2017 / 11:39 am

    This is just brilliant, co-parenting with this guy is such hard work. Your hints are great though. It’s taken me a while to learn how to play ‘the game’ and I sometimes feel ashamed of my self for some of the juvenile lengths I have to go to to get what I want (you can have her any weekend except THIS one knowing that’ll trigger his ‘she can’t tell me what to do’ attitude and he’ll insist on having THAT weekend) I do need to take a leaf from your book in not replying immediately though… It’s such hard work but I’ve a happy, content daughter and like you say don’t have to bloody live with him!!! You’ve captured this perfectly!
    Daydreamer Mum recently posted…Mothers day hints for single mumsMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      March 29, 2017 / 7:14 pm

      Thank you. That was definitely my biggest learning point – not replying immediately. My response after 3 days was always very different from my initial reaction. Pen x

  21. February 18, 2018 / 11:39 am

    This is an excellent post. Dealing with a narcissistic personality is so challenging. I admire your restraint and management techniques. What an amazing woman you are. Am sharing. X

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