Helping Your Children Deal with a Narcissistic Father

It is one thing to co-parent with a narcissistic ex. It is another thing to protect your children from his manipulations while trying your best to help them grow up with some semblance of a father.

As women who have loved scornful, vindictive men, we certainly have one of the most challenging jobs known to humanity. It can be a roller coaster of a ride, requiring us to balance and calculate almost every move we make around the narcissist and to always, always be the better parent, no matter how unfair or cruel the situation might be.

But there IS light. There IS hope.

Follow these steps to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father.

How to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father

Understand why this is so important

First, we need to understand the vital importance of why we must shield the children. It is easy to feel like running away or to offload the burden on someone else. Maybe even beg the narcissist back, if only to stop his hurtful actions for a little while.

You will never do this, of course, but the thoughts are incredibly enticing.

This is why we must constantly remember our mission as THE parent: The one who is actually there, the one who is consistent, reliable, loving, and unconditionally, positively affirming.

Our children, if subjected to the unrelenting control of the narcissist, will become either narcissists themselves or bear the pain of codependency for decades. Not to mention a whole host of psychological problems like depression, anxiety, bulimia, anorexia, low self-worth and perfectionism.

You are the only one who can prevent this from becoming a reality.

Fear not, as you are not alone. There has never been a mother who did not become stronger, wiser, and tougher after succeeding in this journey.

cope with a narcissistic father

Take care of your sanity first

Many mothers who are still in their toxic relationships tend to give into their compelling urges to fulfil their narcissist’s insatiable demands. This provides fuel for the narcissist, and these mothers then become a reliable source of energy for them.

Because so much is taken from these mothers, their energy, time, and emotional resources become depleted, leaving little for anything else. Exhausted, they can shut down, resulting in disconnection and unconscious withdrawal of love for their children.

This may even have been you. But you must determine that you will no longer be this person again. So always seek to fulfil your needs before anyone else’s, including the children.

In case of an emergency on a plane, you are instructed to put on your oxygen mask first before attending to your child. After all, you’re of no use to anyone if you are unconscious. So, put on the oxygen mask first. Treat yourself to yoga classes, meditation, and general self-care. Be kind to yourself and always acknowledge that you’re doing your very best.

You will likely feel angry when trying to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father. This is something you will need to resolve. Speak to an expert who can help you move forward swiftly and effectively. Surround yourself with compassionate people who know exactly how you feel. Learn to control your emotions before they control you.

Cater to your children’s sense of security, comfort and identity

When there is a break or divorce between two parents, the very first thought that comes to a child’s mind is, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’.

When it’s a divorce with a narcissistic ex-husband, that thought soon gets changed to ‘Why doesn’t Daddy love me?’.

This is a key thing you must cater to. The love that comes from you needs to be unconditional and reliable and also needs to fill the gap that Daddy left.

The children need to be continuously reminded that there is a parent who loves them no matter what grades they get in school or how well they excel at extracurricular activities. Be quick to give positive affirmations for things that they do well in and comfort for things that they beat themselves up on.

Reframing is a useful way of changing a negative into a positive, such as:

‘It’s OK. Everyone makes mistakes. What do you think you learnt from it?’

‘Don’t worry, Mummy isn’t mad. But what do you think we can do to prevent this from happening again?’

‘Hey, why don’t you be my number one helper so we can get things done together? That way, we won’t take so long to have breakfast and won’t be late for school.’

Allowing children to navigate their way through shame, guilt, anger, or sadness helps give them a voice and the confidence needed to make their own decisions away from the controlling environment of their father. Encouraging questions will help them develop their curiosity in a healthy manner.

Similarly, allow them to form their own way of processing the breakup, which might be very different from yours. This is because their perception of the relationship might be different, meaning they have contrasting thoughts and feelings about it, despite how alien it might seem to you.

To help your kids cope with a narcissistic father, you can say things like:

‘I appreciate that you brought that up. How do you feel about that?’

‘So, what does Daddy’s new girlfriend being in his life mean to you?’

‘I understand that you feel that way. Do you think this will affect you when you’re at school?’

How to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father (cont.)

Control your understandable anger

Remember that anger is by far the most damaging emotion, and the real victims of it are your children. So, whenever you can, try to see it from your children’s point of view.

If you feel like bad-mouthing your ex or taking spiteful action against him, think about what it might mean to your children. No matter how the narcissist might deserve it, the children do not deserve to be in the middle of a vicious tug-of-war between their parents.

They already have one angry parent, and they do not need another. This is where the work on yourself will matter most.

Your children will likely have been subjected to abusive behaviour that will infuriate you and will make them question their self-worth. For this reason, focus on preventing and rebuilding positive experiences so that the children’s suffering is minimal. You can solidify their sense of identity by assigning individual tasks to them, special little jobs that they can take pride in. This also shows that you trust them.

Taking over the roles of two parents in this manner and staying calm at the same time is a big ask of someone who is already going through a double heartbreak—one from your ex and another from seeing the children upset—but hang in there, for the journey will be worth it.

Observe and have a contingency plan

You’re the only one who knows what he’s really like underneath the mask he presents to everyone else. Mothers who suffer are mothers who do not take advantage of that knowledge.

Understand that manipulations are usually done with a single aim—to draw fuel. The narcissist seeks such fuel in the form of positive attention or a negative reaction, and the children will be the easiest targets.

He will anger, upset, and guilt the children to keep them as a dependable source of energy. He might pit two or all the children against one another or favour one unfairly over the other.

In a tactic known as triangulation, he might use the children to relay distressing news and plans to you or twist your words to make them think that Mummy does not love them.

For this reason, you must formulate a plan, preferably with a therapist or a similar expert, on how to prevent or counter the effects of such manipulations. For your kids to cope with a narcissistic father, help them to recognise emotional abuse by having an honest and straightforward discussion with them.

Present everything as fact, and let them know that their feelings and experiences are real and important.

Limit communications

Oh, if only you could completely cut that narcissistic ex off your and your children’s lives, right? If things were different – a.k.a. you can survive without having to co-parent – everything would be easier.

One thing I’m still ashamed to admit was that I allowed myself and my kids to continue suffering from their self-centred father for some months after the separation. Although I had the hunch he was not going to take accountability for the fallout of our marriage, I hoped he would change in order for our new setup to work.

Thankfully, I snapped out of my delusions early on. The kids and I couldn’t change him during the marriage. And I expected to change him when we’re divorced?

As soon as I caught on with what he was doing, I started avoiding face-to-face interactions. Part of this was because I didn’t want to give him opportunities to embarrass me before the kids. More importantly, I wanted him to know he did not have control over me.

Instead, I limited our communication to emails and text messages – absolutely no calls. I also stopped replying at once. At first, I would wait for 30 minutes, then a few hours later. I also limited my communication with him. I answered only what was being asked and stopped volunteering information, comments, and suggestions.

If a face-to-face meeting was unavoidable, I made sure to keep it as short as possible. No small talks.

These angered him, obviously, but I ignored it as much as I could. It took a lot of resolve to keep going. (I’m lucky nothing came out of his verbal threats.)

If there’s one good thing that came out of this, it is that my children learned that they can set boundaries. As their mum, you have to model that they don’t have to keep in touch with abusive people. You must show them they don’t need to have a relationship with people who hurt and disrespect them – even if that is their father.

cope with a narcissistic father

Control what you can control

Finally, remember that although it seems like you are completely powerless, you’re not. Yes, you can’t control your narcissistic ex. You can’t control that there’s a court order that gives him the right over the kids.

But if there’s one thing that you have control over, that is yourself.

You have control over your boundaries. Know exactly what you consider acceptable and communicate these with your ex. Set clear boundaries and be firm.

You don’t like his snide remarks about you in front of the kids? Yes, call him out right then and there. Most of the time, beneath the mask of overconfidence, lies an insecure person who can’t handle any criticism. When it comes to your boundaries, you don’t have to be the “bigger person” and let even the tiniest violations slide. As you know by now, a narcissist will test how much they can evade. When you turn a blind eye to small violations, soon, he will be crossing bigger lines.

You have control over your reactions. It’s up to you how much power you want your kids’ narcissistic father to have over you. Keep in mind that they love seeing your emotions flaring up, so stay calm. Being emotionally distant disarms him. If he can’t elicit a reaction, he will see he can’t manipulate you.

Lastly, you have control over what you want to do with the documentation of his abusive behaviour. You can bring these records to court as legal evidence when necessary.

Final points to help your kids cope with a narcissistic father

Co-parenting with a narcissist may be challenging and, at times, outright distressing. If you think by finalising the divorce, you got away from his self-centred behaviour, he’s going to make sure you don’t think that way for long. However, you’re strong! And you have what it takes to support your children, too.

Unfortunately, magically turning your ex-husband into a better person is not an option.

Yet you can remind yourself that the narcissist isn’t your life and that neither you nor the children revolve around him anymore. It can be incredibly freeing to know that he can never again control you without your permission.

Take comfort in the thought that whatever you do now will have a profoundly positive effect on your children whilst teaching them to navigate one of the most difficult personality traits they will encounter in their lives.

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