A common question that gets asked by people who have children with someone they suspect to be a narcissist is, “How can I tell if I am co-parenting with a narcissist?”

7 Signs You’re Co-Parenting with a Narcissist:

  1. They sabotage special occasions.
  2. They create a culture of secrecy.
  3. They over-empower the child.
  4. Their love is conditional.
  5. They engage in parental alienation.
  6. They weaponize communication.
  7. They consistently overstep boundaries.

In this article, I will give you examples of each of these signs to help you better understand what co-parenting with a narcissist is like.

1.) They Sabotage Special Occasions

The first sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspected narcissist has a habit of sabotaging special occasions.

This means that the narcissistic co-parent deliberately undermines special events, milestones, or moments, especially when these moments are supposed to be the other parent’s time with the child. 

For example, let’s say that the child of a narcissist has a major school event, like a play or a graduation, on a day that they’re meant to be with the other parent.

A picture of a school.

The narcissist, aware of this event’s significance, might schedule a surprise activity on the same day, such as a meet-up with a beloved relative who’s “only in town that day.” 

The narcissistic parent’s intention isn’t to treat the child to something special but to outdo the other parent.

They want to get the child’s attention and affection for that day. 

This forces the child to either disappoint the other parent by missing the event or to decline the offer and face potential backlash or guilt-tripping from the narcissist. 

This dynamic puts the child in a no-win situation, where they are subjected to emotional distress and forced to choose between two competing scenarios.

2.) They Create a Culture of Secrecy

The second sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspected narcissist creates a secrecy culture with your child.

This refers to a narcissistic co-parent deliberately creating an environment where secrets are shared with the child and withheld from the other parent. 

To illustrate this, I want you to picture a situation where the narcissistic parent begins dating someone new after a divorce. 

Instead of communicating about this new relationship to the other parent, the narcissist secretly introduces the child to their new partner.

The child is told, “This is our little secret adventure. Let’s not tell your mom/dad about [new partner] because they might get upset or won’t let you have fun with us.”

A narcissist trying to get his daughter to keep a secret.

Over time, the weight of this secrecy can have a massive impact on the child’s behavior.

For example, they may become more withdrawn, anxious, or evasive with the other parent, especially when discussing their time with the narcissistic parent.

3.) They Over-Empower the Child

The third sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspected narcissist is over-empowering your child.

This means giving the child excessive choices or responsibilities that aren’t age-appropriate or undermine the other parent’s role and decisions. 

For example, imagine a scenario where the child of a narcissist is doing poorly in school.

Instead of the parents jointly discussing strategies for support or intervention, the narcissist takes a different approach. 

They sit the child down and say:

“You’re old enough to decide how your education should be. If you want to skip homework, that’s your call. 

A narcissist giving too much power to his child.

I’ll support you if you think you should change schools or even drop out. Remember, your mom/dad might not get it, so let’s decide together, just the two of us.”

This kind of over-empowerment can distort the child’s perception of boundaries, roles, and responsibilities, potentially leading to issues in discipline, respect, and understanding of the consequences of their actions. 

It also makes the other parent seem more restrictive and out of touch, even if they are acting in the child’s best interests.

Suggested Reading: How Do Narcissists Treat Their Children?

4.) Their Love is Conditional

The fourth sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspected narcissist loves your child conditionally rather than unconditionally.

Conditional love is an emotionally manipulative tactic where the narcissistic parent offers or withdraws love, affection, or approval based on the child’s behavior.

For instance, imagine a child who enjoys both soccer and music. 

The narcissistic parent has a passion for soccer but dismisses the value of music. 

When the child scores a goal in a soccer match, they’re met with overwhelming praise, affection, and maybe even a reward from the narcissist. 

However, the narcissistic parent doesn’t even show up when the child performs in a music recital and plays their instrument beautifully. 

If the child shows excitement about a future recital on a day that conflicts with a soccer game, the narcissistic parent might say:

“Wouldn’t you rather play in the soccer game? You know how proud that makes me. Music is just a hobby, but soccer could be your future.”

A narcissist devaluing his son's hobbies.

This dynamic conveys to the child that their worth and the parent’s love are tied to specific conditions. 

Over time, the child might diminish or abandon their genuine interests to appease the narcissistic parent and secure their affection.

This can, and often does, lead to suppressed emotions and an altered sense of self.

5.) They Engage in Parental Alienation

The fifth sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspect narcissist engages in parental alienation.

This involves one parent (in this case, the narcissistic one) turning the child against the other parent through a series of manipulative tactics. 

This can involve badmouthing the other parent, creating stories or lies about their behavior, or positioning them as an enemy or outsider. 

The ultimate goal is to disrupt or destroy the child’s relationship with the other parent.

For instance, picture a scenario where the child has a typical parental boundary-setting interaction with the parent who isn’t a narcissist.

A simple example could be being asked to do homework before watching TV.

When the child later sees the narcissistic parent, they mention this incident. 

The narcissist says:

“Your mom/dad always tries to control you, don’t they? It’s because they don’t want you to have any fun. Remember that time they didn’t let you go to that sleepover? They probably just want to keep you all to themselves.”

A narcissist invalidating her daughter.

Over time, these interactions will help the narcissist create a narrative where the other parent is (insert any negative trait).

This will begin to see the other parent through this lens, internalizing the narrative and potentially distancing themselves from the targeted parent. 

Sadly, this sometimes leads to estrangement between the child and the targeted parent.

Suggested Reading: 7 Ways Co-Parenting with a Narcissist Makes You Feel

6.) They Weaponize Communication

The sixth sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspected narcissist has a habit of weaponizing communication against you.

This means using communication, whether in person, over the phone, or through written messages, to manipulate and control the other parent. 

For example, imagine a situation where the narcissist and the other parent discuss weekend plans for their child. 

The conversation starts neutrally, but as soon as there’s a disagreement, the narcissist starts bringing up past mistakes or unrelated issues to derail the conversation.

Saying things like:

1.) “You always do this. Remember when you forgot to pack their lunch last week?” 

2.) “Why should I listen to you? You never consider my opinion in anything.” 

If the other parent tries to steer the conversation back on track or set boundaries, the narcissistic parent might suddenly refuse to communicate at all (silent treatment).

These types of interactions can leave the targeted parent constantly on the defensive, doubting their memory or judgment, and hesitant to initiate future communication, which is often the intended result for the narcissistic parent.

7.) They Consistently Overstep Boundaries

The seventh sign you’re co-parenting with a narcissist is if the suspected narcissist consistently oversteps boundaries.

In this context, overstepping boundaries refers to the narcissistic parent’s complete disregard of agreed-upon rules, personal spaces, or limits the other parent sets. 

For example, suppose there’s a mutual agreement between parents that their child will not have screen time during weekdays to focus on schoolwork. 

However, the narcissistic parent, wanting to be seen as the “fun” parent, allows the child to play video games or watch movies during their custody time on weekdays. 

When the other parent confronts them about it, the narcissistic parent downplays and dismisses their concerns, saying things like:

“You’re always so strict. They’re just having a little fun.” 

A narcissist yelling at a co-parent.

Over time, this repeated overstepping can cause the child to view one parent as lenient and the other as overly restrictive.

Suggested Reading: How to Set Boundaries with a Narcissist (6 Steps)

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

It isn’t easy to determine whether or not you’re co-parenting with a narcissist.

They are so good at manipulating others that their targets often go months, years, and sometimes even decades without noticing the narcissistic dynamic.

So, just as a quick reminder before you go, the seven signs you are co-parenting with a narcissist that I covered in this article are: 

  1. They sabotage special occasions.
  2. They create a culture of secrecy.
  3. They over-empower the child.
  4. Their love is conditional.
  5. They engage in parental alienation.
  6. They weaponize communication.
  7. They consistently overstep boundaries.

I hope this article brought you value. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

If you’re ready to heal, visit The Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse to get started.


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