How Do I Help My Child
Who Has to Deal With the Narcissistic Dad?*
We Suffered, Now They Suffer From a Narcissist
The hard truth is that our children will struggle from having a narcissistic parent. We suffered at the hands of a narcissist, and now we see our children suffering. It’s painful to witness. The subtle types of abuse, slights, ignoring needs, dismissing wants, and disregarding feelings can infuriate us as mothers. We want to rush in and fix it.
Yet, we know we can’t change the narcissist. We also know that our children need to develop coping strategies to deal with toxic people and learn to survive. In addition, we are often in the situation of having to comply with court orders that allow this abusive person parenting rights. What an awful system! As a concerned parent, you will need to adopt/implement some strategies to help your child cope. You can help in a few ways that are within your power as a parent.
When Our Child Suffers Narcissistic Abuse
Many times our children suffer inappropriate forms of punishment meant to control them. What’s even worse is when we see our child suffering punishments meant to hurt us. There are reasonable consequences to give a child to help them learn self-control and then there are unreasonable consequences that our children endure at the hands of angry narcissists. It’s heartbreaking for us mothers who are now silenced and forced to allow unsupervised time. We want to limit the abuse and aim to buffer. I have found ways to put in “layers of protection” for my child and I am happy to share my strategies with you.
NOTE: This blog doesn’t address child abuse or child neglect. Those may need to be reported to the proper professionals and state agencies. Many times the abuse we see doesn’t rise to the level that the courts do much about. Some of us have repeatedly filed claims that get dismissed, unsupported, or used against us. Please work with your attorney to know what’s reportable and can be used in your case to protect your child. I was accused of making too many reports, so I had to carefully consider what I reported and if there was evidence. I also needed a better attorney to back me up.
When You Have to Continue to Live Through the Hell of Narcissistic Abuse
While I am not a child psychologist or licensed therapist, I am a mom who lived through this and got the help of the experts. I can’t tell you how to help your child, but I can share with you how I helped mine. I didn’t want to leave my child behind with the narcissist alone, so this meant that I had to go through the next level of narcissistic abuse with her. If you are unable to get a therapist for your child because your ex has blocked it or has legal rights, there are ways to go around this. NOTE: Make sure you have an incorruptible therapist who can’t be swayed by the narcissist (or use the telescoping technique to prepare them for false claims and accusations).
Be sure to consult with your attorney before implementing any of the strategies that I used below. Your legal strategy can mean everything to your case. If you don’t have the right to a therapist for your child, do you need to request one? (And I don’t mean from the narcissist, I mean from the judge!) Some judges will order this for the child, and some judges have to be asked more than once! Having evidence, lists of dates of incidents, school records, and reports/report cards, can convince a judge of your request. Get and gather your evidence!
First and Most Importantly, Document the Narcissist (Narc Log)
Don’t be surprised by the narcissistic parent’s horrible parenting. Keep a Narc Log. Be sure to be privately (secretly) documenting all the abuse and trauma. Include the date, time, and details. Keep a list going. I learned to just keep an ongoing list by category. There was neglect, abuse, injuries, incidents, etc.
Sometimes, it’s helpful to document it first—before responding to your child. This can help to take the sting and reaction out of it for you so that you can be present, loving, caring, and calm when talking to your child. They rely on your strength and stability. Writing down a log is very important. Documenting the crazy, absurd, and horrible behavior is your power. Use your power by getting it down in your documentation. If you feel like your child’s punishment was directed at you, be sure to write what it was in retaliation to. This is for your own awareness, too.
Everything a narcissist does to hurt their kids will catch up with them and hurt their case—especially if you have evidence and this Narc Log. The narcissist won’t attend a child’s soccer game? Document this. Document that he was invited, the day, time, details, and evidence. (This is one that way you safe-guard your case against parental alienation claims. Another trick that a narcissist can use to win sole custody.) Don’t let the narcissist know that you have a running log of his bad parenting. Keep this “card” in your back pocket for GALS, PCs, your lawyer, and the judge (when the time is right). Being able to tell a judge the exact dates, details, and evidence is what a judge needs to make a favorable decision.
How Can You Talk to Your Child About Their Dad?
We know that anything we say to our child (that then gets repeated), can and will be used against us in a high conflict custody battle. It’s important not to disparage your ex, and most of us have that written in our agreement. Know the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the movie Encanto? Let that be your motto! It can be as simple as, “We don’t talk about Daddyo, No, No, No.” Let that song play in your head if it helps. As a response, you can always say, “Oh, I’m sorry honey,” or “Hmm, that’s interesting.” We have to not engage in the conversation or risk talking about our ex. It’s very tricky and I have been guilty of this mistake. We can course-correct and protect our custody case.
So, how do you validate your child when they have suffered an emotional injury from their narcissistic parent? If you are empathetic, you feel the pain—just like they do. We also see what’s happening to them and know what’s really going on. The narcissist is toxic! This clarity is important but can cause us some psychological suffering just knowing this. There are ways to address the issues without even mentioning the narcissist! Read below!
I learned to talk in ways that validated my child’s feelings and learned to name the behavior that was hurtful. Being able to label “name-calling,” “being dismissed,” and other hurtful things was so valuable to my child’s ability to not take it personally. I also learned to talk in “story” about a similar incident so that she could see the whole hurtful/abusive dynamic play out and identify the perpetrators.
Telling stories about similar pain/problems is one way the child learns. I call it “story medicine” and it works! Telling a similar story is a great work-around. I would relate to the story by telling my own story (after listening to her story thoroughly and thanking her for telling me). Telling a story about my own childhood disappointment and how my own dad missed the mark or didn’t prioritize me really made her feel less alone with the injustice. I got to talk about feelings and I didn’t even have to talk about her dad!
The Narcissist Isn’t a Great Parent
We know the narcissist is not “right in the head,” to put it mildly. The narcissist can pick favorite golden children, ignore the middle, scapegoat the youngest/most vulnerable, and do all kinds of bizarre treatment of children. That’s why it’s important NOT to look to them for anything healthy or sane. We can teach our kids this, especially when we, ourselves, are practicing this. Don’t call dad for things he can’t/won’t/doesn’t deliver. Set the example of finding other ways to meet needs besides asking the narcissist for help.
We have to find other ways to get our child’s needs met just like a child needs to find ways themselves. We need to be smart and find substitutes for the healthy parent figure that’s missing. What we don’t want to do is send our children over and over to the narcissist to get the love and attention they crave. This would be damaging. Teaching them not to go there is key. My child no longer goes to her father for reassurance, so now her feelings are completely safe. She can have them, just not with him.
Here are some things that worked to keep my child sane and not feel so hurt by her father’s cutting remarks, negative comments, name-calling, and controlling behavior (basically abuse that the courts and CPS don’t recognize).
1. Validate the Hurt Feelings
Let your child speak, share, cry, complain, and get it out. We have to purge the pain, so do they! Thank them for telling you. Give them a hug. Don’t rush in to fix it — yet. There needs to be a space for release. Acknowledge them. Sit down and listen. Ask if there’s anything else they want to tell you about. Open up both ears. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them what’s going on. You will be amazed at how angry they can be with the narcissistic parent.
Asking our children questions can really help them get a voice and learn to use it. Ask them what they think about it. Many times, I would just hug my child and say, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” I could see her appreciate my words and she would hug me back. Validation is essential to not going crazy over the craziness we experience—even for our kids. Be ready to say a heartfelt, “I’m sorry sweetie.” Don’t be quick to have your own outbursts, angry speeches, push speaking up, or promote personal empowerment. That just makes you a reactionary parent who gets caught up in the problem. Be part of their solution. Stay calm. Use tools.
2. Don’t Send Them to the Narcissist to Fix This
Warning. Be sure that you don’t send your child to the narcissist with their feelings or complaints. Children tend to only get further abused, but also emotionally injured. It’s tempting to want to tell our ex what they are doing to hurt our children and make them wake up, but this can backfire. Don’t send your child to an angry narcissist.
I made this mistake twice. My child educated me and said that she would be “emotionally killed” for sharing a feeling with her dad. She told me how her father annihilated her opinions and feelings whenever she expressed them. She would get shut down. She let me know that she can’t have or show anything to her dad. She taught me the ropes on how to never show her dad an ounce of weakness unless we want to be hurt further. She said that he always made it worse. (There you have it.)
Kids can and do figure out who is safe and unsafe. So, don’t send them to the unsafe parent to fix things. Use wisdom and handle it with care. Let them come up with their own solutions. We don’t want to send our children to the narcissist for emotional support or unconditional love. Narcissists don’t have this to give! Even if we demand it. And don’t think that a narcissist can’t abuse a child with a therapist present. They can absolutely do abusive tactics in front of a therapist. What’s worse is that they can have the therapist help them in abusing the children. Narcissists are not safe. Period.
3. Accept Your Child’s Feelings
Let them feel entitled to their feelings. Let them be allowed to have them. Let their perspective and pain be accepted by you. There’s the danger of wanting to yell on the rooftops that this is all unacceptable parenting but then it can make your child feel wrong, bad, and ashamed. Accept that the unacceptable just happened to them. Feelings are feelings.
In life, we do need to teach our kids how to cope with injustice well and lose gracefully. Not everything will be fair to them, but we can teach them how to be fair to themselves. Letting our children know that we would feel the exact same way that they feel can really relieve them of shame and stress. I would see my child relax in my arms when I said that I would feel as angry and hurt as she did if it happened to me. Validation and acceptance can calm boiling anger.
4. Give Them the Love They Need
We have to step up to the task of giving our children the unconditional love and emotional support they need. While it only takes one high conflict parent to create a high conflict divorce, it takes only one healthy parent to usher a healthy, well-adjusted child into this world.
Be the healthy and strong parent for them. Give them the love they are craving and step out of your own triggers and pain. It’s important to focus on who is suffering the most from the toxic narcissist. Our child. Sometimes just a cuddle, love notes in the lunch box, or “I love yous” can be the bandaid they need for this. Give them the empathy that is lacking from the narcissist. And give them the attention that they don’t get.
5. Tell Them a Story of Transformation
Have you experienced something similar to what your child just shared? Tell them the whole story with the moral at the end. Let them know how you overcame it and how it played out for the best. Did you grow from the pain? Tell them about how lotus flowers come up from the mud. Know about this happening to someone else? Tell the story. This helps them feel less alone.
I would always add in a movie that had a similar theme or storyline. We would watch it together to really digest all the dynamics and details. We would talk about how the character in the story felt and why. “Movies with Mom” time was wonderful for us both. Afterall, we were both learning the ropes of dealing with a narcissist.
One time when her father won sole legal rights and moved her to another school, we watched the Disney movie Inside Out together. We talked about how hard all the change was for the main character. We also talked about how at the end of the movie, Riley was able to build new connections and adjust. Kids need to learn how to turn their pain into gold. They need to know how to transform awful things into opportunities for growth, helping others, and overcoming them. Give them this encouragement that they can still succeed even after losses.
6. Find a Mentor
If you can’t get your child the best, most recommended therapist in your area for this job, then look for a mentor instead. If it’s a narcissistic father your child has to deal with, you can look for a healthy male mentor. Be sure that this person is safe, passes a background check, has references, is professional, and is supervised. There are many professionals out there that work with children with special needs, at churches, teaching a subject like art, robotics, and sports.
It is important that a child have a mentor that’s safe and healthy. Someone who cares about them when their dad doesn’t can really teach a child that they are worth it. I have hired PCAs, Art teachers, big/bro big/sister program, and tutors for my child to have a healthy experience of a male figure. It’s important that they get this opposite experience of a positive influence. This person can become your substitute for what’s missing in their father. Being rejected by a parent hurts like heck, but being accepted by a mentor can balance this out.
Developing healthy relationships with others can help not only the child but you as well. If you need them to testify in your custody case, or if you need them to help the child through school issues, you will have this established relationship as an asset. Be sure to monitor this relationship and have it out in the open. The last thing you want is for a trusted mentor to be another abuser of a vulnerable child. So, this can be a 1-hour math tutor in the library while you sit within sight. Let them play a board game after and just relax. Be sure that there’s no grooming or private/alone time where there can be any foul play. Protect your child at all times!
7. Have Hope
It’s important that you have hope as a mom. Why? Because our children pick up on our fears, anxiety, worries, and despair. We need to be positive and hopeful that we can all survive this type of abuse and come out better off for it. We have to be the one to offer helpful words.
Many children (myself included) have survived narcissistic, selfish, damaging fathers and learned how to thrive. (Of course without their help and far from their harm.) It can be done. Narcissistic abuse can be overcome.
If you are feeling hopeless, it’s important for you to get your own therapy from a narcissistic abuse expert or domestic violence counselor. You will need support to shoulder this pain and hear all the problems. Find a safe and supportive person that you can vent to. You need to release your pent-up feelings of despair to a knowledgeable person who can validate what you have to suffer as a mom. Let the healing and wisdom begin with you.
8. Let the Child Know That You Are Going Through It With Them
When children know that you are their ally, that you are going through everything they are going through with them, they don’t fall into despair. They feel more secure: like mom is handling it. Yes, it’s happening. No, it’s not right. Yup, it’s awful, but mom has her finger on the problem and is willing to hold my hand and go through it with me!
The last thing you want to do is push them away when they share what’s going on because you can’t handle it emotionally. We can be there for our children in ways that matter. So, get the support you need to go through it with your child.
Bottom Line: Teach Them How to Move On and Thrive Anyway
After you have done these things, it’s important to show them how to move on. To switch out of toxic feelings, I would take her to a playground and leave the pain in the past. I taught her that we not only address problems and work through them, but we also get over them and leave them behind us. Learning to move on quickly from the abuse is the key to thriving anyway.
Be sure that you don’t rehash it with them to the point where it’s a constant negative focus. Give it the attention it needs but also move on from it and take the attention away from it after it’s been processed. You don’t want to spend all of your parenting time always cleaning up the narcissist’s mess. Spend it making happy memories and having fun experiences (the majority of the time). It’s important not to spend too much time in the darkness. Shift and get out of it and let light pour in.
When there was something that I felt strongly needed to be addressed, what I did was make a mental note and address it when we were both at our strongest. I would sometimes not even tackle it until after the playground, good meal, cuddle-time, and other activities. Sometimes I waited a day, a week, or a month. This helped lessen its power to really bring us down since we were so lifted up by our day.
You Can Get Through This Mom!
Know that you can get through this. Our children can get through this, too! We can help them learn, just as we learn how to navigate the narcissist’s traps and toxicity ourselves. We can also build a more solid bond of trust with our children while this happens. The awful things the narcissist does can bring us closer to our children. There can be good things that come out of such bad experiences. Think positive and get your momma-mind-set hooked on hope. Stay healthy, be healthy, and become healthy. That’s your job. You can make all the difference!
Be sure to follow the expert’s advice on dealing with narcissistic parents. (Read Dr. Ramani here)
—Grace W. Wroldson, mother, author, survivor, and thriver of 5 self-help books available on Amazon
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*Disclaimer: These tips are based on the thoughts and opinions of the author. The author is not a mental health expert nor a child psychologist. These are from her experience and may not apply to you. Please follow your court orders and lawyer’s advice on how to deal with these issues. It’s best to have a licensed therapist for your child and other trusted professionals to advise you on these matters. The author is not liable for any harm, injury, or damage as a result of using her wisdom, experience, and hope. Take what you can, and leave the rest.