Co-Parenting Abuse Defined*
Does the term “co-parenting abuse” even exist? If it doesn’t, then I am here to talk about it and define it. Honestly, after writing three books on dealing with a narcissistic ex, I didn’t even want to write about it anymore because it is triggering and traumatizing to look at what was done to me, but I know the value of breaking the silence and putting words to what’s happening. Labeling and being able to articulate the abuse helps it to lose its power over victims. Knowledge is power! I think co-parenting abuse is so common that so many mothers and fathers can testify to this being a real danger and phenomenon.
My Story of Ongoing Co-Parenting Abuse
My ex, the narcissist, decided immediately that I was an enemy to destroy when I left him. Unfortunately, he didn’t see me as our child’s loving mother and a primary caregiver working hard to advocate and support all her basic needs and then some. Instead, he saw me as a threat to his existence of lies and his money. Whether he knew it consciously or not, he set out to destroy me by retaining the most high-powered, litigious lawyer to constantly come after me.
The thing about problematic people is that they create problems. The other problem is that my local domestic violence agency didn’t know how to deal with this type of abuse or how to categorize it. They certainly didn’t know how to help me sustain myself as I endured it – year after year. They were used to dealing with situations of getting women free from a physical abuser and not skilled in helping a mother like me be subjected to ongoing abuse by other means.
What is the Narcissist Abusing For?
At one point in my eleven-year family court battle, the judge stopped the hearing and said, “What do you want Mr. Z?” Because we were always in court on his motion against me, but he never requested any more time with our child. That’s when he got a new idea and made the switch to steal sole custody. It was obvious to me that he went that way to eliminate paying child support.
Besides destroying me as revenge, he also sought to gain back his self-esteem by creating a war. So, technically this abuse wasn’t even about me. It was about his problems with himself. I had to shift my thinking from, “he’s fighting me,” to “he’s fighting himself in family court.” Ultimately, he began fighting with his narcissistic attorney who led him into financial ruin. Know that what can be used against you can be turned for your good, and that sometimes enemies fall into traps that they set for you.
Co-parenting Abuse is Real
Co-parenting abuse is real. It makes parenting an awful experience. Having to walk on eggshells and be the perfect parent to not give the narcissistic parent anything to complain about is stressful and exhausting. It creates such a stressful, uncooperative environment that many parents just want to give up. I have talked to these exhausted mothers in many life coaching sessions. After all, parenting is a difficult job in itself, add to that someone coming “after you” all the times while you try to parent, makes it almost impossible. Many mothers, including myself, have wanted to run away from the job because of how awful, horrible, and traumatizing co-parenting with a narcissist can be.
Narcissists Are Abusers
Here’s the deal: abusers abuse. Even though I left a toxic relationship with the alcoholic narcissist, it didn’t mean he would stop being himself. He just found new stages to act out his abusive tactics. When my ex could no longer control me in the relationship, when boundaries, buffers, and interventions were placed between us, he engaged in co-parenting abuse. Sometimes the co-parenting abuse is subtle and other times this can be blatant. However, the many problems that narcissistic parent created for me never rose to the level that the judge or family courts would pay any attention to –or care about. This made the abuse ongoing, and it accumulated.
Subtle abuse can be anything from being purposely late to a drop-off or transfer just to make you late to work or to miss a flight. Other times, it can be to tell you about a doctor’s and dentist’s appointment and purposely leave out that it’s at a different location than usual. Sometimes, it’s to not answer the co-parenting question but rather take the opportunity to falsely accuse you of something new. You can see how difficult it is to deal with a difficult person. This is why they call it a personality disorder. And you can’t get order from disorder!
I only wish the family courts understood that principle. Having to file contempt of court all the time just makes cooperative parents like me look like we are part of the high conflict. From what I have read and experienced, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an incurable condition. This means that the courts ask us to deal directly with the mentally ill and effectively raise a child with a disordered person. Not okay!
Co-Parenting Abuse in More Detail
Some call this form of abuse domestic violence abuse by proxy, financial abuse, emotional abuse, legal abuse, and coercive control. All of those terms combined are what I experienced as “co-parenting abuse.” Things like not paying child support for months just to prove a point, attacking my character to pediatricians, friends and family, filing false CPS claims against me, filing tax fraud claims against me, creating negative advocates who could file reports against me, filing dozens of motions dragging me into family court each year, accusing me of criminal acts, opposite/counter parenting me to deliberately create conflict with schedules (and everything), sending abusive messages on Our Family Wizard, not following “No Trespass Orders,” sending me odd text messages, not allowing our child to call me on his time, not telling me where she was living and sleeping, and the like.
Add all these games and narcissistic abuse tactics up and you get what I call “co-parenting abuse.” You see, healthy parents get over their anger and dislike of the ex and become more cooperative over time because it creates harmony. However, an angry, bitter, resentful narcissist gets fueled up by dishing out insults, complaints, criticisms, and attacks. This is what makes family court enjoyable to the narcissistic sociopath. Some of these abusers love causing trouble for others and enjoy the fight and games, whereas those of us who are focused on our child get drained, disappointed, frustrated, overwhelmed, and tired.
The Solution: Identify the Abuse and Limit It
Over the past decade, I have found ways to limit co-parenting abuse. However, he would usually find a new avenue to be as much of a jerk as he could. I have learned to not struggle with this fact by just accepting that he’s abusive wherever he goes. I have had to accept many unacceptable circumstances because the family court and my pocketbook can’t handle the numerous, ongoing problems that a personality-disordered parent creates/causes.
I consider it co-parenting abuse when the narcissist does/doesn’t do the following;
- Doesn’t/refuses to answer a basic co-parenting question
- Repeatedly late when timeliness is needed
- Misleads about correct day, time, location of child’s activities
- Prevents the child from getting any therapy
- Constantly files court motions
- Fails to use the co-parenting email tool -even if court-ordered
- Sends weird/odd/absurd texts at inappropriate times
- Doesn’t allow the child to call you nor have their own phone
- Has private meetings with pediatricians, principals, and other professionals to smear you
- Won’t pay child support
- Finds ways to hide assets or income to reduce his child support payment
- Threatens to use the family court or report you
- Is unreasonably uncooperative
- Uses parenting coordination tools like Our Family Wizard to attack/criticize you
- Plays sneaky games
- Lies by omission
- Stalks you on your parenting time
- Pits the child against you
- Lies to the child about you
- Tells the child to send a message to you that is intended to trigger you
- Asks the child to lie to you and to keep secrets
- Is argumentative at child exchanges and transfers
- Makes derogatory comments about you to your child
- Is demeaning in co-parenting communications
- Refuses to allow for any consistency for the child, claiming that it’s strictly their time
- Refuses to work together
- Refuses co-parenting therapy or creating mutual goals
- Counter-parents you or does the exact opposite of what you’ve told your child or you need done
- And much, much more
What Can Be Done About Co-Parenting Abuse? Limits
What I learned to do was to limit the abuse. I limited my interactions by not talking at transfers, my emails, my motions filed, and more. I sought out many great narcissistic abuse recovery experts who believed me when I told them my stories of being targeted and blamed. Dealing with the experts was key to getting advice more specific to my situation rather than advice intended for the average co-parenting situation.
I couldn’t make the narcissist understand me because he was determined to misunderstand me. I couldn’t make the narcissist care when he didn’t. I had to talk to the experts who understood these facts and didn’t lead me astray into more of a headache of trying to get cooperation from an uncooperative person. Furthermore, living under attack from the other parent is traumatizing and triggering for us victims. We need trauma-informed specialists that know about what is happening in the co-parenting dynamic. This way we don’t have to defend, justify and explain ourselves to the narcissist and our coach/counselor/therapist. It saves you so much grief when you deal with a knowledgeable expert.
I needed a lot of emotional support because I was being emotionally abused. While it may have been attainable to stop feeling abused by my ex, it was near impossible to not react emotionally to the abuse that my child shared that she had to live through.
Solution #2: Parallel Parent
I was told that we cannot parent the other parent. No matter what we think/feel is important, it may not be important to the other parent or the family courts. I also found ways to parent separately, this commonly referred to as parallel-parenting. I made sure that my plans and my child’s plans never depended on him. This avoided the need for his cooperation. I never asked for his time and contribution when it would be important to us. I stopped setting up expectations for me and my child to be disappointed by him.
Essentially, we planned for his uncooperativeness and his propensity to ruin things. This meant that we left him out of anything that was special to us (but were always sure to invite him as a safety plan to not be accused of the dreaded parental alienation). Most of the time, he didn’t care and forgot important events that we didn’t remind him of anyway.
We counted on his laziness and never planned for him to contribute. This made things easier on us both. We only had to feel a little sad that he was the way he was. Minimizing co-parenting abuse by using strategies such as these is definitely the best thing to do for sanity sake.
Solution #3: Go Through It With Your Child
What helped my child deal with the abuse her father dished out daily was for me to let her know that I was there going through it with her. She wasn’t alone. She didn’t have to feel alone. She didn’t feel left behind or isolated with the abuser. Even though it seemed like walking away at times was the best thing for us both, I knew that he was emotionally abusing her in the grey area that CPS and courts don’t care about nor detect.
Helping her feel loved, connected, cared for, and cared about is what helped her endure her share of his abusive ways. Letting her know that I was her ally and establishing a therapist who was also on our team helped buffer some abuse and I believe prevent other types of abuse (remember the narcissist always tries to look good.) We used his propensity for looking good as a way to control his behavior towards us. We stayed under the microscope of family court and kept our arms in the shark cage. Also, as you know if you read my book, we learned not to back a porcupine into a corner. These are all survival strategies. We learned to thrive anyway. He was going to be abusive no matter what, so we had to keep living our best lives no matter what, regardless of the co-parenting abuse.
If you need help creating/developing strategies for your unique situation, please book a FREE Discovery Life Coaching Call. I am happy to help craft creative, safe, smart strategies for your success! Keep in mind that there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach as these cases are detailed and very complex.
—Grace W. Wroldson, mother, author, survivor, and thriver of 5 self-help books available on Amazon
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- Co-Parenting with a Narcissist: 7 Self-Rules to Stay Sane (A Survivor’s Story)
- How-To Fight a Narcissist in Family Court and Win: Super-Smart Strategies for Success
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*Disclaimer: These are helpful tips based solely on the author’s thoughts and opinions. The author is not a qualified mental health professional nor a crisis caseworker. She cannot give legal advice or appropriate counsel and is therefore not liable for any injury or harm. Please follow your doctor’s, therapist’s, counselor’s, and lawyer’s advice, as well as your own good common sense and intuition based on your unique case—to see if these tips could be helpful. Child custody situations may vary where some of these will not be applicable for your circumstance. Furthermore, court orders may dictate otherwise. Please use your own good judgment when reviewing this document. This is for personal self-help only. These were created from the author’s own lived experience and not based on any laws or rules of the courts. This is copyright protected by the author and is not to be sold, distributed, or quoted without the author’s written consent.