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Surviving Domestic Abuse: Parallel Parenting

For some people that are heavily invested in a relationship with a narcissistic parent, you may have children with the narcissistic abuser. Understandably, although the narcissist may attempt to take the kids away from you, you will likely not feel comfortable with the abuser having sole custody of the children for a number of reasons, not least of which likely includes your desire to remain a part of your children's lives.

In some of the previous articles that I wrote about, I keep talking about how you should try to slip away quietly from your abuser if at all possible. This is not always realistic advice. I for one am not able to just walk away from my former wife of 10 years, because I have two sons with her, and I would feel a deep sense of guilt leaving them to the mercy of someone I know personally to be a narcissist.

In most somewhat healthy divorces (if in fact you can call any sort of divorce healthy), where children are involved, both parents can compromise and be fairly reasonable in order to accommodate the best interests of the children. Most responsible parents can put aside their differences and try to come up with a fair, equitable co-parenting plan or custody agreement. However, in the cases where the other parent is a dark personality, co-parenting is not really realistic or feasible. A narcissistic abuser will do whatever it takes to get the supply that they are desperately craving, whether it's from their former spouse, or from the children. In a situation like this, you should work with a divorce lawyer to make a very specific custody agreement that will force your abuser to respect your boundaries. A good custody agreement in these situations should include the following:

  1. When and where custody exchanges are to take place.

    1. An abuser will either try to prevent exchanges from taking place, or make the terms such that it is as difficult and inflexible for the other parent as possible. Make sure your lawyer is on your side to come up with exchange conditions that are flexible and accommodating for your needs as a single parent, who is also likely a full-time employee or student.

    2. If you are not comfortable exchanges custody of the kids on the abuser's "turf", consider neutral places such as your kid's school or a nearby police station. Most police stations have a lobby specifically designated for custody exchanges. In my case, I pick up kids at the end of a school week at the school, and drop them back off at the school at the beginning of the school week that my former spouse has custody.

  2. Whether the other parent can participate in kid activities while the other parent has custody.

    1. The abuser would not give you this luxury, if the shoe was on the other foot. Make sure the narcissist can't get their foot in the door and be disruptive during your private time with the children, especially if you custody of the children for less time than the other parent. This can include activities like cub scouts, camping trips, church, or sports games, but are certainly not limited to these things. Your time is valuable. Don't let your abuser invade on your personal time.

  3. When the other parent can contact your or the children while you have custody.

    1. An abuser may try to call you several times during the periods you have custody, not because they care about the wellbeing of the kids, but because they again want that narcissistic supply, and they know this can push your buttons. Don't give them this luxury!

    2. Additionally, a narcissistic parent may restrict this same kind of contact you would like to have with the kids to stress you out and get supply from you.

  4. When you can take leave especially during extended vacation periods that your kids may have, such as Christmas Break or Summer Vacation.

    1. An abuser may try to force you to strictly comply with the schedule as stated in the custody agreement (again, for the narcissistic supply), or may run off with the kids for an extended period of time (to stress you out again, for the narcissistic supply). Make sure you have it in writing that you can take extended leave when you need to, and make sure they don't take extended leave when they shouldn't be allowed to.

  5. Ensure that the parent isn't allowed to interrogate or coerce information out of the kids.

    1. A narcissistic parent will use the kids as their own personal spies, and although you won't be able to see this, they will likely interrogate the kids and ask them everything they did or what happened while they were in custody.

  6. Try to respect the child's religious decisions or lifestyle choices, even if the narcissistic parent doesn't agree with their personal beliefs.

    1. If you have a religious preference, and decide to take your kids to religious services to help them learn more about your faith, this is acceptable. It is possible that by doing this, your kid may (or may not) make the decision to convert to your religion, which you should respect, if you are mature and are concerned about the child's best interests.

    2. A narcissist, on the other hand will try to control this. If the other parent is non-religious, or follows a different religion, they will either try to interfere with the child's spiritual journey, or force their own religion onto the child in order to "one up" you (again, for the narcissistic supply; are you starting to see a trend here?).

Please keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive, and there are plenty of other scenarios in which the narcissistic parent will try to take control of your private, personal time with the children, or you personally. The goal here is to limit this as much as possible.

This strategy differs from the classical preferred approach most people refer to as "co-parenting", because you can't expect the narcissistic parent to be mature or act fairly where your own personal boundaries and rights are concerned. While the custody agreement is being drafted, and before it is approved by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is exactly the time where you need to negotiate these kinds of statements/clauses into the agreement. The more you allow your abuser to get away with, the more they will invade on your personal life, using the children as their way to get the foot into your door. Make sure you stay in close contact with your lawyer, and if you know anyone else that is experiencing something similar to this, ask them for additional advice and feedback while you're working out the agreement.

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