You cannot co-anything with a narcissist. You are only permitted to orbit.
Seriously, this whole notion of reciprocity and consideration, the idea of being an equal partner is anathema to narcissists. There is the narcissist and then there is supply. That’s you, the little people, the creators of ego kibbles. Since your divorce you’ve proven yourself to be inferior kibbles, so why would the Great One trifle with you? Can you be of any use to them? No? Quit that buzzing sound. Go away.
But full of parenting classes and divorce therapy, chumps will tilt at that consensus windmill. Surely we can agree that you will pick up Taylor at 3 p.m. for the sports banquet, right? RIGHT? It’s your day. Says so in the order. Taylor is so looking forward to it. This will happen right? RIGHT?
And then it doesn’t. Or it happens with that half-assed narcissist flair. What’s the problem showing up at 4 p.m., drunk, and leaving early? Why are you being such a dick about this?
Their imperious tone will infuriate you. Their willful obliviousness to obligations will make you want to smother them with a pillow. A leaden, spiked pillow laced with anthrax. Watch as they assume you’ll cover for them when they fail to show, fail to pay, fail to answer…
How do you co-parent with THAT?
Some primers on parallel parenting from yours truly. I’ve been dealing with the crazy for over a decade. (I should set a doomsday clock for when my kid turns 18.)
1. Give up the idea of parenting consensus. Parallel parent instead. Your house, your rules. Their house, their chaos. You don’t control it. Your only obligation is to do what the court tells you and hand your kid over at the appointed time, like a hostage drop off.
Crappy parenting isn’t a crime. Realize it has to rise to the level of immediate harm to the child for the courts to be interested. Too many video games and not enough fresh vegetables doesn’t cut it. Physical abuse? Sexual abuse? Neglect? Call Child Protective Services. Everything else, talk to a therapist. Children get introduced to affair partners all the time. It’s the rare judge who gives a shit. Remember, they see hideous cases of abuse in their court every day. Trixie wants to bake cupcakes with your daughter and buy her her first training bra doesn’t count as abuse. It’s a shit sandwich for you. Eat it and try to ignore what goes on over there.
2. If they fail to abide by the order, don’t dance. If your ex fucks up, don’t accommodate them. Let me be clear here — I’m not saying don’t switch Saturdays with them because they have an out of town wedding. (Reasonable request, reasonable accommodation.) I’m saying if they fuck up something like visitation — do NOT chase them. “Thursday’s out? How about Sunday? Could we do Sunday?” or “You’re supposed to give me the summer schedule by March. It’s May. Um, when will I get it?” They don’t get it to you? It doesn’t happen. You’re not obligated (unless your order says so) to dance for them. If they can’t communicate about when they’ll get their kids, DOCUMENT THIS, and then make other plans.
Don’t play the narcissist game of I’m So Powerful You Can Wait. If they break a court order, it’s not your job to make that shit right and cover for them. Get on without their input. They’ll probably swoop in 40 days too late and demand accommodation. Tell them to fuck off.
3. They don’t care what you think or what’s best for your kids. They only care how they are perceived. You can use this to your advantage. Whether that is how they are perceived by the court (cc-ing your correspondence to your lawyer), how they are perceived by their community or other people they deem important, let them know you have those peoples’ ears.
Some people manage to suck up to narcissists and play this game very well. You’re supposed to flatter them, praise them, tell them how handsome/beautiful they’d look playing the role of Responsible Parent. Everyone is just so excited about them and their accomplished offspring. Do our child a solid and fulfill this small obligation. We’ll throw confetti! Name a constellation after you! Send you home with a tote bag! Won’t that be awesome?
I’m awful at this. Let me know if you have any success with toadying. I find it better to remind narcs that People More Fabulous Are Watching. Or People They Fear Who Can Really Fuck With Them Might Not Look Kindly On This.
4. DOCUMENT. Always cover your butt with email. Never make verbal agreements with fuckwits.
5. Never pull your punches on support. Always dock child support through the state. Because then the state gets to be the heavy and enforces consequences when they don’t pay. Never take an IOU from a narcissist. You think they’ll do right by their kid? That’s a very iffy proposition. What’s in it for them? No, make the state be Vinny who will kneecap them if they don’t pay up. (Okay, not really kneecap them, but put a lien on their house and take away their passport.)
6. Don’t let them steal your joy. I won’t lie to you, trying to co-parent with a disordered person SUCKS. It sucks for years and years. There are going to be days when it grinds you down to a nub. But get up again. You’re the sane parent and you have a job to do. Raise those kids. These assholes will try and suck ALL the joy out of it — don’t let them. Hold your babies close and know that you’re the parent who cares, who shows up, who pays the orthodontist bill. You know and the kids know it. And the narcissist can go race sail boats or buy a new crossbow or a new set of boobs or whatever it is these idiots value. You WIN. You win the kids. They get YOUR values, your sanity, and your stability.
It takes a long time to achieve meh about breeding with a fucktard, but it can be done. Stay the course, chumps. You’re mighty!