Today I’m doing something a little different…a coaching article, and it’s based on an email I received after someone watched my webinar. I will explain why we need to stop expecting narcissistic parents to be anything other than what they are (and why it’s sometimes dangerous to do so).
Here is the email that I received:
The narcissist in my life is my husband. He moved to a smaller town two years ago where his mother and father live. He refuses to take my calls or my son’s calls, who’s 22. This is a man who offers no support for upkeep or utilities over the years. He argues that I’m more financially empowered.
Recently, he sent something small for Christmas. When I asked about it, he said it was a Christmas gift. The same day he sent it, he also came back to our house. This was after a one-year break. My son is so depressed about his father, and recently pulled down a family portrait from the wall. When I asked him why, he said he doesn’t like his smile in the photo, but I read more than that. I have noted that my son is getting emotionally very unstable because of this unpredictability and his father. He does not call to find out how we’re doing.
For those of you who may not be aware, I share custody of my youngest son with my narcissistic ex. I have been through this experience and I know what it’s like. So, I’m coming from a place of tough love, my own personal experiences, and the experiences of the coaching clients I’ve worked with over the past ten years.
Stop Expecting the Narcissist to Be a Good Parent
The first thing that stands out to me is the woman saying that her husband moved out two years ago and is refusing to take their calls. My first question is, if he’s not taking calls and he’s been moved out for two years, what is she really expecting to happen at this point? If he hasn’t been offering support or helping with the household expenses, what is it that makes her believe her husband is going to suddenly change and become a standup parent?
When I think about my own expectations back when I first left my narcissistic ex, I kept expecting him to be like me. I kept expecting him to care for our son the same way I did, but along the way I had to face reality. I had to get out of my head, let go of those expectations, and really focus on the reality of the situation.
We must stop expecting that suddenly, the narcissist is going to change and be a good parent. Think about it, most narcissists have a narcissistic parent themselves. All they know is utter dysfunction and lack of accountability. If we are aware that we’re dealing with a narcissistic individual, we’ve got to stop expecting them to behave any other way than a narcissistic individual.
The Danger of Narcissism for Children
My reaction is to feel really sorry for her 22-year-old son, because she’s saying that this man came back after a whole year. I would advise not letting him into the house. If he’s been gone an entire year, what reason is there for letting him back into the home?
This doesn’t create space for the son to heal or move forward. Quite the opposite. Letting the narcissistic parent come back after an entire year just reopens the flood gates for the son. The unpredictability isn’t only coming from the narcissist here. I really hate to say it, but we do have to start examining how our own behaviors could be harming our children. Please understand I’m not victim blaming, but we know narcissists are going to be unpredictable. There is no question about that. So, we must be the ones to create the stability and in this case it means not letting the narcissist back into the home.
After a whole year, I would not encourage my son to continue trying to contact his dad. And in fact, I wouldn’t still be calling, either. When we know we’re dealing with a narcissistic person, we have to let go of any expectations that they’re finally going to be accountable, caring, compassionate, or do the right thing. The only way you might have a chance of getting a narcissist to be accountable is taking them to court. This is the only way you might be able to get the narcissist to be accountable. And even then, it may not work.
When you have an older child, you may have to just cut the anchor and sail away as if you were on your own — and quit expecting the narcissist to do anything. And even if they sporadically send a little something here and there, like she says, he sent them a small gift. She doesn’t really say if it was money or what, but he shouldn’t get extra credit because he may send fifty bucks (for example) out of an entire year.
Basically, what we’re doing when we accept fifty bucks and give the narcissist extra credit for something like this, we’re selling our soul to them. Does fifty dollars really make that big of a difference in your life? These are the things you want to think about and reflect on.
Get Rid of Reminders
I completely understand why her son took the family photo off the wall. We have to think about our children’s mental health.
If my ex had moved out for a period of two years, I would not have family photos on the wall. That’s just a constant reminder of the pain and trauma. In this case, I would advise creating new family photos that give a real accurate snapshot of who the family truly consists of.
The focus should be on how you can provide for your child as a single parent because, basically, that’s what’s going on. We must be the ones to provide a sense of stability. I’ll offer an example of what that might look like. Years ago, when I left my son’s father, I moved out, got my own place, and filed for divorce. I didn’t leave any windows open for a possible reconciliation. From the day I moved into my own place, my ex never stepped foot in my new apartment, not once. And he hasn’t stepped foot in any of the homes I’ve been in over the years.
How We Were Led to This Epidemic of Narcissism
I want to back up just a bit and say when she had her son, who’s now 22, we weren’t getting messages about narcissistic spouses or narcissistic parents. In all fairness to her, we were told to stick with it for the sake of the kids and everyone was advising to keep the family unit together.
But we’re now seeing the very unfortunate outcome of that harmful advice. This is why we are now seeing such dysfunction. We don’t need to keep abusive, controlling, manipulative, unaccountable people in our lives, whether they’re a spouse or the parent of our child (or children). We have to be the responsible ones because narcissists aren’t going to do it. We must be the ones to let go of the abuse cycle and step out of it and move on with the knowing that we’re going to be a single parent.
If you are in a place where you need the financial support, you probably need to either get an attorney, file for child support, or apply for assistance. But don’t keep expecting the narcissist to finally come through. Even if they do come through once or twice during the year, it’s probably still not worth it. It’s not going to change your life. Maybe it’ll get you a bag of groceries…is it really worth having them in your life for that?
I hope you understand where I’m coming from with this advice and input today. I’m not being judgmental. I just want you to think about your own situation. If you do share a child with a narcissist, ask yourself, what are you expecting? And why would you expect the narcissist to be any different than they are?
Maintaining a Healthy Distance from the Narcissist
Detaching and maintaining a distance from the narcissist involves a certain level of radical acceptance. It involves letting go of the old beliefs of an intact family unit, because if there’s abuse and abandonment involved, you don’t have an intact family unit. Trying to force the narcissist to be a good parent is not doing anyone any favors, especially our children. We really need to think about how what we’re doing might be affecting them (God knows I made my own mistakes back in the day!)
We need to bust up those old paradigms of sticking with it for the sake of the family or the sake of the kids, when really, it’s doing them harm. When we are involved with narcissists and we’re trying to force them to be good parents or force them to stay in our lives in some way, we have to look at the damage it’s causing. When we have young children and teenagers taking their own lives because of their narcissistic parent due to feelings of helplessness, we’ve got to do something different because our children are taking the hit.
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