Nobody is perfect, right? When the mother of your children can be described as a narcissistic mother it can lead to frustration for both you and your kids.
Do you know the signs of a narcissistic mother? Do you have any idea what you can do about a narcissistic mother? Let us dive a little deeper.
So what are the signs of a narcissistic mother?
Psychology Today defines a narcissistic parent as “someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring. Typically, the narcissistic parent perceives the independence of a child (including adult children) as a threat and coerces the offspring to exist in the parent’s shadow, with unreasonable expectations.
In a narcissistic parenting relationship, the child is rarely loved just for being herself or himself. I hate to say it but I have been there with my kid’s mom.
There are a number of checklists that define the behaviors of this type of parent and she checks most if not all the boxes. What you as a parent do about that often is a matter of the nature of your relationship with her and how you co-parent your kids.
It is not hard to find a list of what makes a narcissistic mother. The trick is what to do after that. You cannot live her life for her nor can you (usually) tell her what to do or how to behave; however, when her behavior becomes an issue with your kids, you cannot simply do nothing.
So in this article, we will cover what makes up a narcissistic mother and then we will delve into what you as a co-parent can do to mitigate the issues with how a narcissistic mother may parent your children.
Signs of a narcissistic mother
The first thing we do is start out by recognizing the signs of a narcissistic mother. These may include:
1. Lives through her children
At times this can be a tough one to spot because of course, we all want our children to succeed. The distinction is that a narcissistic mother will do things for the kids that seem to be for their own benefit and not for the children.
In other words, the kid’s emotions and thoughts are ignored while the emotions and thoughts of the mother are channeled through the children. The children become an extension of the parent’s wishes and needs.
2. Marginalizing the kids
An example of this behavior would be when the success of a child begins to challenge the self-esteem of the parent. The result of this would be a narcissistic mother that would put their kids down to try to remain superior to them.
3. I (or we) are better than everyone else
A narcissistic mother may treat others as simple tools or objects that exist only for personal gain. What makes this behavior worse is when they try to pass it onto their children by telling them that both they and the mother are better than everyone else.
4. Very superficial
A narcissistic mother will revel in trying to show how special they are compared to everyone else. That often comes in the form of things like material possessions and physical appearance and an inordinate amount of boasting and bragging about what they do and who they are.
One prime example of this behavior is a parent that seems obsessed with social media and a constant updating to the world of how fabulous their life is.
5. The constant manipulation of kids
A narcissistic mother will constantly try to manipulate children who often are not nearly as capable of understanding or dealing with this type of behavior as an adult is. This can come in the form of things like guilt trips, blaming kids, shaming kids, making negative comparisons to the kids, and exerting unreasonable pressure on the kids.
6. Very rigid, inflexible, and quick to snap
In my last article on authoritative parenting, I discussed the notion of placing high expectations on kids coupled with generous positive reinforcement when the desired actions are taken by kids. A subtle yet very distinct difference between that and a narcissistic parent, are parents that are incredibly inflexible and demand the highest expectations of their kids with no margin for error and with very little positive reinforcement and a generous dose of negative reinforcement.
In addition, the standards that are set are generally far too high or difficult for the child’s age or development.
7. No empathy
Maybe the most common example of a narcissistic mother is one that exhibits a complete lack of empathy for their child’s thoughts and feelings. They do not see their kids as important or valuable, but rather are simply a reflection of how the narcissistic mother feels about things.
In this example, children will often either fight back, try to distance himself from the parent, or simply freeze and lock up all in an attempt to try to cope with the behavior of the narcissistic mother.
A narcissistic mother can often expect their kids to take care of them for the rest of their lives. They can come in the form of emotional, physical, or financial support. There is certainly nothing wrong with a child taking care of an older parent, but a narcissistic mother will manipulate kids into completely supporting them in a completely unreasonable way.
9. Jealous and very possessive
A narcissistic mother can often become jealous when a child is not completely obsessed with the narcissistic mother. This type of parent expects their child to worship them wholly for the entirety of their lives and when they do not do that, signs of jealousy and possessiveness can come through in the behaviors of the narcissistic mother.
At the other end of the spectrum, some narcissistic mothers can become completely neglectful of their children because they are so focused on fulfilling their own needs. In these examples, the child is often drawn to the other parent, or they simply shut down and do not respond to either parent.
Now that you know the signs how do you cope?
Having been through this myself, I have some advice about how to deal with a narcissistic co-parent. Here are some tips I can offer:
1. Set boundaries
One of the things I often struggled with my ex-wife was trying to set boundaries about how we were going to communicate and how we are going to parent our children. When one parent is completely self-involved and is not interested in any type of real co-parenting, it can be frustrating for the other parent to try to figure out how to deal with that parent.
Although it can be difficult, the key is to set boundaries and stick to them with the other parent. When they exhibit signs of simply doing what they want or what is in their best interest, your best course of action is to simply ignore the behavior.
Time and again it was shown to me that when this behavior was validated or responded to in any way, it simply triggered more of the same behavior.
2. Try some type of coordinator to facilitate your communication
I spoke in another article about a wonderful tool called talking parents that allowed us to communicate in a way that was always recorded and kept in perpetuity. Since the narcissistic mother will know that everything they are saying is being recorded and cannot be deleted, it tends to keep their narcissistic tendencies out of the conversation.
While this is not a perfect solution, it certainly helps to mitigate many of the problems you will have and dealing with a narcissistic mother.
3. Don’t put the kids in the middle
I cannot tell you how many times I heard my kids say things like “mom said _______ about you”. You simply can never fall for the bait here.
Be nice, kind, and respectful to your kids and simply explain to them that this is a simple misunderstanding and that it is no big deal. Even if this is a big deal to you it is never OK to have your kids be a part of any type of negative or hostile communication between you and a narcissistic mother.
4. Keep records
I am sure none of us ever want to end up in a court battle with anyone, but when dealing with a narcissistic mother the time may come when you are left with no other option. If that is the case, you’ll be glad you kept detailed records of your interactions with the narcissistic mother and any impacts this had a neither you or your children.
5. Do not take the bait
In my article in dealing with a hostile ex, I talked about not taking the bait. A narcissistic mother is going to constantly try to push your buttons in the hope that you will respond in a negative way so that she can then say “see he is the problem”. It is difficult I know, but simply do not take the bait.
6. Take care of yourself
Through all this it is easy to get frustrated and depressed, always make sure you are cognizant of how you are feeling and take the time and effort to practice good self-care. If this means seeing a therapist, if it means talking to a friend, it means just getting out of the house and going for a walk to clear your head, always take those steps.
Is trying to change a narcissistic mother a lost cause?
Well, think of it this way, if she or anybody else said to you “you need to change” how would you feel? You can certainly influence others, but at the end of the day, they will only change because they want to change, not because you want them to change.
It is easy to get caught up in this type of thinking, but don’t waste your time. Focus on the steps of trying to deal in a constructive way with a narcissistic mother and make sure you are always taking care of your kids and yourself.