How do you protect your child from a narcissistic parent?
It starts with understanding what drives such personality types to do what they do. We have written in the past about the subject of divorcing a narcissist for women and for men, including how a narcissist handles divorce and reacts to it. We also wrote an informative article on divorcing a sociopath.
This article isn’t about your divorce or the divorce process. It’s about your child. What we write here isn’t legal advice. These are tips and a starting point for parents who have the challenge of protecting their children against a father or mother who is physically or emotionally abusive or otherwise disregards the children’s best interests.
This is written for California moms and dads. We hope you enjoy this article. At the end of this article is a form to contact us if you are interested in hiring our experienced family law firm.
How to protect your child from the physically abusive, narcissistic father or mother
Physical abuse is often about power
There are generally three different types of abusers.
- Those whose anger and violence is on display for everyone to see.
- Those whose anger and violence has triggers like alcohol or drugs.
- Those whose anger is isolated and “out of character” in other’s eyes, leaving the rage toward those closest to him or her, the spouse or other parent.
As narcissists are all about self-preservation, part of that “preservation” is that of their reputation. Narcissists care about how others perceive them. The true “deception” is who and what they are when nobody is looking…well, nobody other than those who have to deal with them every day.
For narcissists, it is all about control
Physical abuse is often about inflicting control. Abuse intimidates. Domestic violence perpetrators want their victims to be scared and feel helpless. A victim who is both rarely acts. These emotions paralyze. Children who suffer abuse are in a constant state of terror. They come home to their abusers and don’t have the emotional maturity to cope or self-heal, to make logical decisions or to find means on their own to escape the abuse.
Don’t treat narcissist any different than any other abuser
Domestic violence is without justification. No excuses. Child abuse is no different. The narcissistic personality type is actually irrelevant and the victim’s greater difficulty is to get past that and focus on protection.
- Contacting the authorities (police, child protective services)
- Domestic violence restraining orders
- Domestic violence shelters
- Refuge, even if temporary, with friends or family
There is a lot of help out there. In Orange County, we have domestic violence hotlines.
Is the timing of it important? Is there some planning? That of course depends on the situation. Ultimately though, victims owe it to themselves and to their children to get the help necessary and get away from the abuse. Staying in an abusive relationship is no way to live and is no way for a child to learn as the “normal” state of upbringing.
How to protect your child from the emotionally abusive, narcissistic father or mother
Emotional abuse leaves scars you don’t see
It doesn’t leave a visible bruise. There is no physical scar. But the pain and long-term effects of emotional abuse on children is real and it is most felt as the child grows older and is at risk of repeating the same abuse that was learned (common in boys as they become men) or becoming a victim of further abuse (common in girls who become women). Some think this happens only in physical abuse situations but emotional abuse can have a serious impact on a child’s future and adulthood.
Can court orders actually cause a positive difference?
Yes. Read that again. Yes, a California family court can make orders that prohibit the emotional abuse. They include:
- Non-disparagement clauses
- Specific orders that forbid angry outbursts (words or conduct) toward the children
- Specific orders that regular discipline including corporal punishment
- In some cases, supervised or professionally monitored visits
Violations of court orders and contempt
We have previously written about contempt in California divorce cases. If you have not yet checked it out, it’s a great read and an important one.
Role of an Evidence Code 730 psychological evaluation
California law gives the court discretion to appoint a forensic psychologist (often called a "730 evaluator") when necessary to look into allegations of emotional abuse. We discuss psychological evaluations in a specific article titled "What is a 730 evaluation" and our California child custody law page.
Role of minor’s counsel
Just as the court has the discretion to order a psychological evaluation, the court may also order a lawyer for the children. The typical role of minor’s counsel is to talk with the children although this can take different forms.
Role of a therapist
The Court can also order counseling for the children. The purpose of counseling is the road to recovery, coping and healing.
How to protect your child from the narcissistic father or mother who engages in parental alienation
Understanding parental alienation
What is parental alienation and what can you do about it? Emotional abuse is an integral part of parental alienation because parental alienation is ultimately a severe and direct form of that abuse.
Parental gatekeeping is an often misunderstood subject because “gatekeeping” comes in different forms and not all of them are bad. In the article entitled parental gatekeeping in child custody disputes, we discuss parental gatekeeping that closely parallels emotional abuse of children.
Proactive protection of children against the parent that alienates or the gatekeeper
Rather than explaining it to you, I would like you to read a good example of what the proper handling of an emotional abuse case looks like against the abuser.
Trying to co-parent with the narcissistic father or mother
Challenges in co-parenting with a narcissistic parent who cannot see any perspective by his or her own
Let’s just say it – co-parenting with a narcissist is darn difficult. Since communication is the key to co-parenting and a focus off the “self” and on the child’s best interest is the ignition that turns its engine, a father or mother who has a serious narcissistic personality disorder won’t have an interest in either.
Parallel parenting option
Yes, co-parenting is preferred. No, co-parenting is not the only option. There is also parallel parenting which can be very effective when someone is “co-parenting challenged.” What is parallel parenting? Read our featured article on parallel parenting plans on high conflict custody cases.
Most common mistakes when dealing with a narcissistic parent and how to avoid them
Overreacting with emotion and anger to the narcissist gives him or her what they want
You know the best way to give a narcissist parent what he or she wants? React emotionally and illogically. Facts are stubborn things, former president John Adams said. Facts are your ally. Skip the emotions, anger, frustration, none of it helps your children. It just distracts you from what is in your children’s best interest.
I know, it’s easier said than done right? Therapy helps. A good lawyer helps. Common sense and support from family and friends who are focused on these same goals really helps. But ultimately, you control your words and actions.
Bringing your own conduct to the narcissist’s level
I cringe when I hear good parents talk about doing the wrong thing, disparaging the narcissist to the children, withholding court ordered visitation or otherwise taking their own conduct down to that of the narcissistic parent. What causes this?
- A lack of clear direction
- Poor advice
- Emotions taking control
It’s foolish and, worse yet, all it does is dilute the other parent’s misconduct. Do you think the Family Law Judge is going to have much empathy for your situation or believe you to be the better parent for custody purposes if he or she sees you in the same light as the other?
Allowing physical or emotional abuse to fester
The last time a parent who seriously physically or emotionally abused his or her children got up one day and decided it’s time to stop was…any guesses?
Problems don’t often fix themselves. When children are abused, standing on the sideline and not protecting them makes that parent (often in the law’s eyes) neglectful of the children’s safety. There are cases that have come down where child protective services have taken children away from the non-abusive parent because the non-abusive parent allowed the abuse to occur and did not protect the children, by lawful means, from ongoing abuse.
Not documenting misconduct
Abuse can be documented and this is especially important when that documentation may be needed in court. There are different ways to document it, the most common being by email and sometimes text. There is a right way and wrong way of doing this and good legal advice is important to show how.
Not enforcing court orders
Court orders are not suggestions. They are directives.
Failure to follow them can result in fines, community service and even jail. Failure to follow them is sometimes grounds for a modification of custody and visitation. Allow court ordered violations to fester and do nothing and you may not have anyone but yourself to blame if it continues.
Don’t do that. Be vigilant.
I am not talking about going to court if the other parent is 5 minutes late for a pick up. Common sense is important here and more important is the advice of a family law attorney about your specific situation.
Ready to talk?
Your choice of family law representation is critical. Call us today for an initial strategy session. We handle matters in Orange County, Los Angeles County courts and each of the other five Southern California counties. We have offices in Orange County and Los Angeles.
We will talk by phone to better understand your case and then set a time to have a strategy session. We are excellent communicators and if your matter is one we can help with, that strategy session is set up quickly and on a date and time convenient for you. To reach us by email, please complete the form at the bottom of this page.
Here are two pieces of additional reading we believe you will enjoy and that are related to this topic.