It’s never easy to deal with a narcissist, but if you share parenting responsibilities with one, it’s inevitable, and when something as critical as your child’s education is on the line, you want to approach it with care. We asked a panel of professionals to share tips for dealing with your narcissist ex in a way that will produce the best outcomes for your child’s future. Here’s what they had to say.
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Grey rock and parallel parenting
Whenever you are unable to completely cut ties with a narcissist, say if you have children together, it’s important to practice grey rock and parallel parenting.
With grey rock, you don’t show any emotion. When the narcissist engages with you – if they rage in your face, if they start sharing a sob story with you about their finances, or if they try to trigger you in any way, you want to remain calm and expressionless. This technique will essentially let the narcissist know that you are no longer willing to play their games and act as a narcissistic source of supply.
Narcissists are fueled by triggering other people –especially when they can get a normally level-minded person to overreact. So when it comes to your children, practice parallel parenting. If your ex-partner and you agreed to pay for your children’s college, you’ll likely have to interact with your narcissistic ex from time to time. When you have to communicate, focus only on the task at hand.
So for example, with paying for your child’s college, you may need financial information from your ex in order to fill out the financial aid paperwork, known as the FAFSA. You may have to discuss how you’re divvying up the payments, etc. Your narcissist ex is likely going to make this difficult for you so if they start raging in a text or on the phone to you – bring it back to the topic you’re discussing (the FAFSA) and use the grey rock technique.
It may be emotionally draining but remember you are doing this for your children. When you receive a text or an email from your narcissistic ex, it may be riddled with accusations that anger you, frustrate you, and leave you in tears. For this reason, it’s highly encouraged to not have a conversation over the phone. You’ll want a written record of what was said by you and your ex.
And most importantly – leave the children out of it. Your narcissistic ex may try to bring the kids into the discussion. If that happens, grey rock and let your children know that you love and support them, and you have their back. Children are incredibly smart and are likely to pick up on the toxic dynamics in your relationship. Your children may also be picking up cues that their narcissistic parent doesn’t have their best interest in mind either.
1. Be as dull and calm as possible
There is a strategy for dealing with narcissists called “Grey Rock.” This means to be as dull and boring as you can when communicating at all times. Narcissists love drama and fighting. They thrive on the energy of it all. They will poke you like a caged animal in texts, emails, on the phone, or in-person to get a reaction out of you. However you communicate, keep it short, and polite.
Even if your ex was required to pay child support, once [the child] turns 18, the courts will not mandate that a parent pays for college. So it will be up to you to appeal to their good senses, but do not let them see you get upset, or it will become a game for them to watch you get angry.
2. Use flattery
Narcissists crave attention and adoration. As long as you compliment them, and thank them for contributing to your child’s college, you stand a much better chance of them paying. Most narcissists see their children as extensions of themselves, so as long as they see a benefit to paying for your teen’s college education, such as your ex bragging about how smart their kid is, or the college they will attend, then they may want to pay. But if you put the child against them, or try to shame them, you will most likely cut off any form of financial support.
3. Let them think they have won
Narcissists love to win, and they love it when you lose. As sickening as it sounds, if you are going to get help paying for your kid’s college tuition, room, and board, you are going to have to structure your proposal to make them sound like the hero. Tell them they will be the winner in your child’s mind.
If you are an honest person who can’t stand playing games, you must realize that narcissists are beyond difficult people and nearly impossible to reason with unless you go along with what they want, compliment, and agree with them. If you need help paying for your child’s college, then be clear with yourself that you are only sucking up to them for the benefit of your kids.
Get emotional support for yourself by seeing a therapist or coach who deals with toxic and narcissistic people so you can remain calm as you get through the college years. There are many great support groups on-line for dealing with narcissistic spouses, ex-spouses, and family members who can guide you through the difficult challenges of communicating with them.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula
Consult with your attorney
It isn’t always straightforward. In some cases a narcissistic ex may refuse to pay for college. They may tell you to pay it out of any support you receive (I am not a lawyer, and it may be that stipulations about college tuition, etc. would need to be made clear in the parenting agreement of a divorce agreement). OR where a child goes to college may be about ego for the narcissist – so they may offer to pay all or the lion’s share, provided the child attends a college they want them to attend.
As with all narcissistic communication, do not appeal to the narcissist’s sense of right and wrong or to what you believe to be “just”. Do not bring up old grievances about what they did or did not pay for. And do not paint yourself as somehow more righteous where the kids are concerned. (All of this may be very true, but it will not get you to your goal of tuition payment.) Always be clear on your goal. If it is the tuition money – then find the back door the narcissist has, but do not do things to “shame” them as that will always backfire.
You may do better to “fluff” the narcissist – give them validation, turn to them for “counsel” (even though you already know the answer), play to whatever the narcissist likes to be admired and validated for, and then nudge that into a conversation about tuition. This may not work if the narcissist is firmly against it (as I said, there will be variations), but this is the clearest path forward to getting the assistance if the assistance can be had. Breathe before you have the conversation. And it won’t feel good to have to “play” at being nice with the narcissist, but if you can keep the goal in mind (supporting your child’s education) it can make it a little easier.
Above all else, make sure you consult your original legal documents from the divorce as to who pays for what, and if you already use a parenting app for communication – then great. If you don’t, then make sure you save every text, voice mail, and email and do as much of the communication in a written format as you can as this will be needed not only for your sanity but for legal purposes. Finally, always consult with your attorney about how to ensure you proceed in a way that is strategic, accounts for the standing divorce agreement, and for what is possible within the law. Lastly, hard as it may be, don’t drag the narcissistic parent’s name through the mud in front of your child. This isn’t to protect the narcissist – but to protect your child.
Bring Icarus back
College! A time when young people get to flex their new “independence muscles” and branch out into the world as fresh-faced wonders prepared to conquer all—except there might be one tiny wrinkle. Divorce. The separation of parents is the end of a marital relationship but not one with the kids. And if your ex thinks it is all about “him” and he’s free from parental all duties, here are a few tips to say to bring Icarus back down to Earth.
1. Even though the two of you are no longer together, you have a stronger kid when s/he knows that BOTH of you support them emotionally, mentally, and financially. Give your child the opportunity to get to know you not as one part of a parenting unity but as an individual.
2. Understand that your child needs you [in order to] get through college. They aren’t in a situation to qualify for independent status so having dear old dad in his/her corner will go a long way towards ensuring that they can get through school, and you will have the distinct privilege and honor of knowing that it was ALL because of you (lay it on thick girl, it’s ok).
3. Consider using an independent education consultant who can serve as the mediator between the two of you. This way, a non-biased individual who knows the higher education system will be able to inform you both of the processes and create a plan for parents and child(ren). All stress falls on the professional and not the parents or the child. The only job here is paying the professional to do what they do best. Let them worry and plan while you both get to parent and create memories with your college student and soon-to-be-adult child!
In a calm manner
There comes a time when we are faced with a dilemma, and this is talking some sense into our narcissistic ex. As for me, I had a chance to interview a couple of people who had narcissistic exes for my dating blogs. They said when it comes to their children’s future, discussing it with their exes would be a problem if they tried to argue with them. They knew they could never win an argument with a narcissistic person.
So what they would do is talk to them in a calm manner and ask them to put themselves in the position of their children. Another thing that they said is they keep a record of their conversation in case their ex wants to back out of what they discussed and promised.
And lastly, they also said that if being assertive doesn’t work, they would tell their ex that they would have to settle this matter in court. Surely their ex would want to pay for his child’s college rather than ending up paying lawyers and court fees.
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