When living in a family with a narcissist spouse or partner, the entire system believes that the only person who matters is the narc. Your children (and you) have been conditioned, through both blatant messages and implication, to believe that your feelings (and you) are irrelevant.
Since this is the message your children have most likely internalized, it is important for you to un-teach that message to them. First, you must unlearn it yourself.
Realize the narcissist has taught everyone in your family system that there is always a bad guy and someone to blame – usually you, and sometimes your children or even others. Now that you are trying to co-parent (a misnomer, by the way) with a narcissist, you must spend much of your time reeducating and un-brainwashing your children. One of the mantras you must incorporate into your home is, “No blaming.”
The overt message is that no one is going to be blamed, and with that, the underlying message you are conveying is that YOU will no longer be the family scapegoat (nor will anyone else for that matter.)
The best defense is a good offense. I would put it out there directly and explain to my children what a scapegoat is, why it is unhealthy to create one, and how it involves blame, targeting, bullying, disrespect, and a lack of personal responsibility. I would start teaching my children to own their own behaviors and feelings without casting aspersions on others.
One thing that you may find challenging is not blaming your narcissist for everything; because, after all, he is the cause of all the problems in your family (at least, that’s probably how you see it.) So, this requires somewhat of a balancing act. You must figure out how to educate your children on the problems with emotional abuse and you must also be able to call it out, while at the same time, not blaming your significant other.
This is hard, but not impossible, if you remember that there is a difference between explaining and blaming. Explaining things to your children and educating them is an important job of a parent. Role modeling how to scapegoat and blame others is an entirely different lesson. This is the lesson we want to avoid ourselves and undo in our children.
In order to teach your children that scapegoating is inappropriate, role model the change in your house. When one of your children tries to blame you for something, or treat you disrespectfully, do not engage in the argument or in a debate. Just step back; take a deep breath; and make the comment, “I see that you believe you can talk to and about me this way,” adding, “This belief is causing you to act disrespectfully to me, your parent, and it needs to stop.”
The same principle applies to treating each other disrespectfully.
Depending on the age of the child, I would go on to add, “In this house we do not scapegoat others; that is, we do not blame others for any of our problems; instead, we take responsibility.”
Do not debate, argue, convince, or listen to any of your children’s disrespectful words. Simply role model to them what you will do if they choose to treat you or someone else poorly. Educate them on the concept of scapegoating, and then move on.
The way to undo any type of conditioning in your children is to have them experience a new and different reality; one full of respect for others and one of empathy. Provide them with an environment where people are listened to and treated kindly. Provide your children with an atmosphere that has direct and honest communication, one without an elephant in the room.
Reflect to them what you see them doing, such as, “I see that you believe it is okay to call me a name.” Once you reflect what you see, then explain to them how unfortunate it is for them to lose their privileges, freedoms, or ability to make their own choices for a certain amount of time.
Co-parenting with a narcissist is not easy. I have heard that a more appropriate term would be, “Co-parenting in spite of the narcissist.”
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