When it comes to parenting with an ex, there are multiple ways to approach it. You can take the typical co-parenting approach, which requires both parents to be civil and interact regularly, or you can try parallel parenting.
“Co-parenting is a process by which two parents mutually make decisions regarding the child’s welfare and needs (such as disciplinary tactics, school choices, extracurricular activities, academic goals, friends, etc.),” says Sterlin Mosley, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma. “Co-parenting is often used in situations with divorced, separated, or otherwise uncoupled parents who have a mutual interest in the child’s well-being, growth, and development.”
This approach assumes a level of cooperation and some alignment in child-rearing philosophies and strategies to be successful. It typically works best when the adults involved have an amicable and cooperative relationship.
Another approach is parallel parenting, which is a term used to describe a method of parenting whereby two (or more) parents minimize their interaction with each other but coordinate various aspects of the child-rearing as needed.
“Parallel parenting is typically utilized when the adults have difficulty having amicable interactions, and as such, co-parenting may be too involved and intimate and not in the best interest of the child given the conflictual or acrimonious result of the adults’ interactions,” Mosley explains. “Parallel parenting requires more prior planning and structure to minimize potential difficulties, and parents must still have the best interest of the child at heart to navigate the parallel parenting relationship smoothly.”
Co-parenting with a narcissist can be difficult because compromise is often challenging. In this case, parallel parenting may be preferable because it reduces contact between the narcissist and the other parent. The narcissist may even prefer to only coordinate necessary details and keep their worlds separate from the other parent to maintain a greater sense of control over the child.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that someone with narcissistic traits could use the minimal contact involved in parallel parenting to their advantage.
“The narcissist may leverage the expectation of minimal interaction to further obstruct, stonewall, or neglect their responsibilities or promises. It may require the intervention of a third party to help facilitate some requests depending on the level of acrimony or anger the narcissist exhibits,” Mosley says.
Parallel parenting is the wise choice when the narcissistic parent is abusive or more malignant, as it can reduce the potential for continued narcissistic abuse.