Counter parenting is when you are having to spend incredible amounts of energy undoing the damage done by the other parent. Before you can make healthy steps with your child, you first have to do some repair work. I am going a mini-series of posts on specific aspects of that damage and how to counter parent it.
Damage - The child doesn’t feel heard or validated
When dealing with a narcissistic parent, the child’s feelings are way down on the totem pole. The narcissistic parent is entitled to say whatever they want, however they want, simply because they are the parent. No consideration at all is given to the child’s feelings, and no remorse when those feelings are stomped into the ground.
The narcissistic parent could be the mother or the father. In my situation, it is my boys’ father. So most of my articles are written from that angle. This is in no way intended to imply any gender bias. I have seen plenty of examples of narcissism existing in either gender.
When counter parenting with a narcissistic parent, you must work extra on recognizing and validating your child’s feelings. Their feelings are beaten down by one parent, they sure don’t need this to be done by two parents.
What To Do
Listen to your kids. Let them feel heard, not judged. Don’t tell them their feelings or wrong or imply that they should feel differently about something. Don’t always respond with advice or examples to every feeling they have. This only communicates that their feelings are in some way wrong. Sometimes it is best not to respond, just simply listen and be with them.
Too many times, my response was full of reasons why their feelings were wrong. I would try to talk them out of being angry with excuses and justifications.
Personal example from my life:
The boys were happily playing in the yard. But something had set their dad off. He exploded at our oldest son and spent the next 45 minutes telling him how bad of a big brother he is. Our son was a wonderful brother, but he heard all the time how bad he was. After this berating, he ran upstairs and closed himself in his room. After a while, I went to his room. It took some effort to convince him to talk with me. But when he did, the conversation went something like this:
Son: Why doesn’t daddy like me?
Me: Oh, he does like you, son.
Son: No he doesn’t. I never feel like he does.
Me: That’s because he had a rough childhood. His dad treated him very badly when he was young.
(I would sometimes tell him some of the things that happened his dad’s childhood, hoping this would help him understand.)
Me: You are a wonderful brother.
Son: No I’m not. I’m a horrible brother.
Me: No, son, you really aren’t. Your dad didn’t have a brother. He doesn’t understand that relationship.
Yet no matter how much I talked, none of this seemed to help. All he could hear were his dad’s words playing over and over in his head. He doesn’t need to hear about his dad’s background at this point. This isn’t about his dad. It’s about him. It’s about his childhood, not his father’s. Telling him how grandpa treating his dad badly has caused his dad to behave like this only reinforces his fear that he will someday behave like this too.
Never too Late to Change Your Approach
It took me far too long to learn some of this. But it’s never too late. As soon as my eyes opened, I changed my approach. Those feelings of his needed to be heard and validated, not explained away. He doesn’t want to talk about his dad right then. But he needs to talk about himself. He already has one parent who doesn’t acknowledge his feelings, he doesn’t need two.
This change in me was noticed and acknowledged by both of our boys. They told me that I seemed more relaxed and more open. Our oldest told me that I changed and became more peaceful. I am eternally grateful that I changed my approach. The boys responded to that change. This has given them and me more hope for our future than we have had in years.
How to Validate Their Feelings
Instead of giving excuses, say things like:
I’m sure it makes you feel like daddy doesn’t like you when he talks to you that way.
I know it hurts when he talks to you like that.
I imagine that didn’t feel too good.
You might even simply ask: How did it make you feel when he said….?
After making any of these type statements or questions, then stop talking and listen. Listen to their heart. In order to hear someone's heart, you have to quiet your own mind first. Don't analyze as you listen. Don't try to figure out what to say next. Don't judge their words. Their words and feelings are not permanent, so their is no need to react.
I want to ask you something. If your relationship with your child were a story book that you were reading, who would be the main character? Is it their narcissistic parent? Is it you? Or is it really your child? Your child needs to be the main character of their own story book. I’m not saying they need to be pampered and spoiled. They don’t need to get everything they want and do everything they want. That would only encourage any narcissistic tendencies they may have.
I am saying that when they open up to you about their feelings, let them be the main character for a while. Don’t make the story about you or the other parent. It’s about them right now, and they need that more than anything else. They need to feel heard, loved, and accepted.
After their feelings have been heard and addressed, then they might start asking why this is happening. When they are ready to ask, then they might feel more open to listening. You can then start helping them understand their father’s background. But if you try too soon, it just pushes their feelings under the rug and makes it all about their dad once again.
I am writing a mini-series of posts on how to reduce the damage done by the “other” parent. If you would like to receive these by email, simply join my mailing list. Your email will not be shared with anyone, but this will ensure that you don’t miss any of this series.
Feel free to reach out to me if I can be of help in any way. You are not fighting this battle alone!