Hello and welcome back. I have received a lot of requests on this topic: “How do I protect my kids from a narcissistic ex?” I have lived through the same challenging experience. So I’m going to share with you what I did and what I tell my clients. I’ll provide you with what I think are the three best things to do, and also some great resources with you, so please read to the end.
The first step in this process is to become an expert in a few areas! Unfortunately, we are not taught how to navigate something like this. We can’t make sense of a narcissist or anything else in life until we gain the knowledge, skills, and tools.
Become an expert in parenting. One of the key aspects to learn about in parenting is: children need attunement. That’s not attention; it’s attunement. Kids need focused attention, which means we as adults have to put aside our emotional condition (our internal struggles from jobs, relationships, etc.) to sit in front of the child and ask them about their day, interests, feelings, etc. Attunement is all about “I am here for you.” Our children don't need expensive or grand things, they need our focused emotional connection. Unfortunately, daily life as a parent most often consists of asking where their homework is, yelling to get in the car. Quite often there's very little sitting down and attuning with our child.
The second expertise we need to gain is around the topic of parental alienation. This is the single most significant cause of hurting our children in a dynamic like this. We often have a narcissistic ex that’s being awful, and we inadvertently drag the kids in, telling them, “your mom/dad is…”, saying that their other parent is wrong in some fashion. This is a hard and fast rule, black and white. We never, ever, ever, ever (before the age of 18) say anything negative about the ex. EVER! No matter what they do. The second we do that, we’ve inflicted trauma on the child. Every child wants and deserves to adore their mother or father regardless of that parents behavior. It’s our child's choice, not ours. The second we tell our kids the bad things about the ex or current spouse: we’ve placed them in a double bind. Now they’re in the middle. Whichever parent they choose, they lose. Doing so is abusive to our child.
Parental alienation is one of the most common and destructive things that happens in this dynamic. We might convince ourselves that it is important our child hears the truth but this is adult information and a child does not have the emotional development to navigate this information.
Here’s what I learned to do: my response to my kids was always,
“I hear that you’re really upset. I just want you to know both your mom and dad love you. We see things differently. Your mom gets to parent and will believe things she wants. I have my own beliefs, and sometimes we disagree. Your job isn’t to worry about that adult stuff. Your job is to be a kid. That’s it. Your mom and dad are doing their best to figure it out.”
That was my go-to response every single time. If my kid exclaimed, my ex said this or that about me; I would do my best not to bite. Learn that mantra. Say it every time. It’s too much information for them to process. When they are adults and if they decide, you can have more transparent discussions when they’re over 18, but not when they’re a child.
The next thing to learn about is Stockholm syndrome: the term comes from a bank robbery in Stockhom where the hostages became emotionally attached to the robbers. This happens to children: many times, they will connect to the abusive spouse. I had to learn that part of my kids assaulting me was because they felt safe with me. They knew I would protect them. Children are just trying to survive, so they attach to the abuser to save their lives. That’s OK. Don’t give into fighting and alienation. Be patient. Wait. As long as you don’t do the alienation, when they get older, they’ll see it. It’s your only chance to save them. If you give in to alienation, you will play a part in the destruction of your child. I beg you: become an expert in parenting, parental alienation, and Stockholm syndrome.
After you become an expert in parenting, become an expert in codependence. The only reason we ended up in a relationship with a narcissist is that we’re codependent and lack boundaries and the ability to say no. We have a lot of our own pain and perfect imperfections to heal. This healing is important because a codependent person will need their child to know the truth to get their child's approval of and love. It becomes about the parent, not the child. That’s not loving: it’s using the child as a pawn. It’s also passive aggressive and thinly narcissistic. Becoming an expert in healing our codependence is vital to help our children.
The final step is the most critical: we need to become an expert in healing our pain. People don’t like hearing this, but not a single person enters our lives unless we say yes to them. I don’t condone or excuse a narcissist’s behavior. It’s not OK. But if we don’t take ownership of allowing them into our lives, we are out of reality and we lose our inherent power. It is critical that we learn that we allowed them in because we went through horrific childhood pain, and that pain created the attraction. Many will believe they had a great childhood - that shows me how painful their childhood indeed was. No childhood was perfect – we are all left with wounds because no parent is a God or perfect. Basic psychology shows that our children become our emotional condition – if we don’t heal, our child has no model for what a healthy state looks like. CHildren learn most not by what we say or demand but by modeling and taking on our emotional condition. That’s why this is so important. If I haven’t healed me, how can my child heal themselves? Until we become an expert in healing our pain, we are just going to pass it to our children.
Here are some great books and resources to help you:
Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. This will help you learn about attunement and how to build a connection with your child.
Parenting With Love And Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. They have this for teens and various ages. Start with attunement before going to this one.
The Emotionally Abusive Relationship by Beverly Engel. This will help you work on codependence and learn about your childhood and pain. You’ll see the less than nurturing environments we were all raised in.
Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody. Heal your codependence, so your child doesn’t grow up with the same dynamics.
Your Journey To Success by Kenny Weiss. This is my book. It will help you unearth and conquer your pain from the past.
Finally, I have a whole course to walk you through the steps of the entire recovery process.
Thank you all for bringing up this important topic. You’re a great parent, and you adore your kids. Do the work, let them feel it, and give them the best chance possible to be the child and the adult you so desperately want for them. Parenting is a challenging process but a feasible process.
Enjoy The Journey!
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