If you are married to a man who has not always taken his responsibilities as a father seriously, then today's blog post is for you. Fatherhood is something that mothers and fathers alike can take for granted. Until the ability to parent their children has been taken away or limited by time and distance, the narcissistic parent may not even realize what they have lost. When there are young children involved, the narcissistic parent has ample opportunity to use those children as pawns to further whatever self-centered goals he has.
Going through a divorce with young children and a narcissist for a husband means that you should expect that your spouse will be working overtime to show affection and love towards those kids. After all, your children can act as a useful weapon against you- at least in the mind of the narcissist. Remember that everything that happens in your life or your child's life revolves around your spouse. Even if he is the farthest thing from your mind at this time, your spouse will assume that you and your child are sitting around waiting to hear from him.
As your child ages, he or she will likely develop the independence and self-reliance that most kids do in their adolescent and teenage years. If your child is already of that age during your divorce then you may have less to be concerned with as far as the potential negative effects that your narcissist spouse can have on him or her. However, if your child is still young then you may be facing a scenario where the impacts of your case and your spouse may be longer-lasting on your child. This allows your spouse to have ample time to influence your child and work on hurting you and your case.
What is a narcissist?
If your husband is egotistical, vain, prideful and selfish then he is likely also a narcissist. Remember that the term narcissist comes from Greek mythology, where a man fell in love with an image of himself in a body of water. He admired the reflection to such an extent that he could not take his eyes off of himself. Fathers and mothers are both capable of being narcissistic but I am focused on discussing fathers in today's blog post.
What happens when your older child begins to show their independence towards you and your spouse?
Because you are not a narcissist and have proper boundaries concerning other people (even your kids), you will probably not react to your child maturing like a normal person. That is, with some sadness and nostalgia, but overall seeing it as a positive and inevitable part of life. Your relationship with your child will change and evolve to the extent that our relationships with everyone changes and evolves with time. About the other thing that doesn't change is the love that we feel towards our children.
Contrast that explanation with how your spouse is likely to handle your child growing up- both during the divorce and afterward. Narcissists are unable to see changes that occur over time as being anything other than something that affects him primarily. The impact of your child aging is felt most acutely by your spouse. Even your child cannot be considered to be someone who is more greatly impacted by their maturation process. So, you will have an uphill battle helping guide your child through periods of growth despite the difficulties set up by your spouse.
For instance, your spouse has likely made it well known that he likes to be able to see your child when he wants and where he wants without much regard to the custody and visitation orders. Even if he cannot see your child on a particular weekend, he may contact you anyways to see if he can swing by and pick up your son to go to a baseball game. Likewise, he may have just purchased a new dollhouse for your daughter and wanted to see if she could come over and play. In and of themselves these are not bad requests or gestures. Taken independently of any rampant narcissism displayed by your ex-spouse I would have to say that these sort of actions stand to benefit your child significant.
Taken within the context of your spouse's narcissism, I can't see it any other way than to tell you that these are negative character traits that are only going to hurt your child. Narcissists see themselves as the hero of the movie. By purchasing expensive gifts your husband is trying to win over your children via money and gifts. Younger children are more susceptible to gift buying and often respond more consistently in their affection towards the gift buying spouse. What happens as your child ages, can tell a completely different story.
Older children will react to the buying of gifts in different ways. For one, older children may work or may have less of an interest in material goods compared to younger siblings. These kids will not be as willing to go along with dad's plans simply to get a toy or other gift. Your narcissist spouse may be unwilling to take this perceived slight without putting up a fight. Your child will be caught in the middle of the narcissist feeling that your child has not responded to his generosity with as much appreciation as is warranted.
Grown children and narcissism during and after a divorce?
Just because you can move on from the bad marriage/relationship with your ex-spouse via a divorce, does not mean that your children are as fortunate. They are still involved in a week to week, if not day to day relationship with your ex-husband. As a result, while you leave your spouse behind for greener pastures, your children are left fighting the fight as often as they come into contact with their narcissistic father. This is not a good thing for your child and can leave them feeling isolated and vulnerable as a result.
The best defense to leaving your children in a position where they feel vulnerable is to learn how to react to a narcissist parent and how to behave in response to him when he displays negative behaviors. You can prepare your children for the actions of the narcissist and just as important for the reactions of the narcissist when your children do not show proper "appreciation" for what he has done for them.
Where does the narcissist derive their energy from?
Narcissists have a flame within them, not unlike an actual flame from a campfire. Campfires need fuel to sustain being lit. Wood and oxygen are two good sources of fuel for a campfire. You and your children act as the fuel for the narcissistic flame that lives inside of your spouse. You all act as a way for your husband to remain in the limelight and to show just how important he is. If he is the solitary breadwinner for your family then you can expect that he will make everyone around him aware that your kid's school tuition, charitable contributions, and upgrades at your home were all because of the income that he earns.
What's more, there are usually a handful of people around the narcissist person who buy what he is selling in terms of his constantly touting his great worth and accomplishments. Whereas some people would just come to ignore the self-aggrandizing spouse, you, your children, your spouse's co-workers or friends of the family may think he is as great as he seems to believe. This only makes the situation worse. It can be especially frustrating when your children can be counted among this group of people.
The real question is: what happens when these folks take a step back, realize what they are doing is not good for anyone and then refuse to show the admiration towards your spouse that he seeks? If your children begin to second-guess the motives of your spouse or simply refuse to show affection, then your spouse will likely lose interest. It is a shame to have to consider that your spouse may only be interested in his children because they feed his ego, but that may be true. Simply having a good relationship with your kids behind closed doors in the privacy of his home may not be enough for him. If that were true you may not even be getting a divorce in the first place. ‘
Your kids are mini-mes of your husband- at least in his eyes
Your children are natural extensions of your husband. It is undeniable that this is true on many levels, but to a narcissist, it is also true that your kids represent his greatness as a human being. The things that he can see- how your kids look, the clothes they wear, their friends, the activities that they are engaged in and their successes in school- are all as a result of the help and encouragement of their "great" father. Since your spouse views himself as perfect, you and your children can expect that your spouse will expect the same of the kids.
Your children are not individuals in the mind of your spouse. They do not have independent thoughts or the ability to make decisions based on their interests or beliefs. Normally as your children reach their teenage years, it is healthy and normal for them to be able to go out into the world to some extent and make decisions for themselves. You are there to reign them in if need be and to offer protection but to some extent, your kids should be able to experience life on their terms as they reach adulthood.
As we have already discussed in today's blog post, this is not an appealing idea to your spouse. He loses control when your children grow up, and the fuel to his fire starts to dwindle. Your job is to prepare for your children for the reaction that they will likely get from their father when they ask to spend time with friends on a weekend that is his under your divorce decree's visitation orders. Your spouse likely has a set plan in his mind as to how time is going to be spent. If your children do not abide by that plan there will likely be some unpleasantness to deal with on their part.
School-related choices can be especially troublesome for the kids of a narcissist father
If your ex-spouse has an accomplished academic pedigree then he will likely be very hands-on when it comes to what educational decisions that your children make. Maybe he's an attorney and therefore wants your kids to be attorneys as well. Or maybe he owns a successful business and wants your children to follow in his footsteps. Whatever the case may be, your child will need to be prepared by you to stand up for what he wants to do with his life.
The result may be that your narcissist ex-spouse does not provide any support or encourage for your child if he doesn't study the subjects in school that your ex-spouse wants. This may be a hard reality for your child to take into account at first, but once he realizes that it is his father's problem and not his, then your child will be better off.
What sort of experiences may your daughter have concerning your narcissist ex-husband? Read tomorrow's blog post to find out more.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and address your concerns in a comfortable environment. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your specific circumstances. Thank you for spending part of your day with us and we hope to see you back here tomorrow.