It’s Narcissist Friday!     


From time to time I get a comment or an email asking how to protect the children from the effects of the narcissist in the family.  Usually, the scenario is a mother who either is married to a narcissist or is recently separated/divorced from a narcissist.  In either case, the continuing relationship of the narcissist with the children is troubling.  Even those who divorce usually have custody and visitation connections.  Unless gross abuse can be proved, so that one parent loses all rights and contact with the kids, the connection with the narcissist will continue throughout the childhood years.

So what to do?  How can you protect the kids from narcissistic abuse?  What can you do to help them stay or become healthy and well-adjusted?

Let’s begin by admitting the truth.  Narcissists manipulate.  They use relationships to feed their own desires.  They do not consider other people to be real or valuable or independent.  People, even their children, exist to be used.  This will not change.

Also, you are not God.  You cannot fix or control everything, even when you believe something is most important.  Not only will the kids be affected, you will not be able to change that fact.  God may be able to change the narcissist’s heart, but you will not.  Nor will you be able to prevent all the negative effect of the narcissist.

At the same time, you can do some things.  You can show your kids what healthy looks like.  Make decisions, take responsibility, find happiness and fulfillment.  If you are healthy, they will see the difference between you and the narcissist.  Your health, in all respects, is a key part of caring for your children.  Find ways to feed your needs.  I tell people all the time that they must find the way to health.  Get a good counselor.  Exercise.  Get some fresh air.  Eat right.  Read good books.  Make good friends.  Yes, easier said than done, but do it.

I am convinced that children will be drawn to the healthy parent.  They may seem like they take advantage of you.  They may challenge you and stretch your relationship, but they will know they can do that—while they cannot do that with the narcissist.   You will be the safe parent, the reality of their lives.  That may sound like you are the boring one, but they will understand the truth eventually.  The narcissist can manipulate, but he/she cannot disguise the truth forever.

Teach your children how to set and maintain boundaries.  Yes, you need to know this for yourself.  Again, get some counsel or education.  Boundaries are the narcissist’s bane.  The stronger your child maintains a boundary, the more the narcissist will seek to overcome it and, in that struggle, the child will begin to see the truth.

Be honest.  That means you can’t make up excuses for the narcissist.  If you work hard to smooth the water, telling the children that “daddy didn’t mean those harsh words,” then they will learn either that daddy’s way is acceptable or you are part of the problem.  Instead, hold them and love them when they hurt.  Show empathy and understanding.  They will see that daddy does the same thing to you, and they may realize that daddy is the one with the problem.

Be present and available.  Connect with your kids.  This has less to do with time than with your willingness to listen.  The narcissist only seems like a good listener.  Eventually, he/she hates the conversation and pushes the needy person away.  Embrace the children in their pain.  Don’t tell them how they should feel, let them tell you how they feel.  They will find the answers as you listen.

Be patient.  Life’s success is not measured by how you think at age 20, as though that is somehow the end of the journey.  Your children have a lot of life ahead of them.  If you read the comments here, you will see that many people only understand the truth about a narcissistic parent as adults, sometimes as senior adults.  You may not live to be vindicated, but your child can still find the way of understanding by remembering your honesty and love after you are gone.  I have had many people tell me that they only understood the struggle and strength and goodness of their mothers after.

Don’t forget that the struggles of our lives do bring us strength and independence.  Having a narcissistic parent may be more challenging than anyone outside the relationship can understand, but it can also mold your child into someone strong and alive in wonderful ways.  Failures and weaknesses often build in us the things we need to survive.

So pray.  This is not about you having a good relationship with your kids, no matter how much you want that.  Nor is it about you being valued for your struggle and victories.  It is about your children finding love and peace in their lives.  A narcissistic parent is an obstacle to that, but a healthy parent can do much to prepare the way.  Give your concerns to God and trust Him.  He loves your children more than you do.

No, you can’t prevent this challenge.  It is their path to walk.  Don’t try to do it for them.  Just walk with them.


Filed under Narcissism

17 responses to “Protection

  1. Becoming a Better Me!

    Beautifully said!

    Thank you!

  2. Pamela Faro

    This is my life and this is so true! Thank you for the affirmation. My kids are all out of the house now, and it has been 13 years since their dad and I split up, but I am now seeing this reality in their life. Thank you for this encouragement truly, our God loves our children more than we do. Thank you, thank you for being here.

  3. dianablackwood

    My kids are all under ten years old and I just left their NPD dad last November. I’m going to keep this and read it often to remind me to stay strong. I don’t want to lose my kids to his manipulation or that of his dad. But if they are truth seekers they will find their way out. So I’ll do my best to teach them how to seek truth. I’m so glad God showed me a way out while they were still young. And I pray every day that they will understand what love truly is and find it in this life. Thanks Dave for another great post!

  4. This post came at a great time as I’ve been struggling for a few weeks with this. My children are 16, 13, 12. Ive been divorced for 2 years so they’ve seen a lot of the verbal & emotional abuse & unfortunately how I’ve dealt with it. Their coping mechanism is to lie to their dad. It avoids conflict, avoids questions etc. Theyve seen how he will lie to get his way & also how he doesn’t listen to them or take their thoughts, feelings, opinions into account. He just does what he wants. Having dealt with him for 23 yrs, i get this. But, how do i teach them to honor their father? This is a tough dilema for me…..but my goal is for things to go well for THEM in life & I cant ignore that the bible is clear on this. Unfortunately, it wasnt covered in this post… Maybe another one I missed?

    • Cecilia K

      I’m not a parent, but as I read this post, I also wondered how the innocent parent would teach their kids to honor the N parent. When the N parent does outrageous things, how would you address those to your kids, making it clear that Dad’s/Mom’s behavior is wrong, but they should still honor the parent?

      And regarding boundaries, it’s hard enough for an adult to enforce boundaries with an N, but I imagine with a child, it would have to be 10X harder, because the N parent would probably accuse them of being rebellious/disrespectful/disobedient. How should a child respond to that?

      • Savedbygrace

        I think partly the answer is in what we model to our kids (whatever age they are) eg not getting caught up in the Ns drama teaches kids to ignore/not engage with some of their behaviour; ( so my adult kids have worked out for themselves that if a txt goes beyond a certain length they just delete without reading it) not bad mouthing the N eg character assassination is not on but honest discernment that is timely can give kids permission to identify and name the Ns behaviour; allowing your child to vent about the unfairness of the Ns behaviour gives them a safe place to offload and ‘cool down’ so that when they do need to respond it can be more thought out; also Ive learned not to ‘judge’ their efforts eg my teen is very sassy and passive aggressive with her dad and I would not want to take her ‘power’ away by censoring that..

  5. OTHJ

    Thank you, Pastor Dave, for another insightful post. As a child of an NPD dad, I am now in my 50’s and can confirm what you wrote. As I age, I appreciate my deceased mother more. She was really both father & mother because she worked & bore the responsibilities of parenthood. My dad just worked (at least he did that). My mom just took the abuse, but I wish she had pushed back against it.

    My dad is also deceased. While he was alive, it was difficult to know how to honor him. I learned eventually that I needed to set boundaries. In the last year or so of his life, I felt that I should only see him for medical reasons (to take him to many doctor’s appointments & visit him in the hospital). I also saw him on holidays like Christmas.

  6. Cookie

    As someone in her 50’s who was raised with a mom with narcissistic tendencies, I think the hardest part for kids is that you are seen only as an extension of the narcissist (a little version of them). So, there is no need to find out who you are, what you are good at and what you like. There is no need to make decisions and there is no need to voice your opinion. Why? Because the N parent will do all that for you. They will tell you who you are. They will tell you what you should like, what you should be good at and what you should do. When you are asked a direct question by someone, they will insert themselves and speak for you. And if you do assert some individuality by expressing a preference, making a decision and speaking up, you will either be criticized or ignored. So, based on my experience, I think some of the best things you can do for kids in this position is to encourage them to express their thoughts and preferences, make age appropriate decisions by themselves and speak for themselves. Experience in these things will give a child confidence to set boundaries when needed because they can see that they are a separate person from the N parent, even if they are not treated that way.

  7. Sus

    My friends, I am living proof of the difference a healthy praying parent makes in the life of a child of a narcissist. I am only as functional as I am because of my mother. She wasn’t perfect, I assure you, but she did the best she could. If I could go back 25 years to when she divorced him and give her advice about what I needed from her in that, it would be “Don’t be afraid to talk about him and give your scapegoated girl coping techniques.” She often shied away from letting me talk about my dad because she was afraid of him saying that she turned me against him and suing for custody. I assure you, he turned me against him all by himself. The few times my mom broke her own rule and talked about my dad are what let me see that it WASN’T me.

    • Thank you so much for saying this. I dont talk badly about their dad but i do have open, honest discussion of what is happening if they bring it up (which is pretty much after every visit with him bc they are seeing it for themselves). I let them know that people are allowed to make choices in life, good or bad, & there are consequences. I lived for too long trying to make sense of things in my own head that did not make sense & feeling crazy bc of it. I have vowed to not let them live like that. I often wonder if I’m doing the right thing by keeping that dialogue open, teaching them boundaries, etc instead of just shielding them from it all like I did when we were married. From your perspective it seems like these tools help to bridge the gap between truth & fiction/wishful thinking/crazy & makes a way for a healthy future.

  8. Once again, I wish I had this kind of counsel when I was younger and my kids were still little. Still, this counsel can be used in my relationships with my now-middle-aged sons, especially as Pastor Dave wraps it up at the end. Those last two paragraphs are so powerful!

  9. Mary27

    A helpful tool that I used with my grandkids (when their mom left their N Dad) is the book, “The Fallacy Detective” by Nathaniel Bluedorn & Hans Bluedorn. It is geared for school aged kids, with cartoons & questions, and teaches them critical thinking skills and how to recognize and respond to manipulation.

  10. Karen

    This entire post and the comments are so encouraging to me. Praise be to our Lord and Saviour who sees and knows all and loves our children more than we can even imagine. To know that our prayers are heard by our Heavenly Father and that he intercedes for us and holds all things in his hands is overwhelmingly comforting when we feel so helpless. The narcissist is NOT in control! The Narcassist does NOT have the final say. The Lord sees and works in the lives of the innocent as so may of you have attested to here. Thankyou Lord for the protection of the innocents. I will continue to pray for all those who suffer at the hands of the abusers and pray that through it the Lord works through and brings all those that suffer into a greater understanding and knowledge of his deep and abiding love for them.

  11. Betsy

    Thank you! This is helpful. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

  12. Tina

    This is a great article and I hope I was able to show that to my 3. My youngest just graduated high school in June. The struggle is still on as her dad has been doing his antics in her life since before our divorce in 2009. Unfortunately she sees him to be great and I’m the looser, just as he sees me. Sadly I believe that because of the divorce and the beliefs of their dad, my youngest and middle child have professed to be non believers as well. I know God loves them more than I and I pray He will soften their hearts and open their spiritual eyes so they will come to know Him.

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