An envelope is laid across a desk with a cup of coffee and the words 'listener's letter'.

Listener’s Letter: Episode 98


Written by In Sight

This week’s episode discusses co-parenting with a narcissist, sharing the emotional impact of court ordered contact with a diagnosed Narcissist. Our listener asks for advice and guidance around how to support her children through this incredibly difficult period.

Here’s the letter in full. If you’d like to send your own question for Helen and Katie to answer, we’d love to hear your story.

This letter contains mention of verbal and physical abuse, traumatic brain injury, PTSD and court proceedings.

Dear Katie & Helen,

I come from a narcissistic single mother and married at 19 to get away from home. No surprise, I dashed right into the control of another narcissist. We had 2 children before we divorced, and he spent over 3 years fighting me on absolute nonsense drawing out the divorce before meeting another woman and deciding he was ready to sign the papers and let me go. He was initially mostly verbally abusive, but towards the end after a combat related TBI and PTSD he became physical and I took the kids & ran. I’ve had to work hard to forgive myself and know that I acted when I finally realized what a serious matter our relationship was. I’m also now estranged from my mother after much reflection and recognizing the pattern in place my entire life. My children were 1.5 (daughter) and 3 (son) when I left him, so they have no memories of us being together.

I’ve remarried and my husband is incredible. We’ve put lots of work in to healthy communication, and I still am floored that this is real life sometimes. We were friends first, and he’s known my kids since they were 3 and 4. They choose to call him dad and trust him as much as I do. (The first time they just wanted to talk to Dad was so eye opening. My daughter was probably 5ish? She sent me away and said she just needed Dad, she might tell me later. I felt such massive relief that she had A WHOLE OTHER ADULT she trusted and could lean on! My son was probably about 6ish before he had a similar talk, and they’re two peas in a pod when they get going on shared interests! To this day I’m not sure what their talks were over, but if it was important for me to know Hubs would have told me and they know when they “just need Dad” they’re welcome to that time and energy.)

In the years that have passed since my divorce, my ex has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder during a 30-day inpatient stay for his mental health. It was no surprise to me, and it’s honestly a relief to have what I knew in my heart confirmed. The strain comes in co-parenting with him and his wife.

He has remarried and has 3 additional children all under 6. Mine are now 11 and 13, and as you’ve mentioned often in your podcast they’re exploring their identities, experiencing puberty, developing their own values and pushing boundaries as kids need to do. They’re honestly great kids and I couldn’t be more proud of who they are/are becoming.

They’re starting to struggle with their father recently, my neurodivergent daughter more than my son. They see him every other weekend and he lives 2.5 hours away (he chose to move that far and is court ordered to do all transport on his weekends to see them). Son is the 1st boy born between ex and his 3 siblings in a southern Catholic family, is neurotypical, and people pleases his father as much as possible. I’ve had to step in before to help him speak up to ex, and it’s becoming more of an issue as he develops different priorities. Daughter was a surprise baby, a girl, and is neurodivergent. Ex tells her she’s difficult, doesn’t practice any of the accommodations I’ve suggested to make his home feel safer for her (a quiet space to escape the preschoolers/infant to recharge, one on one discussions instead of “family conferences,” background music at night to help her sleep, small things that make her and everyone around her live more peacefully), and recently devastated her to her core. Son is facing an entirely separate attack.

She had a meltdown due to overstimulation at his home, and ex and his wife told her if she couldn’t get herself together she may not be welcome to visit weekends any more. It all could have been avoided if her limits were respected. She’s heartbroken and furious. I’m spending a lot of time listening to her and letting her process her betrayal by her father, but I’m so lost from here.

My son is facing entirely different pressure. He’s a musician and plays flute, electric guitar, and multiple percussion instruments. He has treasured friends he plays videogames with online, school band events, and music school events including gigs with his percussion band. These of course overlap with his father’s weekends regularly. Ex has started laying on the guilt over son having his own life (half-siblings miss you so much, I feel like I never see you, etc.).

Son can’t understand why his sister can’t just deal with it over the weekend. Daughter can’t understand why son can’t just tell their father if he misses son so much he should show up to events, bring the half siblings, why is brother so hung up on making him happy when their dad has the power to resolve it. I’m struggling so hard to help them both with their individual needs and to respect each other’s separate struggles, but I’m lost. I don’t know how to help them cope with their narcissistic father, if/when I tell them he’s a narcissist and start teaching coping methods, and all the while I’m deflecting my ex being critical of me “allowing them to be so rebellious and difficult” towards him.

I don’t want them to think this is normal. They’re seeing the differences between my husband and my ex and starting to ask questions. I don’t know how to help them survive court ordered visits with their independent struggles without oversharing or saying too much at an inappropriate level. I’m getting lost trying to stand up to my ex on their behalf. How do I help the kids flourish as themselves and not let ex crush them just as they start becoming their own people? And my husband is struggling with how he can support all 3 of us without placing himself in the middle (we have a hard boundary where I deal with my ex in conflict, he helps with sharing event info and would help advocate for the kids but it’s more effective when I’m the one to stand up to ex).

Any insight and direction would be helpful. Co-parenting with a narcissist through puberty is proving to be more than I was prepared for, and I just feel lost and a little hopeless that I can’t protect my children from his damage. I feel like I’m fighting off never-ending waves shielding them from my mother (estranged, told to stay away, and she fights back against it every few months) and having to send them into the viper’s den on their father’s weekends. We thankfully have lots of other support – my aunt (mother’s sister), ex’s 5 aunts, my best friend, and some other friends close enough to know the situation. But none of us know how to get the kids through this as unscathed as possible. They have incredible fires in their souls, and every one of us would fight a bear to keep those fires from being extinguished if we only knew what to try next. (Maybe that’s dramatic, but my friend group is full of various flavors of neurospicy and we just are who we are, which includes protecting all these kids whether we made them or someone else did. We’re like a bunch of somewhat huggable honey badgers.)

Thank you for reading, even if you don’t have an answer. I’ll gladly answer any questions you may have, especially since I didn’t address much about my family of origin here.

Wishing you well,


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