From time to time, interesting questions are posted on some forums that discuss divorce, and especially divorce when dealing with soon-to-be ex spouses, and ex-spouses, that are poor parents, or a persons with pathologies like narcissism. Here is one recent question posed by a parent, with some suggestions:
3am my 4 year old woke up and had terrible croup. Couldn’t breathe and was hysterical. Of course STB ex sleeps until I started talking loudly enough…we ended up at the ER. He is fine but I can’t conceptualize ever leaving my son overnight in my STB ex’s care overnight. He is clueless and a total sociopath narcissist. How do you wrap your brain around the notion of leaving your little ones when the other parent is not competent?
When a healthy spouse is in a marriage with a narcissist, for example, or even just an incompetent or selfish parent, the healthy parent ends up doing 99.9 percent of the caregiving, including monitoring and medicating the children when they are ill. However, once the separation of the spouses is complete, the caregiver spouse is no longer present to be the caregiver and decision maker, the buffer for conflict, and the guarantor that the kids are well cared for when they are ill.
I believe that factors such as these need to be carefully evaluated as part of the divorce case, and accommodations made in any Parenting Plan that take into account the inability of failures of the other spouse to properly caregive for the children. If a former spouse lacks parenting skills, or lacks experience with caregiving, or lacks the ability to recognize and treat illness in the children, these negative conditions must be mitigated and addressed in the Parenting Plan. A parent that cannot care for children when they are ill should not be given the responsibility for caregiving if they are unable to do so, or unwilling to adhere to recommendations from pediatricians.
One Mom wrote in to say: ” When he got to his dad’s, his dad told him he could play some video games but that Dad had to work out first. He didn’t give him any water (despite a fever). I texted my ex after to see if he knew my son wasn’t feeling well and he said he knew. I know this stuff can be tough for men but really? I felt so unsafe. I too struggle with how I will ever be able to trust my ex with something as precious as my son’s health given the decisions he has made. This is so tough.”
Part of creating a Parenting Plan is having a full understanding of every family system. Each family is unique. In my practice, there are no universal or “cookie cutter” solutions. Each family is different, and when dealing with incompetencies or pathologies like NPD, care must be taken to draft a parenting plan to provides for the protection of children, even if the plan makes an issue of the offending spouse’s deficiencies. The wellbeing of kids is just too important