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Reckless Parenting: Hallmark of a Narcissist

I was talking with a friend the other day who is the survivor of a trailer fire. I didn't know the details around it and asked him if he minded sharing. There was a very bad storm, and the trailer was struck by lightning. To hear him describe it, there was no gradual build, in his words "Everything was on fire". He describes not being able to even see flames because of the thick black smoke. He was caring for a friend's baby that night, who he was able to get to across the room, wrap in a blanket, and run through the smoke. He saved that boy's life for sure--and ended up in a coma for months due to smoke inhalation.


My friend is a hero for sure, but the conversation reminded me of something from my own past that I think is worthy of some attention. Back before I ever understood the dynamic of dysfunction in my marriage, I knew that my then husband had little to no regard for my fears or concerns--especially around our children. He seemed to take pleasure in doing reckless things to get me riled up and then pull out all the classic gaslighting techniques "You're overreacting. You need to relax. It's fine." All while he continued to engage in said reckless behavior. Texting while driving (this was back in flip phone days when to get a letter C you had to push the 2 button three times) down the highway in Houston traffic, flying down a small dirt road, taking the turns 20-30mph over the speed limit and laughing as I grip the oh-shit handle and the kids are squealing in the back seat (why wouldn't they think this is fun?).


The fire story with my friend reminded me of one 4th of July where we had gone out to some friends' place out in the country. They had a trailer on the land and plenty of room for 4th of July festivities. There weren't many kids there and most of the adults were drinking. As it got late, and the adults got drunker, it became time to put the kids to bed, so I took them in to the room where we were staying. Outside, people were starting to do things like point bottle rockets at each other and light them. Watching someone launch a lit bottle rocket at some idiot hiding on the porch of the tinderbox trailer your kids are sleeping in is...I don't even have the words.


I know I tried to talk to my ex and point out the danger and how quickly that trailer would go up if it caught on fire. "Oh, relax, we're just having fun." I wish I had been in a place where I could have loaded the kids up in the truck and just gone home, but I wasn't. So I did the next best thing--I went inside the trailer and laid down with my kids. I would either be inside to get them out, or we'd all die together. I remember being relieved when I woke up in the morning.



I also ran across the picture here--my kids standing in front of what's about to be a bonfire. Looks fun, right? What if I told you that that pile of creosote (a preservative made from coal and wood tar) soaked railroad ties and dead grass was maybe 25 yards from the house? Or that the house had old wood siding with peeling paint? Spoiler alert: the house didn't burn down. But it's not just these big over-the-top displays or dangerous activities--it's more often the daily dismissal of your concerns and the children's safety.


Pumping gas with the car running and your kids strapped into their car seats in the back? Every time. I did just start turning it off after he got out of the car, but you see what he was doing here, right? I had asked him not to do that--so of course he made it his mission to make sure he did. Jumping up and down in elevators as they're moving? Only because I hate it.


These behaviors and patterns don't suddenly stop when you leave. I know that my children were subjected to and likely even participated in activities that I would have never condoned, and that certainly wouldn't be considered safe by reasonable people. I'm sure they'll make good stories one day and people may even laugh when they tell them the story of the bonfire that almost burned their house down (they probably don't even remember). But there really is nothing funny about someone intentionally doing something dangerous just to cause another person distress. That's the definition of abuse. I used to just think we just had different parenting styles.


So the question then becomes, "How do we arm our children?" How do we teach them about safety and respect for other's needs to feel safe? Model, model, model. When our children express fear or uncertainty about a situation, validate, validate, validate. Try to help them connect that fear or uncertainty to something physical they can identify in their bodies. Does their stomach hurt, are they shaking, breathing fast, or even just "it feels icky"? Look for

opportunities to give them the power to say no to things they find uncomfortable or scary.

If your child expresses fear of the dark, give them some options--will they feel better with a nightlight and the door closed, or would they prefer you leave the bathroom light on and the door open? Honor their fear and give them the power to face it (or not).


Or you could tell them that they're not really afraid of the dark, turn the lights off and shut the door. They'll get over it, right? Many years and tons of therapy down the road, maybe.


Coparenting with an abusive narcissist is a nightmare, as many of you already know. The games and the manipulation don't end when you end the marriage or relationship. In fact, most of the time, they ramp up as retribution because you left. The more we can arm our children by talking openly and often about things like feeling safe, healthy love, and using our voices to speak our truth, the better equipped they will be to deal with situations like these as they arise.


And maybe one day your adult son will tell you a story about how his dad once tried to make him climb up in the bucket of a tractor with a chain saw to cut a limb that was well out of reach. And he'll tell you that he was scared, and it was super unsafe and that he told his dad "No" and went in the house.


There's a lot that I got wrong through my experience being married to and divorcing someone who has narcissistic personality traits and behaviors. I didn't have the language or the tools to empower and protect my kids the way they needed to be. Though when I think about it, leaving was the ultimate example of boundaries. I tried to tell him. He didn't care to listen. Maybe they got that message after all.



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