As a mother who shares her children with a narcissist, I have done hours of frantic, white-knuckled research, scouring psychology journals and personal testimonies, looking for assurance that my kids are not doomed to become mini-narcs. I’m happy to report, they are not. And to all you worried mamas out there reading this, neither are yours.
Babies do not hop out of the womb with superiority complexes. (Don’t be confused by their whole “feed me/bathe me/change me/love me” M.O.) They aren’t born feeling that they are better than the baby drooling next to them in the hospital nursery. Until their little brains are programmed to think otherwise, they see their peers as equals.
There are a number of parenting styles that turn these innocent little bundles of sweetness into narcissistic teenagers/adults, but I will focus on what I have personally witnessed – parents who act as if their child(ren) can do no wrong.
My ex husband (we will call him Dirk, because I hate that name) never talked much about his childhood throughout our 15 years together. He would tell me little snippets here and there, but I never really got a sense of what home life was actually like for him growing up. I knew he and his two brothers got into quite a bit of trouble, and those were the stories he loved to tell the most. Looking back now, I realize that that none of these tales ever ended with consequences. Never. Had I put two and two together, this would have been a huge red flag. Those boys were above the law – the rules didn’t apply to them, in their minds. For example, take the time 14-year-old Dirk was brought home by the cops after getting a smoking ticket – his mom was angry with the officers for “overreacting”. Red flag. Like when his teenaged brother was allowed to walk around smoking joints in the house without so much as a peep of protest from their parents. Another red flag. Like the time their mom told me how as kids the boys would blow up frogs with fireworks and she laughed it off as “boys being boys”. RED. FREAKING. FLAG. This type of passive-aggressive (aka “lazy”) parenting is not parenting at all – this is letting the lunatics run the damn asylum. And this is a breeding-grounds for narcissistic behavior.
Dirk and his brothers are now in their mid-to-late 30’s and can still get away with murder. They can break up families, cheat on spouses, enjoy being alcoholics and deadbeat dads, all while their parents sing their praises and support them every step of the way. To be honest, it’s sick. The lack of expectations feeds the narcissistic ego.
So my advice to you is to take a good look at your partner’s history and how he was raised. Were his parents the type who only loved him when he was successful? Were they hypercritical of everything he did? Or were they like my ex-in-laws and instill the belief that they were not only perfect, but also untouchable?
You can almost bet that they, as parents themselves now, will emulate the way they were brought up and embrace a very similar parenting style to what they are familiar with. The tricky part is trying to counter-balance what they are putting out to your children, being the one who keeps them in check without becoming the “bad” parent. The good news is that “tricky” is not the same as “impossible” and with mindfulness and vigilance you can steer your child down the right path. Love them and praise them while teaching them right from wrong. Set boundaries and rules and enforce them. Emphasize the importance of empathy (which narcissists desperately lack) and kindness. Hard-wire their brains for love and positivity through your own example.
They are not doomed. Not by any means.
Because they have you, worried mama.