Children’s Behavior after Visitation with Narcissistic Parent

When my kids started spending more than a few hours with their dad, I noticed that their behavior changed – significantly.  They became more sensitive, grumpy, controlling, angry (omg …. yes, angry), more physical hitting of each other and more issues with sleeping (unable to fall asleep, nightmares).  There were also regressive behaviors – more toileting accidents and desires to do infantile behavior.  There was also clinginess…  the inability for me to walk 10 feet away without them running behind, sometimes in pure worry.

I noticed that they would settle back to “normal” after about a week of not seeing their father.  If the visit wasn’t too bad (not much anger on his part), then they would settle down within a few days.  If it was really bad and he was very angry during a visit, then it could take almost the entire two weeks that we had before they saw him again.  Now – they do see him for a mid week dinner visit, which could also upset the apple cart as well.  The big upsets were (are) the weekends.

The day I spoke to my attorney about it and she told me that she hears this from many parents in my shoes with similar ex’s, it was such a relief.  It was so easy for me to wonder if I was just seeing things, or if my imagine was making things up (especially because this is what my ex proclaims).   I did, however, keep a calendar log and could see how the behaviors played out.  By the time we reached “our weekend”, things could start to flow and the more “easy going” nature of my children would reappear.  My attorney said she had another client who’s children only have supervised visitation every other weekend for a few hours – and the primary custodial parent notices this herself.

The other factor that comes into play is when people would say “but my kids do the same behavior, and we’re not divorced”.  Ok, true… it is hard to tell what behavior is “normal” and would exist no matter what and what behavior is caused by the disruption in routine & care and replaced with a very different style of parenting.  The reason why I had come to think that they were related, though, was the way that I journaled it and saw a pattern.

A friend of mine and I were texting last evening, and she said her son returned from his father seeming very depressed.  I had noticed myself when I saw her son the day prior that he was sullen, and not his jovial self.  My friend doesn’t label her son’s father as narcissistic, but I have seen his raging behavior and read the really mentally messed up emails he sends her.   His behaviors mirror my ex’s.

My point in writing this post is to share the “ah-ha” that I had the day I spoke with my attorney.  Maybe this will help someone else who has wondered if the behavior change is real or imagined.

28 Responses to “Children’s Behavior after Visitation with Narcissistic Parent”

  1. Amanda says:

    my ex is NOT a narcissist but a sociopath, which are similar but sociopath’s have no remorse about anything. He also has intermittent explosive disorder and OCD. I later found out he married me for a green card and he told judge he never loved me. He got me pregnant on purpose to assure his residency. HE had married before but apparently the girl pulled out last minute. HE was completely different while dating. Perfect Id say. As soon as we were married, things quickly changed from one day to the next.
    There is not much support and information on these subjects, so I was happy to find a website like yours. I separated from my ex while I was pregnant. He tried to kill us 2x. and further tried to hurt my son when he was born. I couldn’t see my life this way as I had never been in a relationship like this and decided to leave after my son was 7 days old. I reported him and was is trial for almost 2 yrs for custody and divorce. I honestly thought he would not fight me on it. Boy was I wrong. $30,000 later, I won in the court, NO sleepovers, no unsupervised visitation and what shocked me most that I didn’t even ask for, the judge said he could never see him on Shabbat. Im Jewish and practicing so that was such a miracle and relief. On our day of rest, literally meant a day of rest and never would be interrupted. Since I separated he has only seen him at most 20 times. MY son is 2 years and 8 months. just in the year 2013 he saw him a total of 11 hours and within 6 visits. Since day one, my son has shown he did not favor him. AT 2 months old, my son would show signs of disfavor. my son was pretty happy baby always smiling and laughing. From 1 month he could hold his head up and by 3 months was laughing out loud really hard. so at 2 months when he would be in front of my ex, he would get very serious and not one smile. as soon as my son was given back to me he would immediately smile and back to normal again. at around 10 months, he saw him and he immediately came back sick. Within a 5 month period he saw him a couple more times and would come back sick. (he never was ill on my clock) When he was 18 months, the supervised visits switched to a park and saw him there. The next time he saw him again was 6 months later for his 2nd birthday at the same park. I did not tell him who he was seeing. All I said was that we were going to the park and he had his ball in the car and was Happy!!! about it. As soon as we got to the park and he saw which park it was, he went crazy. Screaming no no no no!!! mommmy no. go home. etc. then got very serious. When the supervisor got him, he went with her reluctantly, walking holding her hand kicking his feet on the ground or like dragging them with his head down. (this broke my heart, like I cant even explain, I felt helpless). how did he remember from 18 mo to 2 years of age, what was going to happen!!!! and where he was!!! I try my best to be positive. I would never before say anything about it because I thought he was too young to understand. Boy was I wrong. Just yesterday he had a visit, and when I picked him up, he was the first time excited, probably because the bio dad gave him a huge Thomas track present. The first thing he said was look, Daddie got for me, Surprise! I remained positive and we left, in the car he tells me that he wants to go to the store to buy Percy. I said, you have 2 percy’s at home… we were on the way to target for diapers and so when we got out of car. I put him in shopping cart and he said to put the big Thomas box in the cart. I said no that it would stay in the car… he insisted so I did. in the store he mentioned nothing of percy again. when we got to check out counter, he always helps put all the items on the belt, and the last thing in the cart was the Thomas box. and he said mommy pay for Thomas. I was taken aback because he knows where that came from. I said no, baby it was a gift to you remember, mommy doesn’t need to pay for it. We went home. I stepped out for a moment to the store later in pm and he stayed with grandma. He told grandma, while looking at the box. “Grandma got Thomas for me”… She said no… then he said “mommy got for me”. she said no, it was a gift.
    So Looking back, he wanted to either please me, maybe he feels deep down inside I don’t approve of his father, even though I never speak about it in front of him, or he wanted to justify the gift in his brain that by mommy buying it in store it would no longer come from his “dad”. These are behaviors to watch out for, I do not know what to do and how to talk to him about his bio father… I have nothing positive to say. But at same time I do not want my son to feel like he cant talk to me about anything or feel shameful. any advice on that would be great. I have asked women in distress and others but no one seems to have an answer for me. “take it one day at a time”, they say.
    Let me add, I am very involved with my son, I truly enjoy being with him and spending every moment possible. We do lots of child social events and I teach him at home languages, math, science, games, reading.etc… Hes never away from me rarely ever, the longest has been in 2 hr supervised visits. I prayed so hard that this ex would never be around, I don’t even want child support. But obviously the courts don’t see it that way. I know Im very lucky, that the visits are as controlled as they are, in comparison to some. I hope this is not too long, but I figured there may be others like me, I just wanted to share my experience).

    • Amanda says:

      oh I also want to add, that I came across a KidSafe book that talks about abuse etc. really interesting but at the end it has a big circle and says “People I trust” at the top. I am to print pics and put them on there of people my son trusts.
      I was thinking maybe I should have 2 charts. One that says “People I love and Trust” (which includes, mom, grandma, grandpa) and one that says “People I love”, which will have a pic of his father and maybe someone else.
      I think this could help differentiate who he loves and TRUSTS and that it ok to love “father” but its ok not to trust him”. I never want to instill hate in my son. no matter what. but I don’t want him doooped by his father either.
      Does anyone think this is a good idea?

    • Kristy says:


      What kinds of evidence did you have to present in court to get that court order? I am in the same situation and my ex is a sociopath. My daughter exhibits anger and agression after visits with him and her whole demeanor changes. She is 25 months. She has to skype with him twice a week and has night terrors for usually three days after the skype session. I too have spent a huge amount of money so far on my custody case and have not gotten anywhere. Any advice would be appreciated.

      • Amanda says:

        Document document every little thing!!
        Record her conversations before Skype call during and afterwards. To show change in behavior.
        Take her to a dr. Whether it be a physician or psychologist.
        Report her night terrors.
        Did you call the police in the past?
        Anything he remotely does wrong call the police, make a police report. Immediately. Anything threatening in nature.

        Unfortunately, since we don’t think like sociopaths it’s hard for us but you need to start thinking how they would think and be one step ahead all the time. You must be the one to always keep him in check like playing chess., look at sociopath forums, where they actually talk to each other. You get to see how they really think.

        Also there is a website called our family wizard. It’s great bc it forces the sociopath to be civil. And it’s 100% allowed in court as proof. Works like an email/calendar.

        Has your ex been to a psychologist for a full evaluation? If not, it’s imperative to prove his mental illness and be allowed to talk to the psychologist yourself to tell your side,
        Lastly, my faith, prayers and family have gotten me thru this. I told the truth as facts to judge and he saw right thru everything.

        I will keep you in prayer.

    • Michelle says:

      Great article. I wish it had some suggestions on how to handle this situation and help kids who are going through this and these transitions. I am the future SM of three children who show signs of regression, aggression, fear and separation anxiety after they have been gone to their mom’s, even if only for one night. They come home tired and hungry which only add to it because once they are tired and hungry they are harder to reason with. We frequently deal with kids who don’t want to go to bed unless dad is by their side because they are “scared” and I suspect that it is a bit of separation anxiety playing out. They go to bed fine until they have been gone on an overnight there. One child also tends to wake up earlier or throughout the night more after a visit with his mom, needing reassurance and his dad’s presence by his side. I need some sound advice on ways to help their transitions so they can recover quicker from their time away. I’m only the future SM, but I want to help their dad and support him and the kids.

    • sam says:

      This web site example abusive mom’s

      Will create conflict with their child just after visits with the other parent and then blame the other parent for being the cause of the conflict with the child
      In many cases, the HAP parent will creates conflict with their child many times when the child returns from visits with the other parent. The parent may interrogate the child about the visit, or may say bad things about the other parent to get the child upset. When the child does get upset out of frustration, the HAP parent will report the child’s behaviour and report that this problem seems caused by the visits with the other parent. In most cases, the HAP parent is trying to have the child’s access to the other parent reduced by placing blame on the other parent.

      • Hi Sam, I read the article link that you sent, to understand what an “HAP” is. Much of the list is what my kids have experienced – like having their dad limit phone calls to me to one per day or not allow it at all (or if I missed the call, he wouldn’t answer me calling back), monitoring the phone call (what for? can’t we speak freely when they are with me?), even so much as taking the phone out of their hands and yelling at me. My ex’s dad even did that when they visited them – yelling at me to not ever call his house (our cell phone call was disrupted, so I called his house phone – ONCE). They’ve also had their dad threaten to call the police when they said they didn’t want to go, threaten suing me for more custody (he threatens them with that), etc.

        I’ve found that more recently, the threats peak when he feels attacked in any manner. Because he orients from his external environment, if anything changes (like the kids say don’t want to do the activity he planned to do when he picked them up), this can trigger him to threaten and attack. It is something that someone who functions normally could deal with, but because he can’t function normally – it’s a huge attack to him. It’s interesting when it’s possible to step back and look at it objectively.

        Unfortunately, it’s not acceptable behavior and damaging for the kids to be around it, who can’t yet process that there may be physical or mental health reasons for the severe behavior.

        Thanks for writing!

  2. Carol says:

    My fiance’s 5 year old daughter has the same issue, but her mother is the narcissist and when we pick her up after the 3 days a week she spends with her mother it is just horrible, for all of us. Her personality mimics her mother, in body language, attitude, and voice. She is accusatory, nasty and aggressive. That first night home with us she sleepwalks. Luckily by the next morning she seems to be past it and back to her happy self. Her dad is afraid she is developing a split personality, and I read that 25% of kids of narcissists have their own personality disorders, which makes me afraid of what the years ahead will hold. We are in the middle of a court custody case for a pending move away and are hoping to gain full custody. If she moves aways with her mother, I fear she will be lost to us. I have never known anyone who destroys people the way this woman does. I know most of these posts are about male ex’s, but I think it’s even worse when the mother is crazy evil one.

    • Hi Carol. The stats I’ve seen are 75% male, but hey – they are redoing the definition of narcissistic personality disorder anyway, so I suppose that would also redo the stats. However, I find it interesting that there are more books to be found on narcissistic mothers than fathers. I have a friend who grew up with one – and it seemed to really wreck havoc on her. I hope the move away case works out. Read the books about divorcing a narcissist or borderline by Randi Kreger – those are very helpful in thinking about how to approach the case with this type of personality.

  3. FedupStepMum says:

    Unfortunately, we have the complete opposite, where we are having things completely blown out of proportion, she gets her way, and then drops the ball when there is an inkling of her being called out. One of the things that bothers me most about dealing with my husbands NPD/HCP ex-wife is that she would say these things about HIM. The projection, shamelessness, entitlement, manipulation and double standards that this woman throws at us are unbearable at times. Fortunately, because we have established the email/texting only to help hold her accountable for what she says and does, she has not been able to get away with lying, twisting words around, and blowing things out of proportion the way she used to. For the longest time, because it would come down to the he-said-she-said in court, he would get accused of things and screwed on a lot because she could turn on the “I’m the mom and I know my babies!” (even though she spends MINIMAL amount of time with them on her own parenting days) and the court would rule in her favor. She’s crazy crafty and manipulative. You wouldn’t believe the little world that she has created to help get her the most benefit with minimum amount of actual effort. This includes a live in nanny that she previously had a sexual relationship with, and one that currently gets paid a lot of money to watch the boys on mom’s day in lieu of my husband paying child support, per signed agreement filed with the court. SO WEIRD!

    She claimed that the kids (9 and 6) had anxiety issues to the point they needed “fixing”, especially the 6 year old (Yes, she even told the last mediator that she just wanted the 6 year old “fixed”, like they were a broken toy or something). She wanted them in counseling which we weren’t too thrilled about because their anxiety issues were all during their mom’s and “nanny’s” time with them, not ours. She also had blamed us for all these problems that were completely unique to her and the nanny’s time with them. They weren’t showing showing problems at school, on our time with them, or in other social situations when the mom and nanny aren’t around. Our suggestion was that she and the nanny go to parenting classes and communication classes since their issues seemed to stem from discipline inconsistencies between the two of them. Thank God that within months of us marrying, her former best friend and I began to talk and have discussions about her experiences with the ex and her “nanny” while they had the kids. Because of what we have been told and what we have in writing, we have been able to defend ourselves against her accusations. The kids’ behavior with us versus them is night and day, including them being respectful, relaxed, and happy. Nothing like what she experienced while they were with mom or the nanny. She even went so far as to write a huge letter explaining why she wouldn’t spend time with the kids anymore unless it was on my husband’s time and what the differences were with regard to their behaviors. She called them out on their lack of discipline, and mom’s inability to really parent at all. Because of all this, we were able to get a much better structure with regards to holidays and some other things taken care of through court. And the mediator’s report basically called her out on her sh**.

    After all the work that my husband and I put into finding a counselor for the 6 year old that met certain criteria, after 3 sessions, she has not taken them back. We believe that this is because we recently called her out on keeping her boyfriend for the last year from us, the court, the mediator and the counselor (We emailed the counselor as soon as we found out and CC’d her on it). She had been blaming all their issues at her house on us getting married, not mentioning the fact that she was in a new relationship. The last session they went to, the child was taken by my husband, and based on what the counselor said, she was not seeing anything out of the ordinary. She wanted to talk to mom and figure out what she was seeing first hand. Again, counselor has not heard back from her…

    Sorry you are having to deal with all this. We don’t have lawyers involved, so it’s more of us protecting ourselves and the kids from her lying and manipulation through getting everything in writing. And sorry for my novel! Feels good getting that off my chest. I carry around a lot of animosity and anxiety because of her and her NPD/HCP behaviors…

    • Thanks for writing! It’s good to get that off your chest – and certainly I understand. Releasing the anger and frustration have been key to me, as that and the resentment for putting up with all the ways my ex impacts my life seems to get stuck in my body. I’ve been trying to be more conscious of the effects and what I can do personally to let it affect me as minimally as possible – which seems to be easier said than done. There are so many more books on narcissistic mothers than fathers, but I read a statistic that 75% of narcissists are male. It’s curious to me that the books focus on narcissistic mothers and makes me interested in how the impact of narcissistic parenting of male vs. female parents differs.

    • scotty says:

      its a joke man are turning into liars to get what they want. to me its all about getting back at the ex its not about the kids, when are those man going to know that kids are only young for a small time and adults for a long time. they will remember all the shit the courts in New Zealand don’t listen to the children the rule is blame mums for being mums and dads get 50/50 its the good man that put bad thing aside and put the kids first and talk to your ex, with no hard feelings. act like grow up you gutless pricks you give us real men a bad name

  4. JenelleMarie says:

    Ugh yes, I have noticed this and also been logging the last few months. Over the summer my children were amazing and my bff pointed out it was because the ex missed 6 weeks of visitation. I was shocked that she noticed it, but she also has seen the huge behavioral changes for the good in my children since we separated.

    I finally started to give it some thought as i was going through my journal. Initially i thought it was the ex wasn’t paying attention to my youngest’s (just turned 2) food allergies. He probably isnt, but i think it’s more emotional response and anxiety. He was dx’ed with anxiety before 18 months while the ex was still living with us. 9 months later he is a compeletely different child and his neurologist is shocked at the change in him for the good, except after visitations! He will scream and fuss, and hit and punch and act out every time he comes home from his dad and it lasts a few days. My girls (almost 7 and 9) are volatile and emotional messes too.

    It truly breaks my heart for my children and i have been working with my therapist to give them tools to empower themselves during visitation. Wish there was more I could do for my 2 year old though :(

    • Hey! I would love to hear the tools that you give them to empower themselves during visitation. If you would like to write a ‘guest post’ on the topic, I would love that too. Let me know what you think.
      As for your two year old… imho, seems like the best thing to do is keep emphasizing that his needs and wants matter by allowing him to make choices whenever feasible and to assert his needs (two year old style) with you as well. It’s also sooo great that others notice and are willing to speak up about how much better your kids are doing when there is less exposure.

  5. Grace says:

    We definitely have this! And from both sides. When my stepkids are with us they initially arrive highly emotional, volatile, their voices LOUD and reactions EXTREME. They begin to settle, to laugh, to play, and after a few days we are in a nice routine. The day they return to their mom’s it’s like aliens have taken over their bodies.

    Turns out it’s very typical for kids going between two households,and it breaks my heart.

    I noticed that my children do it too. They spend the majority of their time with us, but on the day they are to go to their dad’s they will become combative, argumentative, even sullen.

    Hopefully this will settle with time.

    Sidenote: Remember how I commented previously that my ex was behind in child support, but then got caught up? The general attorney sent me a letter. His $8k check BOUNCED, but they had already ‘fronted’ the money to my account (which was then transferred straight to my credit card to cover the charges I’ve racked up while waiting for him to pay). They are going to start garnishing MY payments until it’s paid back.

    And I wondered why my ex was lashing out at me again…I should have known.

    It just never ends.

    • Regarding sidenote: That freaking sucks. It’s wrong in every sense of the word. Why can’t they go after the ex for the money? Garnish HIS wages. Oooohhhh… that burns me up.
      As for your phrase “It just never ends” – that’s actually a phrase my ex says about me all the time “it just never ends with her”. You’re saying it validly, and my ex is projecting. lol.
      I can’t even say how sorry I am about the child support check. Grrrr…

    • FedupStepMum says:

      OMG! That’s kind of how it is in our house! We noticed at a sporting event that the moment that the live in nanny from their mom’s house showed up, my 6 year old step child began to bounce off the walls and misbehave… It was my husband’s parenting day, so we pulled him out the to car and told the child that if they couldn’t behave, they were going to have to sit in the chair the whole game. Child’s response: “But mommy and (live-in nanny’s name) let me!” And they wonder why they have behavior problems at their house?! Really!? And it’s all our fault apparently, for getting married…

  6. KJ says:

    Another post that hits close to home. My son is much older than your children and there is a definate change in personality when he returns home…my therapist calls the first few days after visitaion ‘deprogramming’ sometime the deprogramming can take 2 days and there are some weeks that it take close to 4 days. This time can be maddening as it makes the whole house seem like chaos. He takes the physical aspect out on our poor dogs who spend most of their time under a couch or hiding in the basement, I get the full out verbal/emotional tantrum part of it. There are Sundays that I literally find myself dreading having to go get him because I KNOW the next few days will be hell. His dad is very emotionally abusive, he has physically hurt him (CPS gets involved and being a ‘great guy’ usually talks his was out of it), the fear of physical harm is the worst. After refusing to go to dad’s last weekend my ex told him that he was calling the attorney and I would be arrested and put in jail if it happened again….so last night my son told his grandpa he was just going to go to his dad’s so his mom didn’t have to go to jail…ugh! He won’t share these ‘threats’ with me because somehow he feels this need to protect me. At 16 he is finally starting to find his voice and things are quickly escalating with the drama between the two of them. Again, these Narcs seem to be like cabon copies of each other.

    • Stories like this are frustrating to me. It goes with a conversation I had with my daughter’s attorney about the perspective of children in the US – that they aren’t treated as people. They aren’t given the same respect or rights. Your son is two years away from voting, and in most states can have a driver’s license. He’s also able to hold a job and be paid – WILLful employment. Certainly he can chose whether he wants to spend time with an abusive father or be strong enough to say ‘no’ — and be protected from threats of reprecussion from his father.

  7. Ana says:

    I see the same things in my daughter. Her Father just cut the time she’s going to spend with him to 5 days a month. I’m hoping this will help. Recently he got mad at her because he doesn’t like the music she listens to and called her a”prissy bitch”. I told her therapist,psychiatrist and mediator in the hopes they would tell her how to handle something like this in the future. Not one gave her any help in how to handle something like this when it happens again, and it will.

    • My daughter’s therapist is aiming to empower my daughter to stand up to her dad and tell him that he shouldn’t treat her this way and that if he does, she’s going to tell (the police, teachers, child protection, whomever). I used to tell my daughter to use the phrase “please treat me like someone you love”, but she hasn’t found the courage to use it. Wish there was an easy answer – and that therapists were better equipped to advise children in these situations. I’m glad to hear that your daughter’s dad voluntarily lowered his time.

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