Jan and Jillian Yuhas – How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

Below is the transcription of this interview with Jan and Jillian Yuhas. For more information about them please click here.

Transcript from Interview

Chris Bruce: Hi everyone, my name’s Christopher Bruce. I’m a marital and family law attorney in South Florida. And today I have the pleasure of being joined by Jan and Jillian Yuhas. Jan and Jillian, they’re sisters and they are co-parenting and divorce coaches, I think originally from the Chicago land area. But they practice, virtually, nationwide. And what we’re going to be talking to the sisters about today is something that I think is going to be of use to a lot of people who are in toxic relationships and don’t have the ability to just separate from their partner and have children in common. And the topic that we’re going to be talking about is co-parenting with a narcissist. Definitely a very interesting topic and I’m excited to talk to the both of you about it. And I guess before we get into the content, Jan and Jillian, maybe just introduce yourself and tell people a little bit about yourselves and what you do, and then we’ll get into it here.

Jan Yuhas: Hi Chris, thanks for having us.

Jillian Yuhas: Yeah, thank you for having us. I’m Jillian.

Jan Yuhas: And I’m Jan. And most of the time when clients come to us when they’re struggling with a co-parenting relationship is because they are dealing with that challenging personality such as the narcissist, which makes it very conflictual in order to get the childrens’ needs met. And so it becomes a very huge power struggle in the ex wanting to have control still over their ex spouses’ life and making it just very challenging. They sometimes use the children as even like a power source in that struggle.

Chris Bruce: It’s definitely, I think, a really hard thing to deal with. And in our divorce practice, we work with a lot of women, men and women, but a lot of women that are leaving abusive relationships. And what we like to have them do is just pretty much cut things off and move on and that’s all well and good, except when there’s children and you can’t do it that easy. A lot of these courts want people to engage in what they call co-parenting. That’s what people need to be trying to do for their kids anyway. And I guess when it comes to that subject, just from what you all are used to working with, what are the best communication styles for co-parenting with a toxic person?

Jillian Yuhas: So we recommend using, we have a three C model and it’s all about concise, calm and constructive communication. And so what that means is, using a calm tone of voice to allow things to be very respectful. Also a concise message, because we don’t want the conversation to get off topic or allow language to be turned back around, back on us. And so we’re trying to help them just have a very calm, concise conversation, but also using constructive language because we want to keep it positive as much as possible, keep that negative emotion at bay so neither party is affected and things don’t go off the deep end.

Jan Yuhas: Right, we’re looking for that solution and the win-win outcome in terms of what is best, in the best interest of the children of that situation or scenario.

Chris Bruce: All right and how important is it to be assertive with the other person? I think a lot of, at least my clients, they’re not used to really taking control. They’ve kind of maybe been the doormat of the relationship. I mean, should they be assertive when they’re dealing with the other person?

Jan Yuhas: So typically when communication with a toxic personality, usually that person is either very aggressive in their communication style and they’re always attacking the other person personally, in order to try to break down their defenses. Or, they stonewall and they completely blocked that person out and make communication impossible. Assertive communication allows you to be direct, very concise in your message, and allows you to stick to the facts of the matter in order to be heard with the situation that’s going on.

Chris Bruce: I think just in what you had sent me before we did this, you kind of had a point that, hey, you want to respond and not react to messages. Maybe you could just speak on that for a second or two. Because I think it’s important, especially with what I deal with when the wrong buttons get pushed on our clients and they’re in a court type situation.

Jillian Yuhas: Yeah, so the goal is to try to respond in a very logical manner because if we respond to the emotion, then that person’s likely to use your language or use it against you. It’s giving them, it’s opening the door for disrespect. It’s allowing them to come in and they can see if you’re in a bad spot, they’re going to be like, ha, this is my opportunity to sort of basically manipulate the situation or gaslight you and turn things all around because you’re showing them that you’re vulnerable. So we don’t want to show them they’re vulnerable by using emotion. We use logic and factorial information. It gives us leverage to be confident in that situation, so we are feeling empowered and in control when we’re having that conversation with someone gets difficult.

Jan Yuhas: Right. I want to just make another point on that. Usually if a narcissist wants an emotional reaction from the other party, it’s because that allows them to gain that power. So if you react and attack, they use that as fuel in order to light the fire and keep it going, even exploding it and excavating the situation to something even more than what it was initially.

Chris Bruce: I think that’s really great advice there. It’s almost like they’re trying to get in another feedback loop with the person by making them upset and you got to just try your best to not fuel that fire, seems to be what you’re saying there.

Jan Yuhas: Yep. We’re removing the gasoline from the fire.

Chris Bruce: So when it comes to trying to co-parent with a narcissist, especially when you’re somebody that’s moving on from a relationship with one, or relationship that’s probably an abusive one or at least a toxic one that you need to separate yourself with, what are some of the boundaries that need to be in place when you’re trying to have that co-parenting relationship with the person who you really can’t be in a relationship with anymore?

Jan Yuhas: Right, so one of the most important boundaries you can have are boundaries with yourself. You need to protect yourself from this person and your energy. And by protecting yourself, it allows you to feel at peace in your own life. And so if you’re, because more than likely the narcissist or the toxic parent is going to push your buttons as much as they can, in order just to, like we said, evoke that emotion within you to get a reaction because that’s where they feel powerful. So personal boundaries, don’t talk about your personal life with them anymore. That’s no longer their business. Everything in terms of communication should strictly be about the children and nothing else.

Jillian Yuhas: Yeah, I think one good reminder is almost see it as a business like relationship with your co-parent, can help remind you that your children you’re in business for your children. They are the people that need to grow, prosper and so your goal is to keep those conversations about growing your children. And so that’s your business, versus it’ll help you remove that personal of wanting to engage with them or share something that may be weighing on your mind if you’ve had a tough day, just because you did that for so long. So the goal is now to remove that and don’t use them as that outlet.

Chris Bruce: It seems like you’re probably suggesting when it comes to communicating with one of these people, to probably limit the amount of communication or at least what you’re talking with the former partner on.

Jan Yuhas: Right, because we can’t have a no contact rule with a co-parent. We have to limit the amount of communication and the amount of time that you even spend with them. And you might even want to separate yourself from ex family members as well that you see part of your life, or at least you need to have talked to your co-parents about that and figure out what that new definition or family relationship is going to look like with family members that you’re no longer tied to by marriage. Go ahead.

Jillian Yuhas: So I was going to say, in terms of limiting that communication, I’ve recommended to pick one day a week where you need to talk about your children and do it via email. And say pick a day, like such as Tuesdays. On Tuesdays, you bring up any concerns that happened that week and you address them in an email, which can eliminate that text message conversation very easily. That’s also, so that, that way you’re not having conversations every single day either.

Chris Bruce: And I guess from your perspective as co-parenting coaches, if you’re working with somebody who’s going through the divorce or separation process, and maybe they’re dealing with somebody like me with their divorce or family law attorney, do you have any tips just from what you’ve seen on some of the things that the listeners should be trying to include in their parenting plan or custody agreement when they’re dealing with a difficult person like a narcissist and they have to co-parent with them?

Jan Yuhas: Yeah. This parenting plan is going to be their saving grace in terms of co-parenting with the narcissist. So when it comes to having that solid parenting agreement, something that we see less often is usually dating, a dating boundary. So usually when you have the narcissist, they’ve already either moved on and have a new relationship with a new partner.

Chris Bruce: Yeah.

Jan Yuhas: So, they’ll be dating multiple different partners and not really getting into a longer-term relationship because they unfortunately have a void within themselves that they need to have an external source of fulfillment at all times in order for them to feel secure in their own life. And so unfortunately, sometimes the narcissist will use those partners and they’ll use the kids and introduce them way too soon because they want to look like to their new partner, look at me, I’m the perfect parent. And so unfortunately, that’s one thing that we see left off in parenting agreements that’s definitely extremely important to the development of the children’s wellbeing and understanding relationships as a whole.

Chris Bruce: Okay. And when it comes to, I guess, that communication between parents and a child, any particular types of tips when it comes to the parenting plan with respect to that when the other person’s a manipulative person and if they’ve lost control over the listener, but they still have to co-parent with them?

Jan Yuhas: Right. So the children should have access to the other parent if they want to speak with them during the other parent’s parenting time. But we need to also be respectful of that parent’s parenting time with the child as well. We can’t just expect to be able to talk to the child whenever we want to, when you don’t have them. So it’d be best to ask that parent, if the child is too young and they don’t have their own cell phone yet to ask when it would be a good time for me to hop on a phone call with Joey or Samantha, whatever, and let me, and just have like a quick five minute before bedtime type phone call. So we want to ask them for permission, because then that also allows a toxic person to feel in control of the situation, which is usually their number one motivating goal in that scenario.

Chris Bruce: Okay. And I guess I had a bonus question, so to speak. But I was just curious to get your insight on, sometimes I see in our clients when they’re leaving a difficult relationship, that they might be the person who’s historically actually been the parent. They’ve usually been the female, but sometimes men, that have usually raised the children, sometimes homeschooled the children, done a lot of everything with them. And as the kids get a little bit older, maybe in the high school range, there becomes a point in time to where, Hey, you got to give them, the kids some tough love and set some rules to make sure that kids are successful. And something my team and I see come up a lot is the narcissist type parent won’t enforce rules with the kids. Won’t make the kids do their homework, as an example. Lets them play the video games all night long.

And basically, lets the kids get away with everything and when they go back over to the other parents and that parent tries to enforce the rules, actually be a parent, the kids, they stop wanting to be around them. And the other parent, the narcissist, doesn’t really encourage or back up the message of the co-parent and lets the kids just do whatever they want. And some of our clients see their kids start drifting off track, get into trouble in school, stop excelling academically, at a time where maybe they need to be doing well to get into college. For the people out there that might see something like that coming down the pipeline when dealing with their ex, do you have any particular advice? I know it’s a tough one.

Jan Yuhas: So in that situation, obviously you want the child to still have relationship with their parent. Now the narcissist is all about fun. They don’t like responsibility. So avoiding any sort of responsibility that benefits the child’s well-being and development is more than likely something they’re going to avoid. They’re all about, let’s go play sports or let’s go do all these fun activities. They want to be the fun parent. In that type of situation, if you’re looking for a role model to step in, for example, we’ll say a father figure, to step in maybe an uncle or a grandparent or somebody else can give more of that guidance or that fatherly role if the father doesn’t want to take on that type of role within the child’s life. So maybe weekly study time with a grandparent or an uncle or somebody can really provide that structure of that figure within their lifestyle.

Chris Bruce: Okay. I think that’s, probably have somebody that needs to watch this section of the video right now. Well, Jan and Jillian, I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to go over some of this stuff with me here. Do you have any other tips you’d like to give other people that are listening to this?

Jillian Yuhas: I think one of the biggest things too, when you’re going through a divorce or co-parenting with a narcissist is just really try to not let other people take away your happiness or enjoying your everyday life and really focus on that self-care and self-love. Because the more you build yourself up, the better you’re going to feel as you’re parenting and just as you start your new life and try to heal and move forward. Because if we keep allowing the past to affect us, it’s going to be really hard to find joy or happiness, which usually happens in the present moment.

So really just filling up your own cups, so that way you can be the best parent you want to be and there’s nothing wrong with being, it’s not selfish to be taking care of yourself. But, you have to do that in order to become that best parent, anyways. So I think it’s just really important that you take care of you in the process.

Jan Yuhas: Right, because the stronger you are within, in terms of your self-care and your self love, and you’re fully accepting yourself and really healing from that toxic relationship that may have destroyed your self worth, the easier it’s going to be for you to not react to your co-parent, who is trying to set you off with their provoking statements and whatnot.

Chris Bruce: It sounds like great advice to me. And I think sometimes people lose sight of themselves. They feel almost like it’s being selfish to think about themselves in the process. I think it’s really important to point that out. There’s a reason why usually people need to get out of these types of relationships. And usually, it’s because they haven’t been paying enough attention to themselves and it’s okay to do that. So you all are, in part, co-parenting coaches. Maybe just for a second, tell everybody what you all do as co-parenting coaches and maybe identify a few of the situations that might be the best for you all to help people with.

Jillian Yuhas: So we work with a lot of either single moms or blended families and trying to help people just find resolution to whatever struggle they’re facing. So our goal is trying to really help take away that emotion, help them find an answer so they don’t feel like they’re stuck or alone in the process. And so our goal is to support them on a daily basis, to give them that positive outlet, so they have somebody that’s cheering them on and helping them take action in their lives so they don’t feel like that they are stuck with where they’re at, as they’re going through this transitional period.

Jan Yuhas: Right and when they’re, for example, somebody who’s not actually doing co-parenting coaching together, but if you do want co-parenting coaching together, you can be in the comfort of your own home since we are virtual and online. But those who just need help in terms of communicating with their toxic co-parent, we help write text messages and help really guide. It’s a very interactive process in order to creating those solutions and helping them work through that process and getting the co-parenting relationship to a healthy place.

Chris Bruce: And I thought, I mean, when Jan and I just discussed our respective practices, I mean, I was just telling Jan that I think it’s a great idea if you’re going through a divorce with a difficult person, if even for just the purpose of limiting some of the interactions with your attorney, I mean, you’re spending $300 to $500 an hour to talk to your attorney about how to respond to a text message. I mean, maybe after working through a few of those with a coach, you kind of get more of the hang of it and a little bit less dependent on needing to ask a lawyer who could sometimes take a day or two to get back to you on how to deal with something. So I think it’s a great service. There’s definitely a need. And I think just so we’re clear, you all work with people basically nationwide and across North America. Is that basically how you all work?

Jan Yuhas: Yes, correct, we do. We have had clients in Canada as well. So anyone who’s more or less English speaking, we can assist in a co-parenting dynamic. And great point in terms of what you said a while ago, yes, we help with giving the tools to really be able to articulate themselves within the communication between the co-parenting relationship, instead of, like you said, waiting 24 hours to hear back from a lawyer. We’re here and basically, on call, more or less, to really resolve that immediately, in order to help ease that emotion that might be being brought up from the scenario.

Chris Bruce: Perfect. And I just feel that people that are listening to this and what you’re saying is resonating and they think, Hey, maybe the sisters can help me out or I should speak with Jan or Jillian, I don’t know how to decide which one. I guess you have to tell me that. But if they’re interested in getting helped by you, maybe just talk a little bit about where do they find you? What’s the process? And anything else you think they should know as they look to get in touch?

Jillian Yuhas: Yeah, they can find us at divorcefamilymediations.com or even on Instagram, Divorce Family Mediation, and just shoot us a DM. But we’re happy to have a 15, 30 minute consult just to learn about their case and to see if we are a good fit. That way they’re not having to make the investment without knowing what they’re getting themselves into. That way they can see it’s going to help them be able to decide so they made that decision and commit. And so they’re able to actually choose what works best for them. So we’re very open-minded. It’s a very interactive relationship. And so we want them to feel at peace when they are making that decision for themselves.

Chris Bruce: Well, cool. Well, everybody, my name’s Christopher Bruce. I’m a divorce lawyer in South Florida with the Bruce Law Firm. And I’ve been joined by Jan and Jillian Yuhas, co-parenting and divorce coaches. Jan, Jillian, thank you so much for being part of this. I really appreciate it.

Jan Yuhas: Thank you so much, Chris.