Parents can hurt their children both by acts of commission (what they do) and by acts of omission (what they don’t do). We have seen already how narcissistic mothers can profoundly damage their children, and, if the father does nothing to intervene to prevent such damage occurring it is an act of omission; fathers who commit such acts of omission are often termed ‘enabling fathers’ or, more simply, enablers as, by failing to intervene or take preventative or protective measures, they are enabling the mother to continue her emotional onslaught against the child with impunity, unabated.
It is not unreasonable, then, to regard such non-interventionist fathers as complicit in the mother’s harmful behavior, whether this is due to fear of the mother, weakness of character, simple neglect, ignorance, complacency, moral cowardice, or laziness (confronting such a situation requires considerable mental energy, after all).
Indeed, my own father was one such ‘enabler’ and, for the vast majority of the time, could not, or would not, confront my narcissistic mother, preferring instead to try to humor, placate or pacify her (although he did once hit her so hard she was knocked over and heated rows were far from uncommon) and effectively challenge her about her behavior, no matter how disturbing and extreme it became.
In the end, though, unable to tolerate her any longer, he left the family home when I was eight years old and divorced her (on the grounds of her adultery – indeed, she used to taunt my father by telling him he could not satisfy her sexually) not long after, leaving me, as it were, in the lioness’ den (and, to extend the metaphor a little, the den of a lioness who was soon to savagely turn on her very own cub).
It is not at all unusual for fathers to leave the narcissistic mother, as forming a stable, healthy relationship with a narcissist is not a realistic prospect (unless the narcissist undergoes therapy; however, it is notoriously difficult to persuade narcissists to seek therapy as they tend not to accept there is anything wrong with them – in their minds it’s everyone who’ve got the problem).
Some fathers, however, do remain living with the narcissistic mother, but not in a relationship that is healthy; rather, they tend to have enmeshed / codependent / highly dysfunctional relationships with the mother.
Also, if the narcissistic mother is emotionally abusive towards the child, some fathers may take the side of the mother against this child even if they know the mother to be in the wrong so as not to ‘rock the boat’ and have an easier life. This, of course, amounts to complicity. Some such fathers may even agree to physically beat the child at the mother’s behest.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).