You can co-parent with a sociopath, but it’s far from ideal. You may often have to make choices that seem unfair or uncaring in order to protect your child from the harmful effects of a sociopathic parent. It is crucial to instill values of self-care and resilience to help your child cope with it.
Parenting a child, or more than one, with a sociopath can be a special kind of torture. Seeing your child struggling to understand a parent who does everything for their own best interest with little or no regard for others can be one of the most challenging things for a loving parent to deal with. So, is it possible to co-parent well with a sociopath and, if it is, how do you deal with it?
Some parents have the choice of whether or not they want to raise their children with the influence of a sociopathic parent in their lives, but sadly not all of us do. It could sometimes be best to remove your child from that influence altogether. But if you (can’t due to a custody agreement which requires your sociopath ex to be granted access), there are some things you can do to help your child(ren) cope with the effects. Let’s look at ideas that could help you co-parent with a sociopath.
Related Reading: 4 Tips for Ending a Relationship With a Narcissist
How to Co-Parent with a Sociopath
Sociopaths usually do not understand that what they are doing is wrong; if they do, they don’t care much. It is a psychological disorder that is often compared with psychopathic disorders, but the actions of sociopaths aren’t usually pre-meditated.
The critical fact here is that the chances of sociopaths changing are slim to none, and the only thing we can often do is learn to deal with it while teaching our children to do the same.
Understand that many of these guidelines will depend on your child’s age and particular circumstances. It’s always best to speak with a professional social worker, psychologist, or counselor to determine the right course of action in your situation and to adapt the information in this post according to your child’s age.
Always Put Your Child’s Interests First
Parents love their children. They are not always capable of understanding or showing that love, and sometimes other factors corrupt their love into something that others can’t even begin to picture as love. This is usually the case with sociopaths, where the parent’s interests often conflict with their love of others, including their child.
It’s crucial to understand that the child’s best interests are always the most important thing. When the sociopathic parent wants to see their child, but you know that it will be destructive, don’t let it happen. It’s often easier to make up for time lost with their parent than to try fixing the damage done by someone with little or no regard for their child’s feelings.
Your child may also want to see the parent. It’s natural; a child’s love is unconditional and unfailing, and the child can’t understand why that love isn’t returned in the same pure form. But still, the same rule applies: sometimes, a parent must make tough choices in order to protect their child.
So, in everything, with every decision that you make, ensure that you are deciding with the sole intention of giving your child the best life possible. Don’t let any personal feelings from you or your co-parent affect this goal. If something is harmful to your child, avoid it if possible, and doubly so if there’s any sign of physical or verbal abuse.
But what if it cannot be avoided?
Education and Acceptance
When your child can understand, even a little bit, you should teach them about sociopathy and its effects. They must understand that there is something wrong, that the reason why their parent is acting the way they do is not because of them, and that their parent loves them even if it doesn’t always look like it.
This process of education should ideally lead to some kind of acceptance. Not approval, of course, but acceptance that their parent has a problem, that there is nothing that they as their child can do about it, and that this does not mean that they are not loved. This acceptance should also come from a place of love for the parent, despite their flaws and faults, since nobody’s perfect.
This process of acceptance will probably have to be a repeated process. You might have to remind your child (and yourself) of these facts after each and every incident where your child was hurt by the parent who should love and nurture them. Those are the times when a loving response is most important.
Related Reading: Co-Parenting with Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder
How to Prepare Your Child to Face Sociopathy
Educating your child about sociopathy and instilling some kind of understanding and acceptance of their sociopathic parent is a significant first step, but that does not remove the possibility of them getting hurt emotionally. (Again, if there’s a possibility of physical harm, the child should not be exposed to the parent at all; speak to a mental health professional and a lawyer as soon as possible.)
To protect your child emotionally, you must teach them specific methods to fortify themselves against the onslaught of any negativity that they might receive from their sociopathic parent. This comes in two forms: treating the wounds through self-care and avoiding the wounds through resilience.
Related Reading: How to Make Co-parenting With a Liar Work
The Importance of Self-Care in Dealing with a Sociopathic Parent
Your child should learn how to care for themselves. You should teach them their inherent value and that they deserve to be loved, appreciated, and cared for as precious human beings. Instilling this self-value in them is the first step to teaching them about self-care. After that, you can teach them specific skills to care for themselves, including:
- Basic physical and mental care. This includes simple things like hygiene, health, correct diet, exercise, social interaction, etc.
- Develop their mental capabilities. This includes learning and educational activities, but it goes even further than that. Self-discovery and self-exploration can be just as important as a good education, so finding activities that can help with that is essential.
- Allow them to have downtime. Being unproductive is not always bad if it’s balanced with lots of activity. Give your child time to slow down, get out of their routine, and recharge.
- Spend quality time together. Make time that you can dedicate to your child. No interruptions, no calls, and no emails. It’s time to do things you and your child can do together. Get to know this unique human being a little better.
With proper self-care skills, your child will more easily recover from emotional wounds and hurtful things that may happen to them. It will also help build up their defenses since they will know their value, and nothing will be able to shake that.
The Grey Rock Method
Many professionals recommend the grey rock method as a way to deal with toxic people, particularly in the case of children coping with sociopathic parents. Note that this method is not always effective, but some have found it helpful in dealing with people and situations. You may want to teach it to your child, but it’s good to consult a professional first.
The grey rock method basically means becoming unresponsive to negative behavior. A grey rock can be seen as the most uninteresting thing on earth, and that’s precisely what the child practicing this method should try to become when dealing with a sociopathic parent. This usually includes the following:
- Trying not to interact with the parent at all
- If the interaction is unavoidable, keep it as short as possible (like one-word answers only)
- Communicate in ways that show as little emotion as possible
The goal of this method is to make the parent lose interest and stop their negative behavior. It is simply a coping mechanism. But as such, you should also remember that it’s not always effective and could, in fact, have some adverse side effects:
- It involves holding in emotions. This is contrary to self-care, where honest communication of emotions is encouraged. Trying to teach your child to be honest about their feelings while also telling them to hide their feelings in some situations could be a challenge. Depending on their age, your child might find this apparent contradiction troublesome.
- Some people react even more violently when they don’t get a response or when they see that their actions are having the opposite effect of what they should have. This could escalate the situation and turn a “simple” verbal outburst into physical violence.
Again, the best recommendation is to speak with a professional and get their opinion about whether the grey rock method is a good idea in your particular situation. Many have used it with great success, but it’s best to be safe. Remember, your child’s well-being is paramount.
Related Reading: The Grey Rock Method Of Co-Parenting [HELPFUL GUIDE]
Co-parenting with a sociopath isn’t something most people would wish on their worst enemy and some would argue that it’s better to be a single parent than to share that responsibility with a sociopath. But there are ways that you can make it work if you have to, and these ideas should give you a simple foundation to start from.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.