Recently, I came across a list of the most difficult jobs in the world. The top contenders included: U. S. President, UN Negotiator, Prison Warden, and Air Traffic Controller, to name a few. I don’t argue that these are extremely stressful and challenging career choices, but I believe there is one that should have made the list, even if it isn’t officially considered a career, and requires financial, emotional, and psychological debt rather than income: Co-Parenting with a Sociopath.
A Daily Challenge
As if parenting isn’t challenging enough, trying to navigate the crazy-making, drama-filled world of a sociopath who has the ability to influence and harm your children requires skills rivaling the credentials of world leaders.
What’s more, the healthy parent is rarely able to take any vacation time. In fact, that is usually when the sociopathic parent goes into overdrive trying to sabotage any plans that their ex-spouse may try to put in place. Ironically, the sociopathic ex will enjoy disrupting schedules and making last minute trips that inconvenience everyone, including their children, as often as possible.
However, it’s really the day-to-day interactions that take the most expertise. Learning how to negotiate without giving up control, diffuse situations that could escalate into additional court hearings, for example, and undo the negative effects of visitation on our children are just some of the common daily tasks we face.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The last item is the most frustrating. Every time my children come home from a visit with their father, they are out of sorts, emotionally drained, and have regressed in many ways. It’s as if all the progress my boys make while they are home is erased after one day with their father.
I’ve learned, though, that it helps to address this as soon as they come home so they can be aware of their behavior and give themselves time to release all the pent-up emotions that build during their visit. It takes practice for the children and patience for the parent, but in my experience, it’s worth the effort and it does get easier.
I may not be a United Nations negotiator, but if the UN ever needed someone to fill-in for a day, I’d be ready. I would imagine that the training I have had negotiating with a narcissistic sociopath more than qualifies me for the job.
Honestly, who else has years of experience being provoked, attacked, accused, blamed, manipulated, and cheated by someone with no remorse, guilt, or conscience- all the while keeping the best interest of the children in the forefront which means: not responding on emotion, getting rid of ego, turning the other cheek, and taking the high road at all times…well, at most times, anyway.
His Accusations are a Mirror
That is the only way to have any peace in our home. I have to keep the drama on the outside by not engaging with my ex when he tries his best to push every button he can and use his own children as pawns to get his way. Sometimes, he may instigate conflict out of boredom, but usually, his actions are a good indicator of how his life is going at the time. The more argumentative and provoking he is, the more out of control and unhappy he feels in his own life.
His actions are a mirror to his reality. Just like his accusations are a mirror to his own behaviors. My ex-husband is constantly accusing me of doing things that he is actually doing. According to him, I am controlling, greedy, selfish, cold-hearted, and manipulative. It’s interesting to look back and think about all the name calling and accusations that took place during my marriage. I guess it’s his confession, of sorts. I have no doubt that he was cheating, stealing, and lying – all the things he was convinced I was doing, but none of which was true.
For the Sake of the Children
I often hear people give the well-meaning advice of ‘putting our differences aside’ for the sake of the children. I would argue that putting our differences aside was something I did for much too long and resulted in prolonged emotional and psychological abuse by my ex-husband. If I want to honor my children, I can do so by differentiating between someone’s behaviors as being a choice or the result of an illness.
I do not consider a lack of conscience and empathy as a legitimate illness that requires sympathy or support. Some may disagree as to how these disorders are classified, but I have seen my ex-husband change his behavior for the sake of his reputation, which tells me that he knows what is right and wrong, or at least acceptable, but that his children are not worth the same consideration as the strangers he tries so desperately to impress.
A Mother’s Advice
What I tell my children is that I did love their father; unfortunately, he is not capable of returning the love that we deserve. I do not regret marrying him; I would not change that, because I would not change anything that gave me my boys.
I am not a religious person, but I do believe that there is a higher plan that we cannot comprehend sometimes, and for whatever reason, a sociopath was part of the plan in creating my children. But they are not ‘half of me and half of him’ as people have suggested, they are unique of themselves.
Furthermore, they do not have to be taught to forgive someone because of their relationship to that person; forgiveness needs to be asked for with sincerity and remorse. Those are two qualities their father does not possess. If my boys choose to forgive their father in order to find peace for themselves, then I support that decision. I, personally, have no such need.
Drawing on Experience
I do believe that my experiences have made me a stronger, healthier person. That makes me a better parent, as well. I have learned to stand up for myself, trust my instincts, and I have worked hard to heal after my marriage.
I may continue to stumble on my journey toward healing, but I also continue to get back up. My greatest challenge as a parent is to lead by example; it is also my greatest accomplishment.
I may not have a corner office and a fancy title, but I bet there are not many on the list I read who would last even a week in this job.