Co-parenting with an abuser isn’t co-parenting: it’s a war.
Abusers – sociopaths, narcissists, borderlines – can’t relate to other people, can’t feel empathy, and have no restraints on how they treat others. Lacking meaningful, reciprocal, loving relationships, their lives are reduced to one thing: winning. For them to win, somebody has to lose.
Unfortunately, that person is you.
This win-lose dichotomy dictates how they approach parenting. Everything is a competition that results in either victory or defeat. There is no acceptable difference; there’s no agree to disagree and both views are valid; there is a straight line with zero deviation.
My son says, ‘I love daddy.’ My ex hears this as ‘I don’t love mummy.’ If they say they like the toys I bought them for Christmas, she hears that as ‘I don’t like the toys mummy got me,’ so she goes out and buys those exact toys so they have nothing at my house she doesn’t have at hers. If they say they’re looking forward to something I’m taking them to, she takes them to it first.
The children asked if they could call me if they wanted to. ‘Of course,’ I said. I asked my ex to let them call me if they wanted to. She refused. They don’t call her on the one day out of every fourteen they don’t see her, so she will not let them ring me on the rest because that would be ‘unfair’.
I guess my question is: unfair to whom? Certainly, it’s unfair to the children, who want to talk to me. But the welfare of the kids never comes into it.
When my daughter has to go home to her mummy, she cries because she doesn’t want to leave me. It breaks my heart. So, trying to be a good co-parent, I told my ex about this and asked her how we could smooth this transition. Her response? ‘She cries when has to go to you too.’ Nothing to help the situation, no empathy for her daughter’s tears, nothing but another fucking battle.
Can you imagine how fragile your ego must be to constantly live on the defensive? Can you imagine how dissatisfied with yourself you must be to have your pride so easily wounded? Can you imagine just how aware of your own shortcomings you are to constantly scream, ‘You’re not better than me, you’re not better than me, you’re not better than me’?
And that really cuts to the crux of the problem. Being a good parent is immaterial – being better than me, or rather, being seen to be better than me is all important.
The problem she faced when we lived together was that she wasn’t better than me – far from it. She hated me for being and doing what she couldn’t. No matter how many times I told her it was a team effort and we were on the same side, it didn’t matter – the only way she could be the ‘good’ parent was to convince the world that I was the ‘bad’ parent.
Of course, this was a hard sell, because everybody knew I was a great dad. Everybody. Especially the kids. They loved me and respected me more than her, because I put in the time, I laid the groundwork, and I was their full-time parent 24/7, while she dipped in and out here and there, never after 9pm or before 8am, never when they were ill or upset, and never when people weren’t looking.
She could have worked to earn their respect; could have worked on her parenting abilities; could have co-parented with me. But that was too much effort.
So she decided to destroy me instead. That way, she would be the only parent, making her the ‘good’ parent by default. It didn’t matter if she damaged the children in the process. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t cut out for single parenthood. The only way to achieve ‘victory’ in the parenting war was to crush me, break my spirit, turn my children against me, and then throw me to the wolves. So that’s what she set out to do.
She came close. I have PTSD as a result of what she did to me, and after I was removed from the house for my own safety, she and her family did everything they could to alienate me from my children. They did everything they could to break me, to make me walk away, things so heinous, I thought that I might die.
But I clung on. With all their millions, they weren’t able to shake me loose. I might have been penniless, male, with no family name to rely on, but there was no chance I was ever going to walk away from my children. I might only have ended up with every other weekend, but I’ve managed to maintain the continuity of my relationship with my children.
They might have been able to convince a judge that she was the more suitable parent to live with, because she was rich, owned the family home, could afford a nanny, and was a woman; they might have been able to convince people who didn’t know me that I was a horrible guy and a worse father; but they were never able to turn my children against me.
My children know I’m a great dad. And that continues to drive her insane.
If co-parenting with an abuser you live with is tough, co-parenting with an abuser you don’t live with is ten times There isn’t even the pretence of a discussion. There’s no negotiation, no consideration, no meeting in the middle.
Every issue I raise is treated as a declaration of war. Every suggestion I make is rejected purely because I suggested it. Courts, Children’s Services, they seem to think that if separated parents aren’t communicating, they’re both equally to blame, but gosh darn it, one person can cause all the trouble entirely by themselves.
Co-parenting with an abuser is a cold, hard, emotionally-draining and heartbreaking slugfest. Every reasonable request you make for the children is unreasonably refused, regardless of the emotional damage it causes. My daughter says she hates her mum; her mother is a liar; she wants to come live me. How do I make her life easier when my ex punishes her for loving me?
I don’t regret having children with my ex, because creating my children are the greatest thing I have ever done in this world. But I wish to God I didn’t have co-parent with her. Co-parenting with an abuser leads only to pain.
Yet, in a way, abusers sew the seeds of their own downfall. My children already see the difference between their mother and me. They already know that their mother is unkind, unstable and a nightmare to live with. How are they going to feel about her when they’re older? She will find herself a lonely old lady with children who won’t talk to her, and me? I’ll be the proudest grandad you ever did see.