I recently received this note from a reader in Ireland:
The reason I’m writing today is I have a friend who is in the same position has just recently had contact from her 2.5yr old son’s sociopathic father, looking for access.
She is learning all about what having a sociopathic father actually means, has read the book (Just Like His Father?), but is still unsure whether to allow it or not.
What do you think? Any new research? Anything that shows clearly kids do better without contact?
I do not know of any new research on this topic. We previously discussed two papers parents should be aware of; one concerns antisocial fathers and the other concerns antisocial mothers.
The common belief is that children are better off having a relationship with a father even if that father is a sociopath. In a landmark study, the only of its kind, researchers proved this is not the case. This study examined the children of 171 fathers high in sociopathic traits and 167 fathers low in sociopathic traits. In the two groups taken together, the presence of the father and his caretaking behavior weakly correlated with less antisocial behavior in children. However, when the two groups were examined separately a startling finding emerged. When fathers who were low in sociopathic traits were present in their children’s lives, children did substantially better. When fathers high in antisocial behavior were present in their children’s lives, children did much worse, especially if the father lived with them. The risk of conduct disorder in the children of antisocial fathers doubled when the fathers resided with the children.
“When highly antisocial fathers reside with the family, children experience a double whammy of risk for antisocial behavior. They are at genetic risk because antisocial behavior is highly heritable. In addition, the same parents who transmit genes also provide the child’s rearing environment. We found that a father’s antisocial behavior accounted for his children’s behavior problems independent of any genetic risk he may have imparted, particularly when he resided with the family and spent time taking care of the children.”
-Sara R. Jaffee, Ph.D. and Colleagues
There has been one scientific study of mothering and sociopathic traits. In this study, researchers linked scores on the sociopathy scale of a common personality test (MMPI-2) taken during pregnancy to later mothering behavior. This test is often given to people undergoing custody evaluation so it is important to know about this study. High sociopathy scores are linked to problem parenting in six areas:
1. Lack of warmth
3. Harsh/abusive discipline
4. Inconsistent/ineffective discipline
5. Poor monitoring and supervision
6. Aggressive values
In this study, mothers completed questionnaires and their parenting behavior was observed during two laboratory tasks. Direct observation is very important, because it is difficult to understand sociopathic parenting without first hand observations. During the observation periods, mothers high in trait sociopathy were observed to show a lack of warmth and to use harsh and ineffective discipline. The ineffective discipline of at risk children is just as important in the development of sociopathy as is lack of warmth. Ineffective discipline does not enable a child to learn impulse control. Lack of warmth impairs Ability to Love. The aggressive values cherished by sociopathic mothers also impair a child’s moral development. It follows that sociopathic mothers pass on the disorder to their children by poisoning The Inner Triangle.
Remember all the research can only give you guidelines. Sociopathy is a spectrum and it can be difficult to tell just how affect a mother or father is. Below is a list of questions you can ask yourself when considering a child’s involvement with an antisocial parent. It is my hope that those outside the family making decisions on behalf of children will consider this list as well.
1. How likely is sociopathic parent (SP) to encourage the child to form a bond only to disappear, abandoning the child?
2. How sadistic or potentially sexually abusive is SP? Is there a risk of parental kidnapping?
3. How likely is it that SP will use child to harm others- get new relationship by playing parent of the year?
4. How likely is it SP will use child to harm other parent?
5. Will SP teach antisocial attitudes to child? eg. suspicion of others and pleasure in aggression or getting over on the system?
6. Will SP expose child to other antisocial adults?
7. Will SP be overly permissive and not set limits or neglect the child- Put child in front of TV and not feed him or help him toilet etc.?
8. Will SP induce fear and guilt if the child does not do what SP wants?
9. Will SP be intoxicated infront of child? Will SP drive while intoxicated with child in the car?
10. Is SP doing illegal things and at risk for arrest?
11. Is SP so disordered that to give the child the idea SP is normal will harm the child’s view of humanity?
12. Is SP preoccupied with weapons or own them?
13. Is SP partaking of sexually explicit or violent media and at risk to expose child to these?
14. Will SP attempt to alienate healthy parent?
15. Is SP in treatment or has SP taken parenting classes?
16. Will SP dump child off on other relatives or baby sitter during supposed parenting time?
17. Will SP spend “support money” buying the child’s loyalty by purchasing toys? or taking child places SP cannot in reality afford if SP was supporting child as SP should?
If you can add to the list please do so. I am also looking for your examples of the above.
Jaffee S, Moffitt T, Caspi A, Taylor A. Life with (or without) father: The benefits of living with two biological parents depend on the father’s antisocial behavior. Child Development [serial online]. January 2003;74(1):109-126.
Bosquet M, Egeland B. Predicting parenting behaviors from Antisocial Practices content scale scores of the MMPI-2 administered during pregnancy. Journal of Personality Assessment [serial online]. February 2000;74(1):146-162.