Can Borderlines Share Parenting?

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Response to Article:
Can Borderlines Share Parenting?

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

In 2010, when my book Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High Conflict Divorce was published, I wrote a blog titled: Can Borderlines Share Parenting? Since then I have had over 50 blog comments covering the range of difficulties and thoughtful ways to manage them, when co-parenting with someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD). New comments are still being posted. The most recent one made some good points that I thought I’d share with everyone below. In a day or two, I’ll re-post my original blog on this topic, if anyone wants to see it and comment. 

Anonymous said…

Hi, I hate always reading negative stories about BPD. I am a father of one 5-year-old boy and yes, I struggled immensely with unstable emotions. However, I think each should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I have been seeking help and in therapy for over 2 years and take mood-stabilizing medication. I have overcome many of the problems I had and am a full-time student in a University who just completed a BA in psychology with a 3.81 GPA.

I was also accepted to grad school as a school psychologist and will be working directly with children. Despite BPD being extremely difficult and an affliction I’ll likely live with till I die, there are exceptions and there are people that succeed at parenting. It is the knowledge of what I was missing as a child, the love and unconditional support that makes them especially salient messages between me and my child. I don’t want him to go through what I did which makes me all the more invested.

I do worry however that if I lost custody or he was taken away how I would handle it. In my experience that’s what makes a BPD vulnerable is that they feel that everyone leaves them, and it can feel devastating and reaffirm deep-seated feelings of shame. Shame differs from guilt in that it focuses on the individual rather than the behavior; to feel unworthy of being happy or being loved. Can you imagine feeling like that? That what you most deeply desire as a social animal is out of reach for you? To be loved, needed, accepted?

Just keep in mind this originates in childhood, with parents that are supposed to convey love and security leave you instead associating those feelings with fear and anxiety. UGH! Like the last comment that was on [this original blog on this topic], people are individuals. If someone is an alcoholic, it doesn’t mean that they drink till they pass out. It’s different for each individual and is affected by environment. Most of the people on [the original blog] seem to have as black-and-white thinking as I supposedly do. Life is not a binary people, but a spectrum and subject to environment and number of resources. Anyone with BPD should look into Compassion Focused Therapy, as well as anyone seeking a deeper understanding of human emotions and motivations. [June 22, 2013]

Bill Eddy said… 

Dear Anonymous, I’m so glad you left your comment and helped explain what its like for someone struggling with managing and overcoming this problem. You are to be congratulated on your efforts to manage your emotions and your successes. You are right that childhood should be a time of love and guidance, not shame and blame. You make a good point about avoiding black and white thinking. We’re all learning! Best wishes, Bill Eddy. [June 23, 2013]

In my book published in July 2010 (Don’t Alienate the Kids!), I suggest that it is important for children to have two parents – especially to prevent child alienation which can lead to difficulties in adult relationships. This means shared parenting in separation or divorce, even with a parent with a personality disorder, including borderline personality disorder (BPD). Of course, safety issues must be addressed, to protect children from physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. In some cases, this means supervised visitation, but in most cases this is not realistic or necessary. This means that there may be more time with a reasonable parent, or even equal parenting time. But this is not an easy question. I have had cases as a therapist and as a family law attorney in which a Borderline has attempted suicide after losing a custody hearing. I have had cases in which a Borderline left town after losing primary physical custody. It is very hard for a Borderline to share parenting, because of their all-or-nothing thinking.

Yet to exclude a Borderline parent is to teach children that all-or-nothing parenting is appropriate. And to seek court orders that exclude a Borderline parent, or takes away primary physical custody from a Borderline, just feeds a high-conflict battle that goes on for years. This is especially true because family courts are generally uninformed about personality disorders, and the adversarial setting reinforces extreme behaviors while minimizing mental disorders.

Borderlines (and I use this term to indicate a condition, not a whole person – just like an alcoholic or diabetic) typically share their all-or-nothing thinking repeatedly with their children, and the DSM-IV (the manual used by mental health professionals) says that the children of Borderlines have a 5 times greater chance of developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) themselves.

This means that shared parenting with a Borderline requires a very reasonable other parent, who can teach the children lessons that will help them not develop the disorder themselves – lessons such as flexible thinking, managed emotions and moderate behaviors. I have had a few cases where this did work, even in a 50-50 arrangement. In some cases, the Borderline has had 60% of the parenting time. In others, the Borderline has had a much smaller percentage, such as 15%, but it has been stable after a lot of work and clear court orders.

I am interested in the points of view of parents who are sharing parenting with a Borderline – whether after a separation or divorce, or even currently during a marriage – and professionals who address this issue in family court. As a parent, are you sharing parenting successfully with a Borderline, or has the Borderline made it impossible to raise your children to be reasonable themselves? As a family law professional, how do you decide what to recommend or what orders to seek?

Can Borderlines really share parenting?  I value your opinion so please leave a comment, Let me know what you think.

Bill Eddy headshotBILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high-conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast, It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.

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