Blendie Kids: Masters of Manipulation

JoyceBrothers_quote

Ah, the fine art of manipulation.  Didn’t know manipulation was an art form?  You must not be from a divorced home then, because I’m pretty sure every kid who’s been through the divorce and remarriage of one or both parents has acquired some extensive knowledge in how to manipulate.  But why?

The reasons, I think, are as diverse as the children themselves.  Some do it to get attention.  Others manipulate as a way to test boundaries.  Many try to gain sympathy.  And some, I believe, just enjoy being a pain in the ass.

Of our 5 children, I’d say 4 of them have put some good, solid effort into mastering their skills.  Most of the time it’s harmless.  Typical stuff like going to the parent you’re sure will say yes if you want something.  Occasionally, though, blendie-kids take it too far, pitting parents against one another and causing major upheaval in the family. One of our children has provided me with several good examples of this just this week.  Good for my blog.  Tough for my marriage… and sanity.

Here are 3 examples of our mini-master-manipulator in action…

1. Last week this child (who lives with her mom & step-dad) was angry with her mom.  She sent her daddy multiple text messages telling him that her mommy was mean and was making her cry.  Daddy, of course, got angry and started texting her mom in order to correct the situation.  The outcome: mom is angry at dad, dad is angry at mom, step-mom (me) is annoyed that child is being given the power to start battles between her parents

2. Twice this week I’ve discovered this particular 9-year-old calling her dad to either ask permission for things or cry about not getting something she wants, even when he was in another city and clearly not the adult in charge.  Then when told she couldn’t do what she wanted she replied, “but daddy said I could”. I believe she knew that her daddy felt guilty about having to work and not being able to go with us for Thanksgiving, so she called him knowing he would agree to just about anything in order to keep her from crying. Girls know when they have daddy wrapped around their finger.

3. This 3rd example was the doozy… and the one I’m most concerned about how to handle because there is a lot at stake.  Our little girl loves to pick on her brothers.  She learned a long time ago that it’s a sure-fire way to get attention.  Problem is, one of the boys has a low tolerance for her ploys, and tends to fire back in anger.  I guess it was only a matter of time before this clever young girl figured out that daddy would jump to her defense no questions asked.  Now she has started purposely pushing her step-brother’s buttons, I think, in order to obtain the gratifying reassurance when time after time her dad gets angry at the mouthy teen boy.  Do you see the domino effect that’s being set in motion?  Girl angers boy, boy retaliates against girl, girl’s dad reprimands boy, boy’s mom gets mad at dad, dad defends self and daughter, mom defends son, boy resents step-dad, mom resents husband and step-daughter…. and before you know it, you’ve got a five-alarm blended family blaze.

The biggest problem with all these situations is that when parents allow themselves to be pitted against one another, nobody wins.  We might think in the moment that we’re doing our kids a favor by giving in or overlooking some of these manipulative behaviors but it’s dangerous ground.  Kids will try to drive a wedge into your marriage.  They do not see the bigger picture, only their own self-centered perspective.  I know this because I did it too.  As a teenager all I wanted was my mom to myself. That’s what I knew as normal. When she remarried I was certain it was a mistake and that it was up to me to fix it. I drove that wedge with all my might and boy did our family have some battles.  Now, as my mom and step-dad prepare to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary I realize the stress and strife I caused them.  It’s a miracle their marriage survived.  But I can thank those years of struggle for teaching me what to watch out for as I navigate my own blended family.  And don’t worry, I’ve apologized to them as well.

What do you do when you realize the kids are manipulating you or your spouse?  I’m trying something new.  In the past I would try to point out to my husband every indiscretion of his child, or how I thought he should respond.  Sometimes I would point these out in a very loud way as my blood pressure was on the rise.  Now I’m learning to bite my tongue in that moment.  I wait for a time when we are alone, after I’ve had a chance to cool down and think through the situation, and then we can talk.  Also, I pray and ask God to open our eyes and our hearts that we may see the truth of every situation.  Sometimes our personal baggage makes it hard to see the whole picture as it truly is. (see post “Shut Up and Pray”)

There is a bright side.  Blendie-kids have some mad skills when it comes to discernment, negotiations, and marketing their ideas.  Love them through their struggles and teach them to use their powers for good.  Get rid of manipulation in favor of motivation and you’ll be positioned for success.

 

 

4 responses

  1. I found your post because my 10-year old stepson’s manipulations are really getting out of control. Any time my husband tells him that some part of his behavior is unacceptable, he (stepson) goes to his mom (my husband’s ex wife) and says “dad is saying he’s going to take me away from you and I don’t want to live with him”, causing a huge dramatic reaction from his mother and I believe a feeling that he will be protected from whatever reasonable consequences Dad would like to impose for his not meeting reasonable expectations. Last night, my husband told his son that if he was not being truthful about his homework (we went to parent conferences last week and stepson does not turn in his homework), he’d be dealing with a very unhappy father. Not more than 20 minutes later, my husband’s ex wife sends a torrent of angry texts messages saying she was dealing with an extremely upset child who did not know how to tell his dad that he does not want to live with him 50% of the time. She then said she was “horrified” that my husband would say that to the child and said she would have to “take legal action against the both of you.” The last time this happened, my husband found out that stepson was still playing Grand Theft Auto (he was 9 at the time), even though he is not allowed to play and playing such games is prohibited in the parenting plan. After my husband dropped him off, he got a nasty email sent to him and everyone in the extended family saying the same thing (stepson said you want to take him away from me and I’m horrified and will take action against you). My husband did tell his ex -wife that he wanted 50/50 custody, but has not discussed it with the children, although I’m pretty sure she did, because now the children bring it up. She is opposed to it and has decided she will get the children in on the act by telling them how hurt she’d be if they didn’t live with her. Naturally, my husband is hurt because he sees his child as conspiring against him and I’m at the end of my rope because I’m over dealing with his personality-disordered ex wife who encourages her child to manipulate by reacting so vehemently to his lies. As back story, this same child lied at school two years ago saying that another child had hit him in the face, when in fact, he was caught on video hitting himself in the face before he said another child hit him. His mother went screaming in and threatened to sue the school because someone hurt her child, only to be shown the video by the principal. You’d think this would color her view of anything the child says, but no, she swears up and down that he is “sincere” and despite my husband’s protestations that he did not say he was taking the children away, she insists he (my husband) is the one lying. She also fought with the child’s teacher last year and wanted to switch classes mid-year, because the teacher refused to accept late homework and in her words that made the teacher “too strict”. This year, not handing in his homework was not the child’s fault, but rather a misunderstanding between his mother and his teacher (according to his mother). All this is to say that my SS and his mother seem to have an enmeshed, victim-complex-driven relationship. I’m not looking forward to dealing with this for the rest of the my life. To make matters worse, I have only known the child for 2 years, so have not even had the opportunity to build a really solid relationship with him, yet, making my tolerance for his behavior even lower than it would be if I had a stronger foundation with him. I’m at the point, where I feel I need to hold the child at arm’s length to protect myself, but also need to support my husband as he navigates the hurt of feeling betrayed by his child and the complexity of dealing with his high conflict, manipulative ex-wife.

  2. I’ve been working at this for 8 years now. I can’t do it anymore. I have four sons and my second husband has two daughters. For 8 years I’ve been tiptoeing around his youngest daughter because she is a manipulator and causes trouble for everyone else in the house. I have resentment because she instigated and then went running to daddy who protected her from my big bad boys. To make a long story short, I am now on year 8 of heart ache and heart break. This child is now 17, almost 18. Yes, she and I have had our problems, but I thought it was getting better. I don’t get stomach aches anymore when she comes to our home. She wants attention, I get that, but this last episode has probably caused a divorce. I tried for years to defend my children, but I was always in the wrong according to him. She would never do anything like that. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and count the days until she was gone. We went on a vacation this weekend with friends and she went with us. She went to some of our new friends and literally cried and told them that I made her feel unwanted and unloved. They told my husband, who came at me. I was flabbergasted. I thought it was getting better. We ended up cutting our vacation short and driving home in the middle of the night. I confronted her, in front of her dad, and asked what it was that I did to make her feel that way. Her response. “It was a long time ago.” Her dad asked me how I thought it made him feel knowing that his little girl felt unloved by me. Some background…in the past year my husband has run two of my children out of the house. I backed my husband. My kids won’t talk to me, but I love my husband and backed him. How does he think it makes me feel to lose two of my children because of him? My question: How do you love a child like this? How do you love a child who does this? I don’t want her in my home anymore. I haven’t talked to my husband in two days because of her. He has and always will pick her over me. I came to that realization when he gave me the hate stare. She got her way finally after 8 years. Daddy will be all hers. One child has single handedly ruined my marriage. I don’t think I have it in me anymore to overlook this. My heart was ripped out by my husband not backing me up. She thinks I made her feel unwanted before? She crossed a huge line. If you have a family problem, you take it to your family. You are almost 18 years old, not 9. What was she trying to accomplish? I’m thinking she got exactly what she wanted . She got us to fight. She won. After 8 years, you won child. I can’t fight you anymore.

    • I encourage you to hang on and get counseling. Just for yourself if necessary. Be strong. She won’t live at home forever. The only thing guaranteed in a blended family is that things will change. For better or for worse, they never stay the same.

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