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.