Themes Covered:  

Feeling Pushed Away? Decode Emotional Manipulation to Regain Trust

Have you considered that patterns in your behavior may inadvertently be alienating or creating a distance between you, your grown kids, or grandchildren?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Emotional manipulation is subtle, powerful, and oftentimes without realizing it, a learned behavior passed down from generation to generation.

Decoding Emotional Manipulation in Everyday Conversations

“I would give you ice cream,” Vera’s mother-in-law spoke to Vera’s seven-year-old son, “but your mother said no.” Sitting around the dinner table, suddenly Vera’s throat felt too dry to swallow as another verbal barb came her way.

Who are they actually talking to?

The comment about ice cream appeared spoken to her child, but the message felt directed at her.

“And your feet must be cold,” the mother-in-law patted the five-year-old’s knee. “Mother must have forgotten your socks.”

Vera looked to her husband for support, but he merely dished another slice of meatloaf onto his plate.

When the five-year-old coughed, Vera’s father-in-law raised an eyebrow. “You okay there, Sport? Did your mama give you spoiled milk?”

Vera dreaded dinner with the in-laws.

The visits felt like a string of thinly disguised digs at her, her work, and her parenting. In the past, she smiled as if the sharp remarks didn’t hurt, but in fact, each barb stung for weeks, months, even years. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to please them and quite frankly, in her weary and wounded state, she no longer felt like trying.

Recognizing Manipulative Tactics in Family Interactions

Similarly, Brian found himself pushing a pancake around on his breakfast plate.

Across the table at the diner, his dad pointed a fork in his direction. “The side of your house needs power-washed. I notice it every time I come over.”

It didn’t take long for Brian to began thinking of reasons not to meet with his dad for their weekly breakfast. With escalating frequency, he left the meal with indigestion and feeling inadequate. He loved his dad and wanted a relationship with him, yet hearing of the many ways he didn’t measure up drained the energy Brian needed to be present for his wife and four children.

The manner in which we interact with our grown kids and their children can be uplifting, or as family coach Linda Goldfarb says, can “push their head down.” There are subtle behaviors parents, often unknowingly, do that alienate precious relationships.

What are alienating behaviors of a parent?

Talking through the children
Pushing past physical boundaries
Not respecting the parent’s clearly outlined wishes

Speaking Through Children is Emotional Manipulation

“Ask your mother if you can do a sleepover at Nana and Papa’s,” Vera’s mother-in-law continued at the dinner table. “All my friends have grandkids who stay overnight.”

Am I talking to my child or the mother-in-law? Feeling cornered, Vera mumbled, “I’ll think about it.” She glanced at her husband. “We’ll think about it,” and she took her plate to the kitchen.

Moments later, her mother-in-law joined her in the kitchen. “It’s all settled. Bring the children over Friday night.” She put a hand on Vera’s arm. “Put socks in their suitcase. I know sometimes you forget their feet get cold.”

“It’s a texture thing,” Vera tried to explain. “I don’t forget the socks, but some days they bother him more than others and it’s just not worth fighting over.”

According to Psychology Today, triangulation occurs when two people who are involved in a conflict attempt to involve a third party. Similarly, when adults talk through a child, the child is leveraged into a conversation that is between the grown-ups. By talking at Vera instead of to her, clear conversation became convoluted.

Talking through a child is a manipulative way to voice judgment.

A better way to introduce the topic of a sleepover would be for the parent of the child and the grandparent to have a private conversation. “I would like to be available for sleepovers with the grandkids,” a grandparent can say. “Talk it over and let me know what you think.”

Decoding Boundaries: Navigating Physical and Emotional Spaces

Leaving the restaurant, Brian reflected on the rising tension he and his wife felt around Brian’s dad. When his dad came to meet their newborn, he held out his arms and demanded, “Let me have my grandchild.”

Several times Brian’s dad had insisted the four-year-old “give me a kiss” as grandpa said good-bye. “What’s this?” The older man had frowned at the fist bump the boy offered, grabbed him in a bear hug, and planted a kiss on the child’s mouth.

Today’s heightened awareness around germs, contagions, and personal space means parents and grandparents can consider options in the ways affection is expressed.

  • Allow the child to come to you for affection
  • Be okay with the times a child does not want to be affectionate
  • Ask the child if they would like a hug. Be okay when the answer is no.
  • When you initiate a kiss, aim for a cheek or forehead
  • Invite a child to sit next to you instead of on your lap
  • Give privacy when a child is in the bathroom or getting dressed

Being respectful of physical boundaries, parents and children can connect with a hug, fist bump, or handshake instead of hello and goodbye kisses if it makes the child (or their parents) more comfortable.

Honoring Parental Choices: Bridging the Gap

When Vera picked up the kids from their sleepover at the grandparents’ house, the kids were cranky.

Vera recognized the signs of an allergy flare in the oldest. “Did he have milk?”

“No milk, but he had two servings of that Superman ice cream flavor he likes.” The grandmother lowered her voice. “I did show them that movie you thought might scare them, but they did fine with it.”

Vera made a mental note to give an allergy medication when they arrived home and be prepared for a possible nightmare that night.

Have a peaceful conversation with the child’s parent where you suggest activities you would like to do with the grandchild.

Ask parents first before inviting grandchildren to do something. “I’d like to take the kids to the zoo, how does that sound to you?”

Whenever possible, honor the preferences of the parents. Ask how you can be supportive for the family.

Team Players: Creating Harmonious Bonds Amidst Differences

“I realize that extended family members are acting and reacting out of their background and experiences,” Vera said. “I wish we were on the same team when it comes to the children.”

“It is time to have a talk with my dad,” Brian said. “I just hope he can hear that I love him and need him to be aware that some things he does just don’t work for our family.”

Grandparents offer wisdom based on experience. Today’s parents are connected to an abundance of information. When you have a question about why a parent does or does not do something, find a peaceful and private moment to ask. Listen to the answer. Each generation has different parenting trends.

Parents are apt to be connected to grandparents when they feel confident the grandparents are serving as team players. Additionally, parents are more open to listen when the grandparent presents their thoughts with grace and kindness.

Embracing Change to Decode Emotional Manipulation

Recognize that God gave this child to this parent as part of his perfect plan. Defer to the parent’s preferences on choices around potty training, diet, sleep routines, and education options. Of course, if an environment is not safe, get counsel on how to intervene with a process in the best interests of the family.

Holding tight to your opinions or how you parented can result in alienating your adult child and their family. Different is not always wrong. Manipulating through word or action is the antithesis of building a relationship where both sides feel safe.

As families grow, grandparents can avoid subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors that alienate your adult kids by standing shoulder to shoulder with parents in the raising of their children.

About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like