Written by Shabs Ash
If they do, is it to serve the child’s best interest or the parent’s own interest?
Here are a couple of examples of parental manipulation;
‘I’ve sacrificed my whole life for you, and what have I got in return?’
Or perhaps, Emotional blackmail – ‘If you loved me you would do as I say’.
The parent may feel that they need to manipulate their child to protect them in some way or for other means. This can then boil down to the fact that the parent does not trust their child to live independently and make their own life choices and decisions. For whatever reason it may be, the parent may feel the need to manipulate or control their adult child in some way to get what they want.
Is it right to manipulate your children’s life in this way? After all, you cannot live their life for them. So why not entrust and empower them to live their life and blossom into well-rounded confident adults?
Empowering our children to become independent confident adults
I feel that good parenting empowers children to become independent and confident; to stand on their own two feet. It should not be about the parent wanting to control their child’s life especially when they are no longer tiny children.
As children turn into adults, the manipulative parent may still feel the need to control their adult child. Surely there are other positive ways to influence your child and still be a part of their life when they are fully grown adults. This is unhealthy behaviour on the part of the parent, if they feel the need to manipulate their child.
Please note, this is not meant to be a dig at all parents, rather an observation I have made of those parents that still try to control their adult children through manipulative means for their own gain.
How do these parents manipulate?
How many of you have heard things like: ‘I carried you for nine months and you don’t appreciate what I’ve done for you’. Someone I know also had this said to them, ‘if I knew you would not listen to me, I would have strangled you as a kid’. (Shocking I know, whether said in jest or seriousness, not a very nice thing to say to your child)
Another way some parents control their adult children whether done consciously or unconsciously is by making them become over reliant on the parent. I have seen this with some boys, especially in the south Asian culture where the mother cooks, cleans and does almost everything for the son even when he is a fully grown man. This keeps the child reliant on the parent and can be classed as a form of manipulation if the parent is doing this as a form of control.
Other forms of manipulation may involve interfering with every aspect of a child’s life so as to have some amount of control. Things like ‘you don’t want to become an actor, you know you are not good at speaking in front of a lot people’ or comments such as ‘don’t befriend him, he is not a Christian like we are’.
Gaslighting – this is where you manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. For example, ‘you really need to question your behaviour, I seriously think something is wrong with you, I will make you an appointment; please go and see a doctor for help’.
Some examples of the kind of manipulation a parent may use:
Playing the guilt trip card
A classic is, playing the guilt trip card to make the child feel guilty or unworthy, unloved. This behaviour on the part of the parent is not healthy and may be due to some insecurity the parent has about themselves. This can only be resolved if the parent decides to address their insecurity. If the insecurity is addressed by the parent, they may find their relationship with their child miraculously improve overnight!
I have seen this happen more often with parents who don’t have very good communication with their adult children. For whatever reason, they either lost that communication somewhere along the line or it was never there in the first place.
Self-love and self-worth
The insecurity may stem from the parent’s own lack of self-worth and self- love. If we are unable to fully love ourselves warts and all, we can never give that love to another. Perhaps their own parents were manipulative towards them and therefore that insecurity was passed on to them. If the parent becomes aware of their manipulative behaviour and decides they no longer wish to control their children through such means, they can put an end to this behaviour.
On the other hand, the adult child may become aware of the fact that their parent is manipulating them and decide to set some boundaries with their parent and to communicate to them that they are no longer willing to tolerate such behaviour. Of course, this may not put an end to the parent trying to control their adult child, but it will for sure make them think twice about their behaviour and who knows even end it. One main advantage of the adult child becoming aware of parent manipulation themselves and then deciding to do something about it, may be that they vow to never subject their own kids to such treatment in the future. A great win if you ask me!
To truly love someone which includes your children, is to allow that person to be free and to be who they are, make their own decisions and then to be there for them regardless of the outcome. That’s what true love means to me anyway.
None of us are perfect as human beings, as parents or children. However, I feel that if the parent is confident with their child’s upbringing and how they have brought them up into the world, then they should not feel the need to control them as adults. Simple as that. They should entrust their adult child to live their own life. In this way, there is a healthy sense of freedom for all including both the parent and the child.
This reminds me of a poem written by Khalil Gibran which goes:
On Children – by Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Having more than one child
I know someone, a parent friend of mine who only has the one daughter. The daughter is only nineteen years old and wanted to go abroad to travel and study, my friend was naturally very apprehensive as this would be the first time her daughter would be on her own and so far away from her.
I love the way my friend sat down with her daughter and told her ‘I love you and you are my only daughter. Yes I want you here with me, and it scares me to see you go so far away and on your own. But I can also see how you really need to do this and follow your heart’s calling. I trust that you will be looked after and grow into a wonderful human being through this experience.’ My friend told me that this was the biggest test for her in learning to trust and letting go. She told her daughter ‘I always want you to know I am here for you and love you no matter what.’
I am proud of my friend as it was difficult for her to let her only daughter leave and be so far away from her, but the truth was that through letting go, their relationship grew even stronger. They are on the phone and Skype each other every day and my friend has visited her daughter many times since she left about nine months ago!
Now, I have another example which is on the other end of the spectrum. Another friend of mine has six siblings, including herself there are seven children in the family. My friend is an amazing human being, beautiful, intelligent, kind and just living her truth and loves both her parents. However, her parents don’t agree with the way my friend lives her life. To be honest my friend isn’t doing anything undesirable for her parents to feel this way, except being herself and well not being married and is in her thirties. Apparently my friend doesn’t want to get married, it’s her choice. Yet my friend’s mother is always having a dig at my friend as to the reasons she should be married and constantly shows her disapproval for the way my friend lives her life.
It’s all about the culture and how it looks on the parent for their grown daughter to not be married. However, at the end of the day, I think the parents just want to see their daughter happy and settled with someone to take care of her as their culture promotes and how they have lived their own lives.
Yet, if they tried letting go and perhaps accept their daughter’s happiness and show her love regardless, they may set themselves free from the constant struggle with the unhappiness they feel due to their daughter not being married. I mean surely there are bigger things to worry about in this world than your child not being married.
In a way, I can understand why my friend’s parents may behave the way they do towards her, as they have been brought up in a generation and culture where being married is a sign of approval and acceptance.
Living your life in Fear of what other people think
But I don’t agree with how what other people think is more important to the parents than their children’s own happiness. If the parents didn’t allow the opinions of other people in their culture affect them, then perhaps it wouldn’t be such a big problem for them? But man, who has the energy to live their life in constant FEAR of other people’s approval even if it is your own family or parents?! I know, I rather not.
Another sad thing about this situation is, my friend told me how her mother says to her ‘I gave birth to seven kids and I will just tell myself I didn’t give birth to one of them’. This is another form of manipulation by the parent in implying you will be disowned, abandoned, unloved and unsupported if you continue along your path. In my opinion, this is complete disrespect for their child’s life and in a way they have already disowned her by saying that and influencing other members of the family to do the same.
To hear your parent say this to you, would be upsetting for anyone but my friend does not let it get to her as she is a confident secure woman with a lot of self-love and worth. She sees the bigger picture and knows there are bigger things to tackle in this life than to worry and stress about other people’s opinions or naysayers even if that includes your parents and other family members.
Regardless of that, it is a very hurtful thing to say to anyone let alone your child. The opinions of others matters more to these parents than accepting and loving their children for who they are. A sad fact but a fact indeed.
So the point I want to make is, here is an example of a parent who has only one child and another set of parents who have seven children. Does having more than one child make you less appreciative for what you have? Because I am sure my friend who only has the one daughter may think that to be the case with regards to my other friend whose parents have the luxury of having more than one child.
So I would request any parent reading this, to love all your children no matter what, to be thankful for what you have and everyone in your life for it can be taken away from us in an instant! Also what we appreciate and are thankful for, grows tenfold and is blessed with each and every coming day and what we put down and harbour resentment towards only destroys our own inner peace.
Giving more importance to a son – culture and tradition
I have also seen some parents, especially in the south Asian community give more importance to the boys. This is because the boys are seen as the ones who will look after both the parents when they are older or are given the financial responsibility for women under their care. This doesn’t make any sense to me. If parents bring a family of both boys and girls into this world, why create such a disparity between them.
No one is to be blamed here, neither the boys nor the other siblings, culture and tradition have taken precedent here until someone questions it or decides it’s time to change.
Creating sibling rivalry as a form of control and manipulation of the whole family
The final point I must make is the family politics I use to always hear about when growing up but never really knew existed until now.
Another form of manipulation a parent may use to control members of their family is creating sibling rivalry, especially when they have two or more children. I have seen how one or two children may be chosen by the parents as the ideal child who does nothing wrong who they then manipulate into taking the parent’s side and may even be used to punish other siblings (the scapegoat, black sheep). I have heard, there always has to be a scapegoat in order for the majority to feel good about themselves – a cheap shot I know but perhaps this is reality.
The chosen child is given as an example by the parent of how the other siblings should behave, think and act. When the truth of the matter is that all your children are unique and special in their own right and should be loved and accepted for who they are. I am not saying this is an easy task for parents to do, and maybe it takes a very evolved parent to show such a trait, who knows.
I also feel that the siblings are not to be blamed either, as they have been brought up and taught to think and act a certain way until that time they decide to question their own behaviour. Then again, the parents are not to blame either as they may have been controlled by their own parents and are just behaving the same way with their own kids. Or they may simply just be unaware of how they are manipulating their children as a way to mask their own fears and insecurities.