Question: Our kids are manipulating us too much and it causes stress in our marriage. How do we put our marriage first?
Amanda’s Answer: I have two kids so I totally get where you’re coming from. I think parenting is probably the hardest job you’ll ever have. And kids are very smart at honing in on your buttons and pushing them to get what they want. It’s incredibly important for you and your man to be on the same page when it comes to raising your kids. It’s not a bad thing to say NO to your children. In fact they need and, without knowing it, crave boundaries and discipline and responsibility. So it seems that by saying no you’re hurting them, but by giving in to their manipulation, you’re hurting them more, because you’re not helping them become productive, responsible, caring and empathic adults. So keep that in mind when the kids manipulate you.
I would suggest you and your hubby take some time away from your kids to have a talk. Discuss what you think is important in raising happy, healthy children. What rules do you think are important to put in place and why? Figure out between the two of you a structure and a routine for your children that makes sense to both of you. When you have that structure and routine in place, it becomes a rule, and when you are both united on the rule, it becomes that much easier to enforce. You may need to compromise a little, because each of your parenting styles might be different, and you each need to respect that in each other. Then, you explain the structure and routine to the children and enforce it. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to have a lot of push-back from the kids, and they’ll pull out all the tricks in the book to get you to change your mind, but because you and your guy have come up with this together, you’ll be able to stand firm as a couple, united in your efforts to create a family unit that works for all members.
Kids don’t really like getting their own way, you know. They don’t like it when they can manipulate their parents. It makes them disrespectful of you, and you don’t want that either. They want to look up to you as role models and as firm but fair disciplinarians. It’s up to you to create that environment for them, even if it means they don’t like you for a while. It seems to me that maybe that’s what you’re scared of, that they won’t like you. Well tough. It’s your job to ensure they grow up properly, and you can’t do that without them hating you from time to time. You gotta lump it on that one. And then make sure that you take time to hang out with your hubby without the kids. Your marriage is ultimately more important than them, because once they’ve left, you’ve only got each other. And that’s the thing you have to remember – one day your kids will move out, and when they do, you have to be sure that you’ve done the best possible job you can to make sure they’re ready to face the world, and you’re ready to let them go. Good luck!
Lisa’s Answer: There’s a very simple answer to this question: stop falling victim to their manipulation tactics. Easier said than done, I know. It’s hard to comment on your situation without knowing what they’re doing to manipulate you but I will tell you this: not only will it affect your parenting and marriage in that they are taking the power away from you but you are doing them no favors by raising them this way. For example, if one of them throws a tantrum any time you won’t buy them something they want and you give in to them, you are hurting their ability to cope with life’s situations. Down the road, they’re going to be so used to getting what they want that when life naturally delivers them car-load of lemons, they will have no clue how to make lemonade from them.
So how do you deal with it? Recognize when you’re being manipulated and call them on it. Let them know you’re on to them and then stand your ground. The last part is talking to them about the underlying reason that they’re manipulating you. Perhaps they’re scared, insecure or just plain lazy. Figure it out with them and then explain why you’re not going to give in. And set boundaries. There should be consequences for their actions – i.e. if you throw one more tantrum, you’re grounded this weekend. I’m not a parent and I can only imagine how difficult it must be. I know that it likely pains you to see them unhappy and that you want to be able to provide everything you possibly can for them. But part of parenting is doing what’s best for their future selves and teaching them the skills they need to cope with life when you aren’t there to catch them. If they’re used to getting their way, putting your foot down is going to take some getting used to. But they will catch onto it and they will be better people for it.
Good for you for recognizing that there’s a problem and realizing that your marriage needs to come first. Set a weekly date night, make sure you talk every night before bed about your children so you’re on the same page and make a point to have sex on a regular basis. It will strengthen your connection and boost your confidence thereby reinforcing your command as heads of the household. Keep your eyes on the prize – the prize being a strong, healthy marriage and well-adjusted, capable children. You can do it!
Love, Lust & The In-Between offers advice to anyone experiencing challenges in their lives. Readers of this magazine are most welcome to send in their questions, which will be handled with the utmost confidence. Lisa and Amanda will each reply with their own perspectives. Please be aware that their advice comes from experience, not a classroom, and is therefore only to be applied to your personal situation if it feels like the right thing for you. Lisa and Amanda look forward to helping you.
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