“Help! Someone is manipulating my child, telling them what a bad parent and person I am, fueling any discomfort we have, and basically putting himself between me and my child! Child loves this person and won't stop seeing them. What can I do? I don't want to create a war inside my child's head, that is the definition of coercion, but I want my child to trust me! I don't trust this person so a talk with them is out of the question. (To be honest, I believe this person would do almost exactly the opposite of anything I said, just to piss me off.)”
Tricky, tricky, tricky.
I find myself thinking a lot about the exact nature of the relationships here, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. How is it different if the manipulative person is the child’s best friend? Other parent? Beloved uncle? Stepsister? Grandparent? Next-door neighbor? Is it different?
When I think about it, people cut other people out of their lives in all kinds of situations, so if the child didn’t want to see this person, the problem would be solved. But the child DOES want to see this person. The child loves this person.
So then I wonder how we can break down the problem… What does it mean to manipulate someone? To feed them misinformation? To try to lead them to set conclusions?
There are no perfect parents. All relationships have occasional discomfort. For someone to choose to dig into someone else’s relationship and try to expose it as “bad” seems unnecessary and potentially cruel to me. I think this is clearly how you’re perceiving the situation. There is a real danger here that anything you do to show how wrong the other person is for trying to manipulate your child will be perceived as you choosing to dig into someone else’s relationship and try to expose it as “bad.” Do you see what I mean? Going on the offense seems to me to set you up to become exactly what you dislike about this other person.
Your child loves you. And your child loves this manipulative person. Let’s assume the manipulator loves the child. The right thing for you, the parent, and this manipulative but important person to do seems to me to each have your own separate relationship with the child. Meaning it doesn’t make sense to me for the three of you to hang out together. Or to discuss each other with your child. You can’t control what the manipulator says or does. You can control how you react, and how you act in the first place.
I think that the ideal way forward is to assume the absolute best of your own child. And to protect your own mind. I’m thinking this might mean coming up with an easy answer for reports about the manipulator “hmmm, that’s interesting. I don’t see it that way.” And then let it go. If your child wants to talk more about it, listen. What’s that old saying? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Politely disagree, but don’t get into judging his character. If you are the parent you want to be, then whether the other person claims you are “bad” or not will be irrelevant – you and your child know the truth.
I don’t think people are actually very easy to manipulate – I think we tend to believe what supports what we already know, if that makes sense. So if there are weak areas in your relationship with your child, work on those areas because it is important to you to do so. Strengthen yourself, and your relationship with your child, and what the manipulator says and does will not matter. If you are strong, and your relationship with your child is strong, then the manipulator will become irrelevant, a ghost.
I think if you see this, if this rings true to you, then it might even be possible to turn those attempts at manipulation to your advantage. If something you hear stings, be kind to yourself, and see that as valuable information that there is an area you are not happy with, a place where you can focus on being more present and growing in a positive direction. The manipulator might give specific language to your child, but he cannot control how your child feels or what your child believes. So listen, and be the parent you want to be, and know that the words you hear might be triggering unnecessary reactions for you, so try to get past those reactions and hear the substance, where your child is unhappy, and address that. This is where a simple, standard answer might come in handy – it will give you time to let your emotions settle, so that you aren’t interacting with your child in an angry reactive mode sparked by this other person you don’t trust.
If you are trustworthy, your child will trust you. Who you are, how you treat your child – that’s what trust is built on. At least, that’s what I want to believe. I hope I’m right.
It sounds like a very, very difficult situation. I really hope something here helps.