You Asked: How Do I Co-Parent with an Ex Who Manipulates My Children?

One single mom asked: 

How do I co-parent with my abusive ex, who manipulates my 10 and 12 year old?“ 

There’s something sinister that often happens when a marriage ends. 

One or both parties recognizes their loss of control over the other person and begins to attempt to regain that control—many of you are living with this—through manipulating the children. It’s one of the worst things you can possibly do to your child. In fact, many courts consider it child abuse. But some will still use it against another parent for one reason and one reason only: it can be very effective. 

If you are the parent that is being targeted, it can be devastating to realize that the people you care about most are being manipulated in order to harm you. Maybe you don’t even realize that is what’s going on. But make no mistake, the manipulation is a move to regain control of you or to harm you in some way. It’s not about the children at all. 

But while manipulation can be effective to a point, we can counteract it. 

Think of it as a chess game. Your ex knows you better than most. They know your moves before you make them. They know exactly where to attack in order to bring the most harm. 

Unless you change your game. 

And while people caught in the middle of these situations often carry on a battle between the two parents—strike for strike—the only way to end the game is through your children. 

Children are the savviest people on the planet. They are more effective at reading people than adults and they can tell subtle differences in behavior that we might miss. Before we all got caught up in trying to impress people, we were too. But, they don’t care about impressing people, they care about truth and justice. It’s innate. 

Parents are called to be influencers in their children’s lives. The difference between manipulation and influence is one thing: deception. 

Influencers reveal the truth to make you move. 

Manipulators conceal the truth to make you move. 

It’s literally a battle between good and evil. God is an influencer, the enemy is a manipulator. 

The only way to end the manipulation is to take away its effectiveness. 

We have two things on our side: 

  1. Being a good influencer in our child’s life 
  1. Our child’s innate sense of right and wrong, and longing for justice 

If we combine these two concepts, we have the perfect formula for combatting a manipulator. 

So, how DO we combat it? 

Lay a Solid Groundwork 

As Christians, you’ve likely already spent significant effort teaching your child about right and wrong. You’ve probably had ample discussions on the difference between lying and telling the truth. And you’ve likely been in a position to teach them that it’s wrong to lie to get your way. That’s all that manipulation is. 

The thing they may not understand (or be able to see since they trust both parents) is that a partial lie or an omission of the full truth is the same thing as a lie. Explain these concepts to your child, and let them know that you don’t tolerate or participate in that type of behavior. Mind you, they are always watching you. So make sure you back this up with your words and actions as well. Your children are learning how to be people. They will learn to manipulate. Or they will learn that it’s wrong and that they should be influencers instead. But, this is something that must be taught. 

Get Real with Your Child 

I don’t care what age your child is. They know when they are being used. If you discover that they are being manipulated in a situation, sit them down and discuss it. There are four concepts that need to be covered in regards to whatever has been done to manipulate them. 

  1. The truth 
  1. How it is wrong for others to lie to get their way 
  1. Examples of how they are currently being manipulated 
  1. An acknowledgement on their part as to the manipulations (Note: they may not see it in the beginning, just like we don’t always see things like this. But, they can probably see your point that doing it is wrong and that they are uncomfortable when it happens. It will make them more aware to be on the lookout.) 

Don’t ignore what is going on, or what is being said to your children. To them, your silence could be taken as an admission of truth to whatever untruths are being said. If you are being lied about, you need to set the record straight. Have frank discussions with your children to draw out what is being said. However, you should NOT do this while disparaging the other parent. Explain the lies and tell them the truth. Give them examples of the truth that they can see. And encourage them to be on guard for lies. 

An example might be: 

“I know you heard X about me. I want you to know that it’s not true. What is true is X. (Give examples) I know you know me better than anyone, so sometimes you might have to listen to what’s being said and figure out for yourself if it’s the truth or not. You can always ask me questions. But, besides that, you are with me enough to see how I live my life and whether or not I would do something like that.” 

Live an Honest Life 

There was one point where so many lies were being said against me that I couldn’t possibly know everything. It was a constant barrage. That’s when I had to rely on what I had taught my children about being manipulated, and then give them room to decide for themselves. 

Live an honest and open life. Don’t “hide” things from your ex or others as if you are doing something wrong. Live in plain sight, in honest ways, and your children will come to see who is telling the truth and living an upright life. And who is not. 

Pray for God to Reveal 

No one is mightier than our God. No one is better at revealing truth than Him. Continue to pray that the truth be revealed to your children and that the Holy Spirit work in them to show them when they are being manipulated. 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” 

Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV) 

The armor of God speaks of 5 things that we need to combat evil schemes in our lives: 

  • Truth 
  • Righteousness 
  • Readiness in the Word 
  • Faith 
  • Salvation 

This is all you need. You don’t need to turn to manipulation on your side, or fear. Speak truth that comes from righteousness. Be in prayer. Have faith that God will do His part as you do yours. And rest assured that your children are not only yours, but His. 

As followers of Christ, we are called to be truth seekers and truth revealers. Teach your children to be the same.