We are all familiar with the niceties of splitting a sandwich or splitting the bill after a supper out. It’s common, even friendly. Most of us are not as familiar with the ‘splitting’ some teens do when they’re stressed or feeling pressured. This splitting is a form of manipulation often used by children to pit one parent against the other. It can be particularly amplified in blended families and in families in which the parents are no longer a couple. Big changes can exacerbate the degree of manipulation.
According to Psychology Today, “Splitting occurs in two forms: First, in an effort to enlist the child, a parent may present himself or herself as the good parent and the other as the bad parent. Second, a child may learn to play parents against each other or split them for secondary gains.” In the second example, the behavior is part of a child’s attempt to gain some control over their life. This is natural and can be a healthy part of individuation and growing up…until it becomes manipulative and destructive.
Your child has been watching you their entire life and knows how to push your buttons. They know which parent is a softie, which is the disciplinarian, and will use that knowledge to get their way. Because your child is a pro at manipulating you, it is of utmost importance that you and your co-parent be unified. The power of that unity can pave the way for an easier relationship with your child and can start to engender trust.
Here are some important aspects of getting together behind your child’s long-term well-being:
Communicate – Good communication is essential. If your child is trying to split you, make sure they know that you know. Communicate that knowledge in a unified way such as: “We really don’t like it that you asked both of us separately without telling us.”
Be Respectful – Stand up for one another. The greatest thing you can do to curb splitting is to show that you respect and even admire the other parent. This is certainly harder to do if you are no longer together but let your child’s well-being take precedent.
Don’t be Afraid to Differ – Even happy couples differ. It’s natural to differ. But when you do, make sure to air your differences outside of the presence of your child.
Choose a Plan and Stick With it – You both have to decide what the plan is and follow it through. Do your homework, have some ready data to back up your plan. This is where I can help.
Plan in Advance How to Appear United – You will reduce your vulnerability by presenting a unified front. Being respectful (above) will strengthen your position.
Be Willing to Compromise (to a point) – Compromise is a critical component of any healthy relationship. It shows your willingness to see the other person’s perspective in order to find middle ground. Compromise, no matter how small, will make your child feel recognized, heard, and appreciated. That feeling cannot be underestimated.