My Child Is Using My Grandchildren for Emotional Blackmail – What to Do?

Spending time with your grandchildren can be some of the happiest moments of your life as you’re building memories and creating traditions. 

Emotional senior woman

Having a great relationship with your grandchildren doesn’t mean you will have that same relationship with your child, and that can cause a lot of tension when it comes to spending time as a family. 

Sometimes children can see the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren to exploit their parents for things they want, or to make ultimate demands. 

When people do this, it’s known as emotional blackmail. You have probably heard of black mail, but could be wondering what the difference is for emotional blackmail. Here’s what you need to know. 

What, Exactly, Is Emotional Blackmail?

Simply put, emotional blackmail is a kind of manipulation when someone uses your feelings to control your actions or make you see things their way. 

It can seem really subtle and gradual, and it probably won’t be just one action that gives you cause to stop and think about it. It can be a slow shift by withholding affection or even body language. 

Your children may see this as a way to get something out of you that they want by giving the impression that you may not be able to spend time with your grandchildren anymore. 

How Does Emotional Blackmail Work?

This kind of blackmail is very similar to any other form of blackmail, and has six defined stages to it. 

Demand

The first part of emotional blackmail usually involves some type of demand from them for you to complete. Typically the demand will be wrapped up in a way that makes it seem like they care about you or they only want what’s best for you. 

However, the bottom line will be that they are still trying to control the situation. 

Resistance

If you don’t do what they want with the first, subtle demand you will probably experience some kind of push back. This is known as you resisting their demands. 

Pressure

When it comes to healthy relationships, people do still put their needs and desires out there to be met. In a healthy relationship, though, if someone experiences resistance after they’ve asked, they will generally drop the issue or find a way to come to a mutually agreeable solution. 

After you’ve resisted their demands, they will probably continue to pressure you to do what they want. 

They might even criticize you or put you down, or say things like “if you loved me, you would do this for me”. 

senior woman and daughter

Threats

This step could be direct or indirect threats, or it could involve a threat in the form of a promise. 

Either way it’s delivered, it’s manipulating you to do exactly what they want you to do. Your child may state something about you not being able to see your grandchildren anymore unless you do exactly what they want. 

They could also threaten to leave in the middle of a family event, causing a scene, if things don’t go exactly their way. 

Compliance

When your child is threatening to do something – like not bring your grandchildren to visit you – it puts you in a really vulnerable position. 

You don’t want to call their bluff in case they really follow through and it means you don’t get to spend time with your grandchildren anymore. 

Once you give in to their demands, everything will be peaceful (at least for now) because your child has got exactly what they want. They may even seem overly affectionate and loving after you agree to what it is they want. 

Repetition

Once you have shown that you will give in to whatever it is they want (which is not to place any blame on you) your child will know exactly how to play the situation and how to get what they want. 

They will use this to their advantage consistently so that they get exactly what they want on an ongoing basis. 

How to Respond to Emotional Blackmail 

If you believe that your child is using emotional blackmail with your grandchildren, it’s important to know that none of this is placing the blame on you. 

There is some work to be done, and the family can get through this. It will not be easy but it’s important for the future of your relationships that you address this as soon as possible. 

Intentional vs. Learned Behavior

In some cases, blackmail may not be exactly intentional. Some people learn the tactics of blackmail – like guilt trips or threats of self-harm – over time from parents, siblings or even ex partners. 

These behaviors show that by giving someone a guilt trip they can get exactly what they want. They don’t recognize that they are blackmailing someone, though. This can be seen as learned behavior instead of intentional blackmail. 

senior woman feeling sad

In other cases, however, people intentionally blackmail people and know exactly what they are doing to get what they want out of someone. 

If you don’t feel comfortable confronting your children on your own for fear of how they may react, you may choose to have someone else present with you to handle the situation. 

What Is Not Emotional Blackmail 

When someone asks you to do something and it triggers some emotions or frustrations on your part, so it will be a natural reaction to push back against what they’re asking for. 

It’s very healthy for people to state their needs in any relationship. It only becomes blackmail when it involves consistent pressure (after you’ve said no), threats and control over your actions. 

Now, how do you address emotional blackmail when it involves your grandchildren?

Try to Buy Some Time

If you’ve been visiting with your grandchildren and your child happens to drop a few demands as you or they are getting ready to leave. 

They sometimes do this so that you will feel rushed and just agree to whatever it is that they’re looking or asking for. 

If this happens, try to buy some time and let them know you will think about it or are not prepared to answer at this time. 

They may resort to pressuring or even threats, however try to stay calm and let them know you’re thinking about it and will get back to them soon. 

Do not respond with equal threats or arguing, being calm will help a lot in this situation. 

Have a Conversation When You’re Ready

If you feel it’s safe to talk to them and feel as though you can talk to them then it’s important to engage in a conversation. 

Do not do this when they’re demanding things from you. Start the conversation after you’ve had some time to think about it and are prepared to respond back to them

Sometimes blackmailers know exactly what they’re doing and just want their needs met, no matter what it costs someone else. 

Other times, they may just know that guilt tripping or crying will help them get their way and they don’t realize that they’re blackmailing you. 

Usually when it’s a learned behavior having a calm conversation about how it’s affecting you they will be open to discussing this and can change the behavior when they know it’s hurting you. 

This conversation will give them a chance to change their actions, and redirect how they’re behaving towards you. 

What Are Your Triggers?

When someone engages in emotional blackmail, they often know exactly what your triggers are and they will poke at them so that you are more likely to give in.

Senior Mother and Adult Daughter arguing

For example, if you really hate arguing in public then your child may decide to demand something or threaten to stop bringing your grandchildren around if you don’t do this thing when you’re out in public. 

Knowing what your triggers are means you can identify them and address them, but also that you can stop the conversation from happening with things escalating. 

Try to Find a Compromise

If you can find a way to work with your child on a mutually beneficial solution then you refusing their demand may seem less threatening to them. 

Additionally, confirm that you are hearing their needs and validating their feelings so that they can still feel like they are not being outright refused. 

Listening to them will let them know you genuinely want to work with them and figure out a solution rather than outright refusing. 

When people blackmail, they often are prepared for you to outright refuse to they need to resort to threats or tougher demands. 

If you are softer and trying to work with them, and their feelings, you can catch them off guard and they may be less demanding. 

Your relationship with your grandchildren is a really important part of your life, so when your child is threatening to stop bringing them to visit you or cut of you spending time with them it can be really scary. 

For this reason, many times grandparents feel like they have to completely give in to whatever it is that their child wants so that they can still see their grandchildren and they’ll do anything to protect that relationship. 

When you’re being blackmailed with time with your grandchildren, try to compromise with your child and see if you can find a mutually agreeable solution so that your family can still see each other. 

If you feel as though your grandchildren are not safe, always address that as a priority and make sure they are safe first.