Motivation or Manipulation – is there a difference?


What’s the difference between motivation and manipulation? My dad always used to manipulate me as a child to make me behave. He’d say I could go somewhere, but then threaten to take it away if I misbehaved or did something he didn’t like. He never did take it away, but he held it out there like a threat. So now, this is how I relate to God – I know He’ll come through but that anxiety rears its ugly head.


Sometimes I’ve done this with my children. Not intentionally, and not to the extent that your dad did to you, but I’ve done it. This has looked like me saying we would go somewhere and then, in response to their misbehavior, telling them we aren’t going unless they show me that they can handle going. This is wrong and manipulative. The GBD thing to do would be to have the standard that if you aren’t showing me behavior I’m willing to take into public, we won’t go into public; then to observe the behavior and make a decision and let that decision stand. That is kind and firm. That is setting them up for success. And that is what I will do from now on. I’ve repented of my previous manipulation, and now that I’m aware of it, it won’t happen again (without being immediately corrected!)

My mother and I were talking about this revelation when she pointed out that I also occasionally respond to my children begging and whining for food with, “I am finishing something. Do you really expect me to stop what I am doing and run out to fix you food? I will be there as soon as I’m done.” Now, this statement would be fine – except for that middle rhetorical question. She said when she watches my children, their entire countenance falls.

It really is hard to walk the line between motivating and manipulating. I’m realizing if I’m doing it for me, then I need to just determine to do it no matter the challenges my children present. If I’m doing it for them, then I need to decide if it’s worth it.