Being a parent is a tough job under the best of circumstances. Even strong parenting partnerships can struggle when things get difficult. Unfortunately, there is no manual or black and white solution for many situations. Of course, there are plenty of people who love to tell other people what to do and how to do it according to their own logic. There is, however, one huge parenting no-no that couples regularly and often unknowingly commit, and that’s when one parent undermines the other in front of the kids.
As big of a blessing and joy as children can be, they often have a way of testing the patience and resolve of their parents and their parent’s relationships. As individuals we don’t always agree with one another and when there are disagreements about children and parenting decisions we can sometimes make big mistakes. Sadly, those mistakes can have a detrimental affect on children and on children’s relationships with their parents.
What Undermining Looks Like
Most parents when asked will tell you they never undermine the other parent. They will also probably tell you, however, that they themselves have been undermined by their partner at some point. So, it really does beg the question — what does undermining look like?
Undermining one another can happen in a variety of ways. Some are intentional and some aren’t, but that really doesn’t matter when it comes to the overall effect. If you are wondering if you have been guilty of it ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you ever disagree about repercussions for bad behavior in front of your child?
- Have you ever encouraged your child not to tell the other parent about something?
- Use the other parent as the ultimate threat (i.e., “Just wait until your mom/dad finds out?” or “Your Mom/Dad is going to be so mad when they get home.”)
- Conversely, do you offer to conspire with phrases like, “You can do or have xyz, just don’t tell your mom/dad” or “Remember, this is our little secret”?
- Do you complain about the other parent in front of your kids?
- Do you change or reduce a punishment that was doled out by the other parent?
- Routinely sleep in the room with your child, instead of with your partner?
- Say things like, “You know what he can be like?” or “She’s really in a mood today”?
- Make excuses or cover for your child to the other parent when they’ve misbehaved?
- Say things like, “It’s no big deal” or “Calm down, they’re just kids” when your child has done something wrong?
These are all examples of common and somewhat inconspicuous ways that parents can undermine each other. Many of these are innocent in that one parent really isn’t trying to damage or hurt the other, or their relationship with the child. Unfortunately, this behavior can become deliberate and extreme when the relationship between parents is tense, or if there’s a separation or divorce in the works. In these cases, there may need to be counseling or parenting classes needed on how to effectively co-parent.
Effects Undermining the Other Parent Has on Your Children
You may be reading this and thinking, “I do one or two of those, how bad can they really be?” Well, the answer to that can vary, but generally these behaviors act like water flowing over a rock. The more often you do them, the more of the relationship erodes. And the impact is multiplied when your relationship with the other parent is already strained.
Remember, children learn more from what they see than what they’re told. Undermining the other parent sends the message that a positive and honest relationship really isn’t that important. It can also teach them manipulation is an acceptable way to get what they want. Most kids will try at some point to play parents off one another. If you have regularly undermined each other over the years they will not only see pitting you against each other as acceptable, they will also know quite well how to do it themselves because you will have taught them.
As a consequence of this you may find that your child doesn’t take either one of you seriously when you set boundaries, make rules, or issue consequences.
How to Stop
Learning not to undermine each other requires conscious effort. So many of the little ways it can happen can sneak in over time despite your best intentions. In the heat of the moment it’s very easy to get emotional and forget that a united front is the most effective means of parenting.
Having regular discussions regarding parenting issues when things are calm can be a good way to keep things on the right track. And communicating with each other regarding any behaviors or comments that feel like you are being undermined. These conversations, however, should be done away from the children.
If you find that you have done things that may undermined your partner parent, then you can still work together to fix things. It may require a conversation with your child to explain that despite what they may have seen or heard, you have come to agreement on whatever the issue is and present a united front. This will serve the dual purpose of not only reinforcing your message, but also showing them that two people who love and respect each other can come to agreement even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye at one point. Effective conflict resolution is a difficult skill to learn and should be modeled to our children whenever possible.
Most parents have accidentally undermined the other at one point or another. Children can bring out the best and worst in us, and also inspire a lot of strong emotions. Working to be a better parent and a better parenting team is a never-ending process. So, if you’ve stumbled and made mistakes, the good news is that you get to try again.