When parents contradict each other in front of their kid, it can impact how the child interacts with the world long after they leave the house.
Parenting isn’t an easy job, but parenting while being undermined by your co-parent can be especially challenging and frustrating.
It’s natural to sometimes disagree with your partner, including about the best ways to parent. But if your partner constantly argues in front of your child about boundaries you’ve set or the discipline you’ve doled out, you’re right to be concerned.
While undermining your co-parent may seem insignificant or innocent at first, it can have a lasting adverse impact on your relationship with your partner and children. How you interact with your partner or co-parent is the best example a child has when it comes to interacting with others.
If you and your partner’s parenting methods clash in front of your child,you can feel disrespected. But there’s hope for improving the situation and avoiding adverse effects on your child.
Your partner may be undermining you — or the other way around — in many ways in front of your children. Some of which may feel so minor they could easily be missed or even unconscious.
Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist who works with families and relationships, identified a few ways you might be undermining your partner:
- complaining about the other parent in front of your children
- encouraging your child to not tell the other parent about something
- changing or reducing a punishment set by the other parent
- saying “It’s no big deal,” when your child has misbehaved
- routinely sleeping in your child’s room rather than with your partner
- feeling as if you’re always the “bad cop” to your partner’s “good cop,” or vice versa
Discussing punishment when the child isn’t present can help parents agree about what’s appropriate. If you’re hashing out discipline details regularly when your child is present, you might be undermining each other.
These examples and the importance of being on the same page applies to both partners who are parents and co-parents who are separated or not in a relationship.
We all slip up and make mistakes, especially when faced with a strong opposing opinion. It’s the ongoing pattern of undermining that’s most important to avoid.
Help for domestic violence
If you’re undermining your spouse because you’re afraid of their anger or violence toward you or your children, you have several options for finding help.
You can reach out to a trusted friend or therapist. If you’re experiencing abuse — whether it’s physical or emotional — you can also call the Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Several things can cause a pattern of contradicting a partner in front of the kids.
The simplest: A difference in opinion on how to raise your children.
“Differences in parenting styles and views on how to raise children can lead to one partner interfering with their spouse while they are setting boundaries and disciplining their child,” says Sue English, a licensed clinical social worker and family therapist.
Talking with your partner early on about how to raise your children can ease any differences in parenting styles. Also, as your child gets older, you’ll likely want to adapt your approaches. Committing to regular communication without your child present is critical.
Undermining behavior might not be about parenting at all.
“If there’s conflict within your relationship that includes pent-up frustration, undermining your partner’s position could be a passive-aggressive move to regain a sense of power or control,” English explains. In this case, communication and mutual respect are crucial — especially for co-parents.
The behavior could also stem from feeling insecure as a parent.
“If you feel insufficient in your parenting role, overriding your partner’s direction for your child could be a type of defense mechanism to mask your own parental insecurities,” English says.
The pattern of undermining can all be avoided when you begin to understand why it may arise and work together to prevent them.
While it’s common to sometimes disagree with your co-parent, constantly contradicting each other in front of your kid could harm your relationship with your partner and have a long lasting adverse impact on your child. Children tend to learn more from what they see than from what they’re told.
Some effects undermining your partner could have on your child:
- learning that being honest with someone in a relationship isn’t important
- learning manipulation is acceptable and helps them get what they want
- forming a habit of breaking the rules or not taking consequences seriously
- lack of respect for authority
- parental alienation, where the child’s relationship with the undermined parent is damaged
“Children may also no longer take either parent seriously and not follow rules, boundaries or consequences, or punishments that are issued,” Schiff says. “They will develop the same inconsistency and may have problems with authority.”
If any of this sounds familiar, that’s OK. There’s hope to overcome this behavioral pattern and restore relationships with your partner, co-parent, and child.
Everyone has their own beliefs about parenting, and that’s OK. What’s important is being on the same page with your co-parent. There are options for overcoming a habit of undermining and its root cause.
Identifying an issue or asking for professional support doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a partner or parent. Instead, it shows your children that people have to work together to solve problems and build healthier dynamics.
Here are some steps to consider:
- find a couple’s therapist or co-parent mediator
- have a conversation about your ideal parenting styles and values
- agree to not discuss or argue about discipline in front of your child
- face one issue at a time and find common ground
- communicate your boundaries often
You might also want to check out esteemed couple’s therapist Esther Perel’s podcasts or Instagram psychotherapist @SitWithWhit, who shares relatable parenting advice.
Parenting isn’t easy, and overcoming this pattern can take time and effort. Learning to work together can make for a smoother and more rewarding time parenting.