Why You Shouldn’t Undermine Your Partner’s Parenting

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.

Family sitting at table together eating breakfast
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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.

Signs of parents undermining each other

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.

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.

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