We’ve all been there: It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday and Junior needs to get ready for bed. You nudge your kiddo and nod toward the clock. He starts to get up when your partner chimes in and says, “Honey, c’mon. It’s Friday, he can stay up a bit later.” Junior gleefully flops back onto the couch for another episode of his favorite cartoon – you’ve just been undermined and you’re probably not too happy about it.
Moms and dads of all marital statuses don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to parenting the kids, and it can get really frustrating when the other parent steps on your toes, especially in front of the kids, but how you handle the situation when it happens is crucial to your kids and your relationship with their other parent.
Why it happens
For married or cohabitating parents, getting undermined by one another is typically caused when they aren’t on the same parenting page in terms of rules, limits or discipline, Greg Oliver, M.S., a psychologist at Henry Ford Medical Center in Troy explains.
“They could have opposite discipline strategies. One might use a time out and the other might be the kind to spank,” he says. “In a divorce situation, one parent might talk poorly about the other or one parent might enforce different rules.”
And this sort of back and forth between parents can be confusing and harmful for children.
“Kids grow up more comfortable and more healthy when the environment is predictable and reliable,” he says. “When the same rules are enforced it prevents anxiety because the child can predict what the parent is going to do, no matter which one catches them.”
It also causes spouses to question the strength of their marriage, and for the one being undermined, anxiety over their parenting skills.
“It can cause that parent to doubt themselves and it makes them insecure,” Oliver explains. “Then they’re not going to be as effective parents because they feel like they’re in a helpless situation.”
How to deal
Luckily, there are some ways to combat being undermined by your child’s other parent. Oliver says that communicating with the other parent about the common goals for your child and using that as a foundation, while avoiding accusations, is a good place to start.
“(If the parents are divorced), I would recommend for the first parent to find some success in their approach or what they’re doing and show the other parent,” he explains. “Married parents should have a conversation away from the kid and discuss the teamwork process. Once they see each other as allies, they can apply the parenting approach together.”
If the issue still doesn’t stop, he says that the parent being undermined should do their best and continue to enforce their ground rules because the child will usually see what’s truly going on.
“It won’t fix the problem but it will increase the odds (of parenting success) if one parent is trying,” he says. “Parents needs to do what is right for the child and the child will see that.”