How to Handle Parenting When One Parent Undermines the Other

Parenting is hard enough without your partner contradicting what you do. Find out how undermining your child's other parent can hurt your kid and how to handle it if it happens to you.

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 co-habitating 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 formerly with 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.”

This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly. 


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38 COMMENTS

  1. So, my wife doesn’t believe in discipline of any sort. When I correct our son she jumps in and undermines me. When I try to get him to sleep at a decent time she says he isn’t tired and he will go to sleep when he is ready. He is 3 yrs old and should be going to sleep at a decent time but lately with her interference he goes to sleep around 3am. What do I do?!

    • Leave if she won’t stop undermining you. My wife did this for 26 years and I finally walked away. You are being the reasonable parent who wants to help his child. Your wife is enabling his negative behavior and it won’t stop…ever. It will continue to get worse until you have familial dysfunction and chaos. My 19 year old son is an entitled brat who’s unruly, an addict and his mother just recently enabled his drug use!!! He’s dysfunctional mainly bc of her enabling and her manufactured chaos related to it. It’s a sign she doesn’t respect you and you need to leave so you can be that healthy strong male role model for your son so he doesn’t end up like my son. You can’t do that with both hands tied behind your back. Like I said leave so you don’t make the same mistake I did and stay with a disrespectful spouse.

      • my husband says I have been undermining his parenting. yesterday. we had such bad air quality here that all outside sports and activities were canceled. my husband without me knowing asked our son to mow the lawn, I our son has had multiple issues with bronchitis..etc. so I told our son
        not to do and let me to dad first.Before I had the chance to talk to him about it he called our son and our son told him I said not to do it. He didn’t mention that I had said let me talk to Dad first.
        so my husband said I undermine his authority . I told him that was never my intention, I was just concerned for our sons health. My husband went on to say i do this all the time and he is tited of it. we’ve been married 22 years so i said , you know i only am trying to protect the kids not undermine your authority. Our son and i both got yelled at and he made our son mow the lawn in the bad air quality. Our son is not a baby , hes a teenager. He knew i said i would talk to dad, he just chose to leave that part of the conversation out when he talked to my husband. Was I wrong??

        • Even though it wasn’t intentional you still undermined his authority. You should approach your husband and have a conversation behind closed doors about your concerns before saying anything to your child. Doing this will allow your husband to realize other factors (health) he may have not thought of and gives him the ability to correct his decision to make your son cut the grass. It will make him look like he has humility and your husband will feel better about himself. The way you handled it undercut his authority regardless of the environmental conditions. If this approach happens frequently without discussing behind closed doors then you may be contributing to long term damage to your marriage and the relationship between your son and the father,

          • This is the perfect answer. I get undermind so much now that when i discipline my son, he just ignores me and runs to his mother who 9 times out of 10 will give him a free pass.
            i love my wife and i in no way want to leave or anything like that. it’s just so frustrating.

  2. I have disagreements like this all the time. My husband says he is fedup of me contradicting him, but I feel that he is not involved enough to make an informed decision.
    Giving my 3 year old chocolate chip cookies after 6p means she is going to be hyped on sugar to settle down at night.
    Attempting to stop bottles during the day to get her to eat better, he says leave her she will eat when she is ready.
    It is so frustrating.

    • I have the same problem with my husband as well. He gave the kids chocolate before bedtime and I simply asked him not to because of cavities and having trouble falling asleep from too much sugar. He blows up every time and yells at me and labels me as a controlling person. I am exhausted with parenting 4 children alone, on top of him constantly undermining my parental skills.

    • side note: you may want to research sugar and behavior. The “link” between the two appears to exist in one place: parents heads. For those that lose it when I’ve said this… I ask only to point to the time period where sugar stops influencing behavior. like most Americans, I eat far more sugar than I’m supposed but I feel fine. I’m also someone who grew up with sleeping issues but I’ve never seen sugar as something to avoid prior to sleeping. Just stimulants, like caffeine. Food for thought.

      • yeah buddy that’s great that you don’t think chocolate is that bad. it’s the undermining when you ask them every night not to give them chocolate before bed. sugar is the cause of most behavioural things in kids these days, it’s in everything and before bed could cause a spike and also cause cavities. I’ve had to let go of not giving my daughter sugar because my husband thinks she’s like a 12 year old and she’s only three. all i ask is just choose a sensible time that your partner agrees with. middle ground.

  3. I have been married to my husband for almost 3 years now. He has 4 teenage daughters from a previous marriage. They were in foster care when I first met him & after we got married, I helped him work a case plan to get them home. They have now been home a little over a year. Their birth mother is using drugs & rarely sees or even speaks with them. They have had no structure nor discipline at any point in their lives. They are capable of doing so much better than what they do (the oldest is 15 & her highest grade in school right now is a 36) I want to be the mom they’ve always deserved, but my husband CONTINUALLY undermines me or completely disagrees with me while the girls are around. He says that’s not what he’s doing, but it certainly is & it truly makes me feel like shit & only encourages them to continue doing/saying whatever I “attempted” to address at that time. I cannot take being completely ignored & basically ran over much more though. I’m at my wits end. I love my husband & I love our girls but what can I do if nothing I do or say matters in this household?!

    • Seriously…leave. If you do, he will either see the error in his ways, genuinely apologize and then patent as a team or he will continue acting like a friend to his children. If he does not change, respect yourself enough to walk away permanently bc you deserve better. Don’t allow his disrespect in undermining you in front of them…not ever. Once you set that boundary, follow through with the consequence you laid out, which should be leaving. Then if you return, make it clear that if it happens again that you will file for a separation and a divorce. If you stay under these conditions, you will be eventually scapegoated to your children and others outside the fanily i.e. smear campaigns. A spouse who can undermine their spouse in this way, (who’s the reasonable and healthy parent) is untrustworthy. The healthy “truthteller” such as yourself in a dysfunctional family is usually scapagoated as the source of the family’s issues instead of the real source. Trust me. I stayed for 26 YEARS in this type of mess with a highly dysfunctional undermining wife and ended up blamed for everything dysfunctional that was caused by the undermining. You are on a potential powder keg that will eventually blow. Just leave and work on yourself to figure out in therapy why you attracted someone dysfunctional, distespecful, undermining and unhealthy. I did. Once you illuminate this, and understand it with insight you will then stop attracting unhealthy mates without four dysfunctional children.

    • I will tell you something about step-families and it’s not what u will want to hear. But if the husband is undermining you like that in front of you, just think what he does behind your back with his kids. Eventually you will wish you had not stayed in the marriage. It’s not an easy decision but do you want to live like that from now on? Probably not. good luck

  4. Undermining the other parent is a LACK OF RESPECT, and it can be deadly to a marriage, depending how serious the infractions are, and how often they happen. My ex pretty much constantly undermined me with the kids, even laughed at me in front of them, making it very difficult for me to parent, as they felt they did not need to listen to me. We are now divorced after 25 years. I also have realized how much it affected my own self esteem after years of this.

    • I hear you on this . Dealing with this currently. It has definitely affected my self esteem and I’m sick of it.

  5. I’m dealing with this now and have been for 12+ years. Now my kids are 13 and 15. My wife and her parents have pretty much pushed me out of the picture. I feel as if my children look at me as a peer. I’m definitely in a lonely place. I love my kids more than anything.

    • Brother…leave if you haven’t already. I was in the exact same situation with her and the inlaws but I stayed for 26 YEARS!!! I won’t change and you get blamed and scapegoated for everything they do!! Your children won’t respect you bc they see your inlaws and wife disrespecting you. Undermining is the ultimate form of disrespect. It won’t spot. Divorce her and get your self respect back. Best of luck but run don’t walk.

    • I feel for you. I have two teen girls, 14 and 16, and both are not listening to me. My husband, their father, lets them get away with everything and finds ways to favor anything they do. He sees our girls as his special interest and puts in all his energy and time. I am on the sideline good enough to chauffeur, clean, garden, cook, and do the laundry. Don’t feel like a mother any more since the girls are teens and basically only go to my husband for anything they want …. because they get it. I feel so lonely and disrespected at home. Wish I had seen how my husband undermines me since my first daughter was born. My self-esteem has suffered so much and joy has left years ago.

    • OMG, brother, I am in the exact same situation as you. Wen my wife’s family comes over to visit, I inmediatelly become the 3rd weel and my kids ingnore me like I am not even in he room. I constantly get remindres from her saying that if I leave, she will inmediatelly make me work for her, taking every penny from my in a divorce court. I am not sure if that will happend but in my eyes, I will die to se my kids going thru that scenario. I definitelly need help.

      • My friend, I strongly recommend you talk to a lawyer today. Beyond the way the situation makes you feel, her “reminders” are nothing less than threats and power-plays. She has intimidated you into subservience in the marriage and irrelevance as a parent. Talk to a lawyer today about ways to protect yourself if/when you decide to leave this marriage. She can’t take every penny from you in divorce court automatically, and depending on the situation, she may get nothing at all from you. This could enable you to live on your own terms and show your kids what self-respect looks like. It will be horrible for your kids, but it will be worse if you let this situation continue. Good luck, my friend.

  6. I have dealt with this as a grandparent. My daughter was a single mom who worked long hours. When she went back to work after he was born I : picked him up from the sitters after working a full day, fed him, cleaned and bathed him. Took him to her house before she got home to put him to bed. I have taken days off when he was sick because she didn’t have paid personal time off. I have picked him up from school when he was ill. When schools were closed last year he came to my office every day to do his classes on-line. I was the one who watched his grades and make sure he did his homework. When she kept him at home, because she works from home, I was expected to make sure he got his school work and homework done. Now, she doesn’t even let me talk to him.
    I disciplined on what needs to be disciplined. The punishment fit the crime, in my opinion. His step father did it that way also. She, on the other hand has the same punishment for everything, whether it is not getting up and ready for school or sassing. She is super strict.
    There are other issues too, but those are the ones she tells people when they find out that I am not allowed to contact him.

  7. I keep getting undermined by my ex-wife. My son recently left my house because i told him to do his sister’s chores when he didn’t do what I asked, he asked his mom to pick him up and take him to her house, and, before he exited the door, he turned around and said F U to my girlfriend and my daughter (I was on my way back home from visiting a dying aunt in hospice care). As a result, while I was waiting in the plane to taxi out, I told my girlfriend that he was not to take his baseball stuff. he left without his baseball stuff, but came back unannounced because mom told him to go get them anyway. How do I deal with the other parent when this level of undermining exists?

    • Not saying things should happen behind your back but as a second parent I’d not be happy with the punishments being dished out to him. Getting him to do his siblings chores would feel like favoritism to me especially when the two siblings don’t live in the same place. And baseball stuff is an odd thing to confiscate. If I was a kid that’d just alienate me. Sorry.

  8. In my experience nothing will change. I left my wife after 4 years of her failing to enforce any of the rules we agreed upon in the house, one of them being no food allowed in bedrooms. I came to find out when I was not home she was permitting my step kids to take food to their rooms and also out into the garage. She already has 3 adult kids who struggle to manage their lives and now her 2 younger kids are headed in the same direction. It caused endless arguments until I left her. I was gone for a month before she talked me back. I returned to food stuck to the garage ceiling and a cockroach infestation in the house and the same issues of the kids defying the rules and my wife not caring a jot about it. We argued and it turns out from her perspective I am the one who is wrong and I just need to lay off the kids. I wish I’d cut her off completely and left them to continue wallowing in their filth without me. I am now once again in the position of having to come up with the costs to leave and start afresh once more. The warning signs were there from the start. I will never get involved with a lax parent who undermines and disrespects me ever again. The children learn from the bad parent and also disregard the parent who is trying to set boundaries. It ends up with the responsible adult left out in the cold and seen as the bad guy.

  9. My wife constantly undermines me. I grew up in a strict home, and I am finding out, she grew up with no discipline at all. I am not as strict as my parents, but when I try to discipline, my wife undermines the punishment, sometimes right in front of my kids. Trying to get her to agree to a punishment is like pulling teeth. I feel disrespected by her and it is a huge turn-off.

    • Same here, but in my case it’s my husband. I grew up with strict routines and discipline while he grew up in boarding school and running free on holidays and weekends. Our oldest is autistic and needs a clear set of rules and routine otherwise he struggles when left to doing whatever he wants. If my husband isn’t home, we get alone fine for the most part because he knows the routine but when dad is home, he tests his limits, calls me names because he knows if I says something, his dad is just going to say he is my baby boy he doesn’t mean it. Then later on my husband wonders why I don’t want to do anything with him when I finally do get our son to stay upstairs for the night? Who wants to hang out with someone that would let their kid call their mother an idiot or be so openly disrespectful to them and then get mad at the mom for speaking up for herself.

    • Well, it’s well known that punishment is not healthy for kids and can result in emotional abuse or anxiety ing term, so I can see why some partners feel like they have to interfere

      • There always should be consequences for bad behavior . If an adult acts badly he goes to jail without punishment and consequences you chaos. Our society today is a direct result of that.

  10. My Wife undermines me in front of the children, when she tells them off and they don’t listen to her, as a parent, i will sometimes intervene and tell them to do as there mum says. My wife will then sometimes have a go at me for doing that (i.e., telling the children off) and almost justifies out child’s behaviour. When I tell them not to do something and reasons why, she undermines my parenting in front on them till and they end up doing what i told them not to do. Any advise will be great.

  11. I am a mom of two, and I admit that I am the spank kind of mom. Everytime I reprimand my children after giving me so much head ache, my husband will come to their rescue reprimanding me in return. Right there in front of our kids! It always happen and this has always been the reason for our huge fight. We are so not in one page! He tolerates our childrens’ trantrums where in I cant tolerate it. I want to teach them that not everything goes after them. I am contemplating leaving him, but at the end of the day, I cant give up on my children. I will still be a spank kind of mom until the day they can decide on their own.

    • Spanking children has been shown to have absolutely horrible long term effects on their mental health and is highly recommended against by every professional. it sets children up to fall into abusive relationship patterns in the future and it keeps them in unhealthy situations longer because that’s what love has always felt like….or maybe it won’t but their relationship with you will have been damaged because they know that WASN’T love.

      Fortunately for them, all it takes is one good, loving, caring parent to help mitigate the damage you’re causing so your children are very lucky indeed to have your husband.

      And always remember, it’s never too late to change. Think deeply about why it is you’re determined to physically hurt your children vs learning to parent them without the violence. Perhaps some inner healing is in order and I truly hope you find it.

  12. I have a husband that is undermining me. We have an almost 4 year old son and I’ve tried every trick in the book to potty train him with no luck. Finally I’ve decided no games. If he continues to want to wear a diaper no more games. Well when my husband is trying to have sex with me he constantly offers up the games to my kids. I’m fed up. He ends up being pissed off at me because I get upset. I don’t know what to do anymore.

  13. I feel for you. I have two teen girls, 14 and 16, and both are not listening to me. My husband, their father, lets them get away with everything and finds ways to favor anything they do. He sees our girls as his special interest and puts in all his energy and time. I am on the sideline good enough to chauffeur, clean, garden, cook, and do the laundry. Don’t feel like a mother any more since the girls are teens and basically only go to my husband for anything they want …. because they get it. I feel so lonely and disrespected at home. Wish I had seen how my husband undermines me since my first daughter was born. My self-esteem has suffered so much and joy has left years ago.

  14. I’m going through the same thing. We have a blended family. I have a 19 year old from a previous marriage and he has two kids from his previous marriage (his wife passed away) his children are now 13 year old daughter and a 17 year old son. We have have a 2 year old son. 3 years ago we moved to Ok away from my family after my husband retired from the army. His father was the only family we had here. His father moved away and doesn’t have a good relationship with him. Since we moved here, he went from being strict Dad staying on top of everything two letting the kids do whatever they want. My oldest isn’t here. But the other two stays on their electronics and the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. The 13 year doesn’t even leave her room. She will stay in her room all day! The kids used to have a bedtime on a school night 9 PM but now they go to bed 10 sometimes 11 and I know that they’re getting older electronics when they go to bed. They don’t help with chores or anything unless you ask them. I’m really tired of asking because every Sunday is chore day and they know this. It also doesn’t take a genius to see if there’s dirty dishes in the sink. The dishes needs to be done their father and I work all day and the kids will have the whole entire day off and literally do nothing but play on their electronics. Their dad thinks this is normal and every kid does it. I think they are addicted to their electronics. They just can’t get off of it. They don’t even let the dogs out anymore. I need to look to hire somebody to come by the house to do it. I am to the point that I’m getting so fed up and thinking about moving out. I try to talk to my husband that there needs to be rules and consequences like what we used to have. But he would roll his eyes and say nothing. He doesn’t say anything to the kids.

  15. OMG, brother, I am in the exact same situation as you. Wen my wife’s family comes over to visit, I inmediatelly become the 3rd weel and my kids ingnore me like I am not even in he room. I constantly get remindres from her saying that if I leave, she will inmediatelly make me work for her, taking every penny from my in a divorce court. I am not sure if that will happend but in my eyes, I will die to se my kids going thru that scenario. I definitelly need help.

  16. I have been dealing with my Wife’s undermining for more than 10 years (I was refusing to get a divorce) becaus I didn’t want to put my kids thru this awful experience. Now my kids are 13, 11 and 9. My wife and her family have pretty much pushed me out of the picture, to the point that everytime they come to visit I automatically become the 3rd wheel. A lot of times my kids don’t even notice me at all, I am at the kitchen or enywhere around the house and they won’t even give me eye contact. I’m in the worst place and it is very lonely place. I love my kids more than anything.

  17. First thing I’d like to point out is that the item given to the child against the other parents wishes is irrelevant, all the child see’s in that situation is that they were given what they wanted from one parent, even though the other parent said they could not have it. At that point, the child immediately looses just a bit of respect for that parent and will continue to loose more and more each time they see it happening. As if it wasn’t bad enough, they will eventually feel like they are on the same level as the parent giving them what they want and the other parent will be below them. Once the other parent starts to notice and attempts to correct their now older child’s behavior, they will realize that child doesn’t listen and believes it is okay not to because they will always remember the times that one parent didn’t listen to the other parent and all that mattered was the child getting what they wanted, so all they are doing is continuing to do what they have always seen being done.

  18. My partner is exactly the same. Spent years not raising her kids, her hear only in her work while I worked and raised them, did all the discipline etc. Now only after years of my complaining to her about her lack of involvement, and finally telling her she was doing a sh*t job as a parent, she is ‘participating’ about 10% of the time. Now however she undermines me. Comes in and says ‘oh just do what he says so we can get this over with, you know how he goes on’ or ‘see? Now im getting into trouble’ etc when I mention her destructive undermining. but then, when Im NOT around, no rules are adhered to – children are untidy, they constantly graze on lollies and rubbish, are never told (by her) to have basic tablemanners, they leave crap on the floor, feet on coffee tables etc etc. i feel like Im chasing my tail. Im so sick of her and angry at her…it’s like she prioritises her little games and need to be ‘right’ far more than her kids growong up to have some simple life skills, respect and manners.

  19. My husband and I agreed that we would give our children mild spankings for certain acts of disobedience. We have girls 4 and 8 and a boy 6. My problem is I believe he is taking it too far. He says the way we spank wasn’t working, because it didn’t hurt enough. He has started taking their clothes and underwear off and using a belt. I can’t stand to hear the sound of a belt whipping and the kid’s screams. I was whipped naked with a belt when I was little, right on my bare private parts, and I remember how painful it was. What can I do to get him to honor our original agreement? I know if the authorities knew what he was doing, we’d probably lose our kids, and I don’t want that.

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