When One Parent Undermines
The Other Kristina Campos, the founder of The Impactful Parent, talks to parents about: -What undermining looks like in parenting -What undermining does to the parenting relationship -Tips for combatting the problem.
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When One Parent Undermines
This has got to be one of the most frustrating things as a parent.
You make rules for your kids to protect them. You give them boundaries to help guide them to make good choices. THEN suddenly, in the middle of making or reinforcing your rules, your co-parent steps in and completely undermines everything you just told your child. AHHHHH! Of course, this makes you want to scream! That person made your rules look like a suggestion and not something your child needs to follow. To make matters worse, you know it will happen again. What are you going to do about it?
Hello, my name is Kristina Campos. I am the founder of the Impactful Parent. Every week I give you parenting videos that can help you in your parenting journey. If you have a particular topic or parenting question about your school-aged child that you would like me to address, please submit it at firstname.lastname@example.org or by messaging me on social media. All submissions are kept anonymous.
Today, I will talk to you about what to do when a co-parent undermines your authority. I will explain what undermining looks like, what it does to your parenting relationship, and stick around to the end because I will also be giving you tips for dealing with these frustrating situations. Let’s get started!
When other adults undermine a parent’s authority, it can be hugely detrimental to the parent-child relationship. It doesn’t matter who the undermining adult might be. It could be a co-parent, an ex, a grandparent, a coach, a teacher, or even YOU. Sometimes people can subconsciously undermine another adult because they feel resentful, jealous, or simply don’t like how the other co-parent does things.
Let’s start with what undermining looks like to get on the same page about our topic. The following are ways that adults can undermine each other in their co-parenting.
- Saying, “It’s no big deal,” when the adult is trying to correct the child’s behaviors
- When one parent is always the disciplinarian, the other parent gets to be “Fun Dad/Mom.”
- When an adult lies for the child or covers up the child’s lie to the other parent.
- When an adult tells the child, “Don’t tell Dad/Mom about this.”
- Complaining about the other parent in front of the child.
- Disagreeing about discipline or rules in front of the child.
- When one adult changes the rules or reduces the punishment set by the other parent
- If an adult refuses to uphold the rules or the disciplinary actions that the parent has established simply because the parent is around.
- When one parent says yes when the other parent says no.
- When an adult tries to get the child on their side of a disagreement or the child to favor them instead of the other parent.
Now that we have established what undermining might look like, you might be thinking that undermining is a horrible way to interact with the child. Why would someone do this? Well, sometimes undermining is not intentional. Parents that get less time with their children due to work or divorce tend to want their time with their children to be happy and enjoyable. They don’t want their time with their kids to be spent arguing or disciplining. They want their children to like them and not feel disappointed when it’s time to spend time with the non-custodial parent. Being a rule enforcer isn’t easy, so what happens in these situations is unintentional undermining. But the bottom line is: All undermining is detrimental to the child. The intent doesn’t matter.
What undermining Does: Studies show that children who grow up in an environment where one parent constantly undermines the other parent will learn to be manipulative. These kids learn that manipulation is acceptable and helps them get what they want. Undermining is also confusing to children. It teaches kids that rules might be flexible, and no doesn’t always mean no. This causes kids to also think that consequences are optional. Children won’t take their punishments seriously; therefore, they will often break the rules. There is a clear connection between undermining and kids lacking respect for authority. Even worse, the parent-child relationship loses respect also. Sometimes the child will feel like the parent who enforces the rules is just being mean, and now the child doesn’t want to be around the parent that seems to have rules for no reason. However, when parents work together to create common rules, punishments, consequences, and boundaries- (whether the parents live together or not,) these parents also create an environment for their child that is predictable, reliable, and produces less anxiety for the child because kids know what is expected of them and what the parent will do, no matter which parent catches them.
One of the worst things parents can do is undermine the other in front of the child. For example, if one parent tells the child that they can’t be on their phone because they need to get homework done, the other parent comes into the room and says, “It’s ok. You can do homework later tonight. Right now, will you call your grandma? She wanted you to call her.” Even though they don’t seem intentionally malicious, statements like this teach the child that the other parent doesn’t need to be listened to.
What can parents do? The first part of your solution is to avoid power struggles. This comes in two parts: Avoiding power struggles with the underminer and avoiding power struggles with your child.
You can’t control what happens outside of your home. Suppose you are in a power struggle, undermining, situation with a divorced co-parent. In that case, you will have to accept that you can’t control what happens in their home. Period. Attempting to control what happens in the other household will only lead to more arguments. You can’t win that battle. You can, however, take control of your own home and your own domain. Keep your rules and consequences to those rules well known and consistent. Consistency and communication with your child will be your most important goals. Beyond enforcing your own house rules with extreme predictability, you can also work on avoiding the power struggles with your ex by sitting down with your co-parent and making consistent rules and consequences across both houses. Yes, I understand that this is much more easily said than done. I suggest finding a co-parenting mediator who can help you communicate with your co-parent. If you are still married, a couple’s therapist can also help. Either way, find a time to talk with your co-parent where the two of you can be ALONE and not discuss the rules and consequences in front of the child. The goal here is to find a compromise until you can reach an agreed-upon way to do things. With your mediator, talk about:
- Your ideal parenting styles and values
- Common house rules you can implement together
- Discipline and consequences for rule violations
But what if the other parent doesn’t want to cooperate or compromise? Then you will have to take the high road and be the best parent you can be despite the damage the other adult is doing. Taking the high road is also not an easy path, especially when you are being bad-mouthed and undermined by another, but don’t sink down to their level of disrespect. You need to focus on being the role model parent that puts their child’s best interest as the first priority. Don’t talk badly about the other parent. As your child grows, they will begin to see the truth. They will be able to come to their own conclusions. When that day arrives, your child must remember YOU as the parent who provided predictability in the home, rules that provided security and safety, trust that you aren’t a person who talks badly about others when they aren’t present, and consistency in their home life.
This brings me to avoiding power struggles with your child also. Engaging in power struggles with your child sends them the message that your rules are up for debate. If your child starts to argue with you, it doesn’t mean you have to argue back. You can resist the temptation to yell and defend yourself. Simply redefine your boundaries and walk away. Enforce consistency. Also, consider using consequences instead of punishments. Too often, parents resort to removing everything from their children to make them learn their lesson or comply with the rules. Although removing privileges can be an effective way to discipline, it is not the only way. You can’t punish someone for better behavior. Remember that the goal of discipline is not to punish but rather to teach. If you want some new ideas on setting up different kinds of disciplinary consequences, watch my video called Discipline Techniques That Work https://youtu.be/KzwbTciGgsY and my video on Balancing Discipline and Love https://youtu.be/qV4StXdh_gU.
Lastly, remember that change doesn’t happen overnight and is best implemented in small steps. This can feel frustrating because we want things to change today, but baby steps are still progressing. In fact, baby steps open the opportunity for more change faster because you will be getting less resistance from your child and the underminer than you would if you tried to change everything all at once. Focus on ONE behavior at a time to be the most effective. Make a written list of the things you want to see improved, and then number them in your order of importance. Concentrate your energies on improving one item on your list at a time. Talk to your underminer and your child about:
- Your new goal,
- what the change in your home is going to look like moving forward,
- the consequences of the new rule,
- and the privileges your child will get for compliance.
Allow your child to earn privileges day by day. Match a reward and a punishment with each rule you make. Hopefully, your co-parent can enforce the same rules and consequences. Still, even if they won’t- you need to stay strong in your convictions and consistent implementation.
I hope this episode helped you today. For more information on how to navigate relationships, check out couple’s therapist Esther Perel’s YouTube channel for more amazing videos. https://www.youtube.com/user/perelesther
If you have a topic or a parenting question about your school-aged child, please ask! Submit your questions by social media DM or email me at email@example.com. Plus, if you want to become a more Impactful Parent, download The Impactful Parent App. The Impactful Parent app is FREE and full of episodes like this one that will help you in your parenting journey. Investing in your family looks like learning the warning signs of certain behaviors so you can stop bad things before they start, discovering new parenting techniques to make your parenting more effective, and joining a community of like-minded parents that also want to be the best parent they can for their child. All of this, plus so much more can be found inside The Impactful Parent app so download it today. You got nothing to lose with this free parenting resource. Go to theimpactfulparent.com and discover how you can step up your parenting game and be an more impactful parent.
But until next time, you got this, parents. I am just here to help.
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