Relationship Connection: Undermining parental authority

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.


My wife corrects me almost every time I discipline my son and I’m tired of her undermining me in front of him. I don’t correct her parenting, even though I disagree with how she handles things at times. I feel like it’s bad for my son to see me getting undermined all of the time. I’d really like to see this stop. Any suggestions?


I can imagine how emotionally charged this is for both of you. Here are some thoughts on how you can slow this down and resolve your concern.

First, you need to speak with your wife (in a private setting) about your concerns. I don’t recommend you wait to have this conversation with her the next time she interrupts you disciplining your son. It will be too emotionally charged and will resolve nothing.

Your purpose in having this conversation isn’t only to tell her how this affects you and your son, but also to learn more about her concerns and why she feels the strong need to interrupt your parenting.

Let her know you want to be united as parents and send your son consistent messages. You didn’t mention this in your question, but I’m assuming your concern is more about the interrupting and less about the fact that she may have some thoughts about how to handle the situation differently. If that’s the case, then make sure that you reassure her that you want to know her thoughts and opinions about how to handle parenting situations. Let her know that you want to talk with her about this, just not in front of your son.

You’re right that arguing about a child’s behavior in front of the child isn’t good for them. Unless a child is being physically abused or severely emotionally abused by a parent, it’s good to simply wait until the disciplining parent has finished and then invite them to have a discussion about what just happened. Repairs with the parent/child relationship can happen after the fact. I find that children are open to parents coming back and working things out.
Set some agreements with your wife about what you will and won’t do when disciplining children.  She may have a comfort level that is different than yours, so make sure you hear each other out and try to respect each other’s sensitivities. This takes work and humility from both, so make sure you put unity at the forefront of this discussion.

After you and your wife get on the same page with your parenting, I recommend you both go back to your son and apologize for overwhelming him with your arguing. Let him know that you won’t pull in the middle of your disagreements. While it’s good for children to see parents working out differences, putting a child in the middle of your disagreements only creates more problems for your child.

Slow things down by taking the necessary time to get unified with your wife. Everyone will win when this happens.

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  • Nonnie December 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Hows do I submit a question to you?

  • RIchythefool November 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Get out while you can. When your wife undermines your parental authority, as mine does, she’s wilfully short circuiting your relationship with your child. Its a passive aggressive action made obscene by the fact that she knows and yet does not care about the harm she is inflicting.

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