Toxic Parenting Habits Between Couples That Hurt Kids

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People often talk about dysfunctional patterns in divorced or separated couples that hurt kids. But, couples don't always have to be apart in order to create an unhealthy environment. Many parents are engaging in toxic habits when they're living under the same roof.

The way couples communicate, treat one another, and work together can either enhance or diminish a child’s quality of life. Parents who show mutual respect, cooperation, and encouragement teach children healthy relationship skills.

Couples who exhibit toxic behaviors send kids the wrong message about love and life. Their dysfunctional behavior can influence the way their children see themselves and the world around them.

Here are five toxic parenting habits between couples that affect kids negatively:

1. Competing to Be the Best Parent

Rather than cooperate with one another, some couples behave as if they’re in direct competition with one another. Unfortunately, when couples compete against one another for the ‘parent of the year’ award, everyone loses. Families are strongest when they work together as a team.

Trying to prove that you can get up the most times in the night, or that you can clean the house the fastest in an effort to outshine your partner will hurt your relationship, as well as your child.

Kids are much better having two really good parents, rather than one exhausted parent with a superhero complex and another parent who just tries to pick up the pieces. Work together as a team so you can both function at your best.

2. Overcompensating for the Other Parent

Different parenting styles can cause one parent to overcompensate for the other. If a mother tends to be really strict, the father may respond by being extra laid back in an effort to balance out his partner’s no-nonsense attitude. Playing “good parent, bad parent” will only entice a child to manipulate the situation.

Overcompensating for the other parent leads to a lack of consistency, which isn’t healthy for kids. If you and your spouse disagree on discipline, examine your parenting styles. Work together to establish clear household rules and consequences you’ll both enforce consistently.

3. Vying to Be Liked the Most

Sometimes parents work hard to be their child’s favorite parent. Their need to be liked often causes them to give in to bad behavior, or spoil a child in an effort to win her favor.

Trying to win your child’s approval will only backfire in the end. Your child will only be happy when you’re not enforcing the rules. Kids need clear structure, firm limits, and consistent discipline, which means there will be days where you won’t win any popularity contests.

It's normal for kids to like one parent better than the other on certain days. But overall, no one parent should be competing for more affection than the other.

4. Colluding With the Child

There are several ways parents collude with a child. A mother who spends lots of money on back-to-school clothes and tells her child, “Don’t tell Dad about this!” sets up an unhealthy dynamic.

Similarly, a father who conspires not to tell his partner the lamp got broken was because their son was playing basketball in the living room isn’t actually helping the situation. Keeping secrets from your partner, lying, complaining about the other parent with your child, or agreeing to behavior that the other parent would never allow, is an unhealthy dynamic.

When one parent begins conniving with a child, the family hierarchy begins to shift which can introduce a lot more problems into the home. Work together with your partner on parenting together and never team up with your child against the other parent.

5. Outwardly Disagreeing Over Discipline

It’s not healthy for children to see their parents disagree over what’s best for them. When one parent says, “He shouldn’t have to go to time-out for that,” or, “I think he should be allowed to go out with his friends today!” Showing a lack of respect for the other parent will only encourage your child to do the same.

Show your child that you respect your partner’s opinion. If you disagree over a discipline strategy, present a united front in your child’s presence and talk about your concerns privately. It’s better to go along with a discipline strategy that you don’t agree with than to show your child that you don’t trust your partner’s opinion.

How to Reduce Toxic Habits

If you and your partner have gotten caught up in these toxic habits, you may need professional help. Talk to a family therapist or couples counselor who can assist you in letting go of the habits that are hurting your kids.

If your partner refuses to attend therapy with you, go on your own. You may benefit from learning strategies that will help you be the best parent you can while also limiting the negative impact on your children.

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