Does it feel as though your partner is often trying to prove that he or she is a better parent than you by saying things that imply, “The kids like me more.” “I understand our child better than you.” “I’m more involved than you.”
Why are people competitive?
Today’s Western culture promotes individual success, excellence and winning. Some people assume that they must surpass others in order to achieve excellence and be valued. While they may simply want to prove themselves as worthwhile, they end up unintentionally diminishing others in the process.
When that kind of competitive spirit moves into the home, it’s likely to backfire and cause problems within the family. Excessive focus on outshining your partner in any arena will lead to the decline of your relationship and, in the case of competitive parenting, to the following negative consequences:
Five negative consequences of competitive parenting
- The child feels responsible for the tension in the parents’ relationship and may feel pressure to ease that tension.
- The child learns to play the parents against each another.
- The other parent feels defensive and criticized.
- Collaboration and openness becomes stifled in the family.
- The implied judgment against the other parent undermines love and support within the family.
The purpose of parenting is to raise capable, responsible adults who can take care of themselves, contribute to society, and form healthy relationships with others. When a parent needs to prove him- or herself as superior, or when a parent needs to be needed, adored, or preferred by the child, the child may end up feeling responsible for the parent’s wellbeing. When we expect our children to carry the ultimate responsibility for our need to feel valued, we are training them to have codependent relationships.
It would be better for the child if each parent were to role model acceptance of and collaboration with the other parent. Everything improves when you take delight in the other parent’s individual relationship with your child and support his or her different parenting style, unless it is extreme. Although it’s important to be on roughly the same page with the other parent on important issues, it is healthy for a child to have to deal with different parenting styles from different adult influences. They will learn to read people and to be flexible in their responses to different people. This will benefit them as adults when they will have to deal with different types of people in authority positions and otherwise.
Five positive consequences of supporting the other parent
- You bring out the best in the other parent.
- Your child feels more comfortable and develops a strong sense of security around both parents.
- You encourage free expression of support and love, rather than creating anxiety in your child around relationships.
- You can be more relaxed, because you don’t have to prove yourself all the time.
- Your primary relationships with the other parent and with the child become stronger, more open and more positive when there’s no atmosphere of judgment.
Children and teens will go through phases of preferring one parent over the other. If instead of competing, each parent would rejoice in or at least accept the other parent’s special relationship and time with the child, the trust and love in the relationships in the family system will be strengthened.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD Psychology