Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Husband Challenges my Authority
in Front of Child

QUESTION: I have a 10-year-old daughter. My husband always challenges my parental authority in front of her. When my husband is around, I feel completely ineffective as a parent. I am stuck playing the bad guy, while my husband gets to play the good guy. How can I make my husband understand that his behavior is damaging our daughter?

You are right to be concerned. Your husband's criticism of your parenting in your daughter's presence undermines both your effectiveness as a parental team and your relationship with your daughter.

Negotiate appropriate guidelines with your husband concerning parenting. Require that negotiations between parents take place separately from your child. Invite him to disagree with you in private, where the two of you have an opportunity to hear each others' feelings and opinions about what is in your daughter's best interest. Once you have had time to discuss differences, you may find that you are not as far apart as you thought on what is best for your child. Then you will be able to give your daughter clear direction that does not involve her in your marital conflict!

Your husband's constant challenge to your parenting that results in his being the "good guy" is not only damaging to your daughter, but to the marriage. Remind your husband that he is married to you, not your daughter. Your relationship is the foundation for your daughter's development, including her eminent separation from the two of you as she grows older. The stronger your bond is, the easier it will be for her to develop her independence without guilt. Involving her in discussion of who is "right" and who is "wrong" can not only confuse her with respect to what the rules are in the home, but more importantly it can compound her relationship to both of you.

If this pattern of triangulation in your parental conflict continues, your daughter may resort to manipulation in order to get what she wants, but the emotional result will be that she has Daddy on her side against Mommy. This cripples the affection she can feel for Mom and puts her in a potentially psychologically incestual relationship with Dad. (that is: she experiences closeness to Dad at the expense of her Mother's feelings of hurt/dismissal) Neither of these positions is in her best interest, as she is at risk for loss of an appropriate relationship to either parent.

Be honest with yourself. Are you willing to give your husband's opinions full consideration? Have you in any way contributed to his not seeking you out for discussion by blocking any of his perceptions when he has tried to discuss his views with you?

Assure your husband that he has legitimacy as a parent and that you are willing to hear his way of looking at a situation. It is his job, as it is yours, to help you identify your own "blind spots". For example, if he feels your "timing" is off in your directions to your daughter, ask him for constructive alternatives and suggestions. But refuse to accept further discussion or discounting in front of your daughter. It is through discussion that the two of you have opportunity to grow closer and feel your importance to your spouse. This sense of importance to one another in your primary bond as parents contributes to affection in the marriage. And an atmosphere of affection and respect in turn promotes problem-solving!

You may also benefit from exploring the roles that each of your sets of parents played in your respective childhoods. How was conflict handled between your parents? Were there "good" guys and "bad" guys in your family histories? Were spouses committed to respecting one another's opinions and feelings or did they triangulate children or others in order to get their way? Did fathers and mothers work together as a parenting team or give conflicting messages to their offspring?

Your couples' relationship needs strengthening. Part of getting back on track is treating the marital bond as a primary one. Remember that your child will not only benefit from your solidity as a couple, but your marriage relationship will be more likely to endure through the time when your daughter has flown the nest and you are left facing each other!

Return to Article Archive

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com