Good Cop, Bad Cop

In some households, one parent is the “nice” one while the other is the “disciplinarian.” Children, of course, tend to prefer the nicer parent. The other parent – the “bad” cop – is often resentful. This parent knows that children need boundaries, limits and guidance and wants to do the best for his or her child. He or she wants support from his or her spouse. When the other parent refuses to offer that support – or worse, supports the child instead of the spouse – the “bad cop” is often extremely resentful and upset. The upset only serves to reinforce how “bad” this adult is in the eyes of the both the spouse and the child. It is no fun being a bad cop!

If you are finding yourself in the position of being the “bad cop” in your parenting team, consider the following tips:

Follow the 80-20 Rule
Each parent needs to be both “nice” and also firm. Each needs to show love and offer appropriate guidance. In other words, each should follow the 80-20 Rule independently, being 80% good-feeling and 20% education-oriented (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for an in-depth explanation of the 80-20 Rule). Unfortunately, one parent cannot make the other follow this ideal ratio. Your spouse may refuse to engage in appropriate discipline and education. However, that needn’t be a problem for you. As long as you remain 80% good-feeling in your interactions with your child, your child will feel a strong and healthy bond with you. Your child will accept your guidance gracefully, because he or she will trust and love you. At the same time, your child will recognize that the lenient parent is a lenient parent – someone without much backbone. They will sense that parent’s weakness and, while maintaining affection, lose some respect.

Working Uphill
Often, lenient parents not only fail to apply rules and limitations, they also try to prevent the other parent from doing so. “Don’t worry that Mom said you had to be in bed by 9 – you’re out with me and we’ll get home whenever we get home” or “I know Daddy said you had to write out lines, but I’ll explain to him that you’re really sorry for what you did and you don’t need to write out anything.” In this case, it is very hard to institute rules, boundaries and consequences. However, don’t give up in despair. As long as you don’t exceed your 20% allowance for unpleasant-feeling communications (which includes, by the way, all instructions and corrections), you will still have tremendous influence over your child. If you give your youngster a punishment and the other parent tells the child he doesn’t have to cooperate with it, you can appeal to the child directly: “You and I both know that I warned you that you would have to go to bed early if you keep chasing your brother. Your father said you could stay up, but you know full well that you have to go to bed early. This isn’t between you and your father. It’s between you and me.” Then, if necessary, use the “jail” form of the 2X-Rule for effective discipline (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for complete information on how to carry out discipline using the 2X-Rule).

Be Aware of the Impact of Your Marriage
Children don’t want their parents to fight, losing feelings of security and respect when they do. Instead of fighting with your too-lenient spouse, aim to perfect your own discipline style, improve your 80-20 Ratio and become an overall excellent parent. At the same time, work on improving yourself as a spouse. This produces the best outcome for kids – far better than ensuring that each parent does the exact same style of parenting.

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