Avoiding Good Cop, Bad Cop with a Balanced Approach


Raising children can turn a couple’s relationship dynamic from romantic comedy to horror film. While some parents tap into an innate nurturing ability, others may find themselves thrust into the role of Sargeant Major disciplinarian. Despite even the best efforts, parents will often adopt polarized positions when it comes to raising kids. This “good cop, bad cop” dynamic can be as harmful to their own relationship as it is to the one they have with their children.

Children certainly benefit from structure and consistency but they also need a parent they can lean on for both guidance and emotional support. Parents who have unrealistic hard and fast rules about every aspect of their child’s life may think they’re protecting their kids but this approach can backfire. A 2012 study from the University of New Hampshire found that parents who adopted an authoritarian style of child rearing were more likely to have rebellious kids. While the opposite approach — being an overly lenient parent who tries to be their kid’s BFF — can lead to a host of other challenges with respect and boundaries. There is a healthy medium and a parent shouldn’t feel they have to sit in one box or the other. We don’t always when it comes to politics or religion, so why should we in parenting?

Here are a few suggestions:

Take turns enforcing discipline: Having one parent act as the source of authority for a child isn’t easy on anyone. Whether you’re enforcing a time-out for your toddler or setting a curfew for your teenager, split up the emotional heavy lifting with your partner or other family members involved.

Be consistent and flexible: It’s important to be predictable when it comes to the rules that keep your kids safe and the guidelines that garner respect. It’s just as important to be willing to modify some of your guidelines as your children become more mature and this will help you gain their trust even more. If your kids have proven that they can be responsible, reward them with a bit of extra freedom. You’ll gain their trust and they’ll continue to prove they’re worthy of yours.

Lead with kindness: It may be difficult to remember when we’re at our wits’ end, but the reason we parent is because we love our little rascals! Before you rush to discipline your child, always listen first — you may discover that a sympathetic ear works better than a sharp punishment in that particular circumstance.

You and your partner are a team and you will need to behave like one, especially when the going gets tough — and it will get tough! To avoid the inevitable “but daddy lets me…” or “mommy said…,” it’s important to be on the same page about your parenting values and priorities. If you’re all pulling in the same direction, you’ll find that the hard times become a little bit easier and the good times stretch a little bit longer. And then, nobody has to be the bad guy.

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