How To Break The Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting Dynamic

July 11, 2017  |  
1 of 15 American parents giving children piggyback rides

Parenting is one of the top things couples fight about. In fact, many divorced couples name parenting as the reason they had to split. That’s not to say that having kids isn’t a wonderful experience, but it completely turns the way a couple has to interact upside down. Before having children, if your partner did something irresponsible, it mostly only affected him. It annoyed you, but, in most cases, didn’t affect your safety or wellbeing. Once you have children, you watch what your partner does closely because now he could harm the little mound of flesh and blood you created together. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself far less of a “chill” partner once every little decision could affect the upbringing of a child. And that worrying is how you become the “bad cop.” But here’s how to stop the good cop/bad cop parenting dynamic.

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Pre-discuss whenever possible

Often, a bad cop/good cop dynamic occurs simply because the couple didn’t discuss how to handle an issue before it arose. That left one parent having to handle something, in the moment—typically doing whatever they must to stop a tantrum—and leaving the other parent with the consequences (i.e., a spoiled kid). Sit down and agree on what you’ll do in certain situations when your child is misbehaving, so neither of you feels trapped in a corner when those come up.






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If everyone is safe, let it go

Learn to identify when your partner handled something the wrong way versus when he simply handled it differently than you would have. If your child is safe and behaving as a result of your partner’s actions, consider letting the issue go. At the very least, don’t jump down your partner’s throat about his actions; recognize he did keep your child safe.







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Recognize the merit in your partner’s techniques

You and your partner probably focus a lot on what the other person does wrong but try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Think about why your partner behaves the way he does; he probably wants your child to feel free to be herself, he wants your child’s playful spirit to come out and he wants your child to like him. That’s not so evil, is it? In fact, maybe you could approach your parenting techniques with similar goals in mind.


Find discipline you’re both comfortable with

If you naturally want to be quite strict and your partner naturally wants to be very lenient, you’ll fight a lot. Rather than continually trying to get your partner to meet you all the way on your side of the matter, find disciplinary actions you’re both comfortable with. You may need to be a little softer than you want, but your partner will also need to be a little firmer than he wants. You’ll never get anywhere if you keep trying to push for two-hour timeouts and your partner keeps trying to push for a no-punishment household.





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Remember, you need to appear united

Keep in mind that if your child sees the good cop/bad cop dynamic happening, she’ll take advantage of it, and strengthen it. If she senses she can get more leniency from one parent, she’ll go to that parent more. If you don’t like something your partner does, never say so in front of your child.






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Leave your partner with the kids more often

Many couples find that simply leaving the children alone with one of the parents more often is a tremendous help. This way, each one must naturally balance out their parenting techniques. If your partner is a good cop, he usually counts on you being around as the bad cop—you’re his safety net, so he can be more lenient. But when he has to parent all on his own, he’ll have to be the good and bad cop. He’ll really learn what it’s like to be you and may do what he can to make things easier for you.



Don’t overreact, due to being hurt

When your children treat you like the bad cop, you’re bound to have your feelings hurt, and feel quite jealous of your partner. Keep in mind that those feelings may cause you to overreact, being even stricter and fulfilling the role of bad cop even stronger. If your kids have hurt your feelings, take a step back and realize they don’t mean to—they’re just kids who want what they want.





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Alternate who does what

Your children may think of one of you as the good cop and one of you as the bad one simply because of which tasks you do. Make sure you equally share responsibilities in the house, alternating who bathes the kids, who feeds them, who takes them to the park, who dresses them and so on. Each parent should get just as much time doing the fun activities as the not-so-fun ones.







Try to be more fun

If you’re considered the bad cop, do what you can to make every activity (even the boring ones) a little more fun! Maybe potty time can be when you let your child watch his favorite show on an iPad. Maybe you can be goofier when dressing your kids, putting on silly outfits to make them laugh. Sometimes they see your partner as the good cop simply because he adds a little whimsy to the dullest activities.







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Remember, your partner isn’t trying to “win”

Remember that your partner doesn’t want your kids to like him more or dislike you. It just makes him happy to make them happy. When you think of it that way, you’ll see that his actions—while they may bother you—come from a place of pure love and nothing else.







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Never pass off the discipline

Make a rule that states neither of you can pass off the discipline. When your children misbehave, your partner may be in the habit of telling your children, “Just wait until mommy gets home!” If that happens, the kids will clearly see you as the bad cop.







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Tell your partner you feel robbed

Explain to your partner that when he fails to discipline the kids and passes that duty off to you, you feel robbed of some of the affection you could get from them. He is probably just thinking of what it feels like for him to discipline them (terrible) but not how it feels for that job to always land on you.



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Be in constant contact

The best way to be united is to be in constant contact. If your child does something bad while your partner is away and you set a “no treats for two days” rule, text or email your partner right away to let him know. Any miscommunication on your part could create confusion on your kid’s end—your partner could give the child treats without knowing about the rule. This inadvertently makes you the bad cop.






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Be the good cop, when it’s safe

When it comes to parenting, a little taste of one’s own medicine never hurts. In situations where you deem it safe to be the good cop (meaning, no harm will come to your child’s physical or mental wellbeing), be the good cop. If there is a time when clearly, life would be easier on everyone if somebody would discipline the child, step back, and let your partner see how it feels when nobody steps in. He may not even realize what a big role you play in keeping this house peaceful, quiet and clean.






Nurture your relationship

Good parents start with a good romantic couple. No matter how annoyed you’re feeling with each other, don’t stop having date nights. If you can reconnect and remember how much you love each other as lovers, you’ll feel a little less aggravated in all the good cop/bad cop scenarios.

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