How to break the good cop/bad cop parenting dynamic

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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