Good Cop, Bad Cop
Recently my husband and I have been attending a parenting program from Terry Real. I’m not sure how often he runs this program but definitely keep an eye out for the next time he offers it here. It has been an enriching program where we have learned much and been validated often. This last week discussed the challenges with limit setting with our children.
Nothing can challenge your relationship like parenting, especially when it comes to discipline and setting limits. Our kids can pull us in different directions. There may be times when you may see your partner in a whole new way, wondering, “who is this person?” Your once easy going, rational partner has turned into a raging screamer making threats and doling out punishments like a prison warden. Or maybe the strong, independent, self-disciplined one turns into a coddling pacifist getting manipulated into serving your toddler ice cream in bed.
Many times as parents, it’s beneficial to be different and unique, but when it comes to setting limits and discipline, it’s important to be a united front.
So often, couples end up at opposite ends of the spectrum in discipline. Invariably, one parent ends up being a bad cop, the one who delivers the verdict, holds the line, and enforces the punishments. The other parent comes behind, soothing the discomfort, and cushioning the painful parts of the punishment—the good cop. The more the bad cop clamps down, the more the good cop brings in leniency. The more leniency is present, the more rigidity is reinforced.
This pattern can go on and on, and rarely does it get better on its own. Before long, couples may find themselves completely at odds with each other, with a confused child caught in the middle.
However, here are some ways you can meet in the middle and be a united parenting team, and feel aligned with your partner again.
1. Creating External Consequences: stop letting yourself be the consequence with yelling or taking away privileges as it escalates. At the onset, set your limits. “If x happens, then y will happen.” This should be done in a family meeting where you can set these limits in a calm and connected space. Make it clear to your children where the boundaries are and what will happen if they cross them. You can even put them on a “family rules” sign in your house.
2. Define Path Back: when consequences need to happen, create a way back. This pumps positivity into this negative experience and helps you all celebrate the way back into appropriate behavior. The “good cop” will become the cheerleader on the way back and the “bad cop” can find peace in the fact that boundaries were honored and witness the new behavior.
3. Switch Roles: let the “good cop” be the “bad cop” for a time and vice versa. This can help you gain perspective on what it’s like to be on the other side. This can be valuable insight on how to understand your partner who seems to be on another planet from you sometimes. This will also help you either strengthen or soften your stance moving forward.
4. Find Support: parenting is SO HARD. Terry Real calls it Steering on Ice. That is so true! Parenting can be so exhausting and isolating. Seek support from your family or community to give yourself breaks. These breaks will help you come back more refreshed and able to keep working on your relationships with your children and partner. Also, taking breaks together will give you opportunities to share your perspective and come up with ways to nurture the relational environment in your home.
The support from a therapist in times like this can be so important. Reach out to me if you are wanting couple’s therapy. I am offering online therapy to Colorado and Wyoming. I also offer in person therapy to residents of Greeley, Loveland, Berthoud, Longmont, Fort Collins, and even Wyoming!