How to Avoid Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting in your Relationship

Co-parents often fall into comfortable roles of disciplinary or nurturer, but it’s important to learn how to avoid good cop/bad cop parenting in your relationship before it causes lasting damage.  

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One of the great things about parenting alongside a partner is balance. You each have your own styles that help balance each other out, but that makes it easy to fall into the good cop/bad cop parenting trap. As any parent who’s ever been stuck as the “bad cop” parent can attest, it can be harmful to your children and just as harmful to your relationship with your partner. Learning how to avoid good cop/bad cop parenting is essential to maintaining balance while still feeling like adequate parents. When taken to extremes, good cop/bad cop parenting can cause lasting effects on kids’ health and harm your relationship with your partner. Don’t worry though! There are plenty of ways to parent!

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Tips to Avoid Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting

  1. Share Disciplinary Responsibilities: One of the most common ways to fall into the good cop/bad cop parenting trap is allowing only one parent to be the disciplinarian. Instead, both parents should play a role in disciplining children for small and more severe mishaps. Rather than letting kids believe that mom is the “fun one” for not disciplining them, share the role of “bad cop” so that kids don’t learn to fear one parent. Overall, this will be better for your relationship too. No one really wants to be bad cop.
  2. Pick a Signal: It may sound strange, but working out a signal with your partner could help avoid augments over parenting decisions. To avoid arguing in front of the kids (or when one parent is taking their technique a little too far), simply agree on a hand gesture. The gesture will signal you both to step away from the kids and discuss how you want to handle the situation together.
  3. Communicate Consistently: Make a plan to connect at least one per week to discuss the kids. Talk about what you both want to do differently and figure out how to avoid good cop/bad cop parenting by simply planning how to react to certain situations. It’s OK to discuss how you want to discipline the kids if another problem arises. In fact, that may be exactly what you should do!
  4. Make a Plan of Importance: If the kids fuss every day at bedtime, don’t let one parent always be the lenient one saying “OK, just a little longer.” Instead, make a plan as a parenting team to choose when it’s important to be lenient and when to put your foot down. We all want to feel liked by our kids, so learn to share the good cop responsibilities just like you would the disciplinary ones.

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How Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting Impacts Children

Now that we’ve addressed how to avoid good cop/bad parenting in your relationship, you can figure out how to avoid it for the benefit of your children. Although we often fall into roles early on, as children get older they can begin to recognize those roles differently. They may perceive one parent as the “nice one” versus the “mean one” or the “involved one” versus the “uninvolved one.” Once kids are old enough to recognize these different roles, it can impact their relationships with their parents. It’s normal for children to favor one parent for certain activities, and yes, it can be hurtful for the other parent. Letting kids’ temporary preferences solidify into unhealthy good cop/bad cop parenting roles is when it becomes a problem. The key to avoiding it is to take turns on different parenting activities so that your kids develop healthier relationships.

Do you have any other ways you and your spouse avoid good cop/bad cop parenting? 

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