Let’s get real. Nobody WANTS to be the bad guy. Everyone wants to be liked, and no parent wants to always be the “bad cop” in the family.
Between my husband and myself, I am definitely more of a bad cop than he is, but my children are fortunate because he will put his foot down and can be the bad cop when necessary. In fact, because he isn’t a bad cop as often, I think at times when he does play the bad cop role, it can make more of an impact on them.
Most days, he’s the good guy (and also a great dad). But sometimes I want to be the fun one. I want to let my hair down and be wild. And sometimes I actually do – I give myself permission to have fun and let my children see that side of me. But more on that later.
First of all, here are 5 dilemmas I see as a “bad cop” parent, being the one who sees themselves as the voice of reason, who wants to teach responsibility, who knows kids need boundaries and that discipline is a form of caring:
- It’s tiring. Always being the one who has to settle the arguments, squash the complaining, get everyone to clean up and do their part, get the homework done, guide better choices, encourage better eating habits – while you know it’s the right thing, man are you exhausted.
- You’re the bearer of bad news. A big part of the “bad cop” parent’s role is to say NO. The good cop parent typically gets to be the good guy and almost always says YES. But children can’t be allowed to do as they please 24/7. That would result in an entitled brat of a child. (Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind.) So you enter the room and set the record straight that “no, you can’t have some more junk food or you won’t be able to sleep tonight,” and “no you can’t binge watch YouTube videos for hours on end.”
- Parenting is so much harder when a good cop is in the room. I can take my girls somewhere or be at home with them alone, and have NO issues. They know where I stand on just about everything and know not to test. But if we are in a situation where a good cop is in proximity – sometimes it can be their dad but it’s often another family member – they will test! My youngest especially. She will do things that she would NEVER EVER do if it were just she and I. She becomes bold and spunky and defiant and sometimes it breaks my heart. We can be in public and I will ask her to leave something alone that belongs something else and she will keep messing with it and just look at me. The other family member will say it’s ok, that she is fine, she is “not hurting anything.” One night this week she was lying on our set of bleachers and kicking the bleachers, shaking everyone in our section. I asked her to stop and the other family member said it was ok. At that point I just need to leave the room! It leaves me feeling disrespected by my child and the family member.
- The right thing and the easy thing are rarely the same. It’s easier to let kids play on their tablet for two hours straight, and easier to let them eat whatever they want. Currently I’m exercising bad cop mode on both of these issues. As I type this, my girls are not allowed to have any screen time for the next two hours, AND I’ve turned down their request for cookies and chips. I told them they could grab some cut fruit from the fridge if they’re really hungry, and they are working on rainbow loom bracelets at the moment. What’s nice though, is despite the moaning and complaining that may ensued at first, they are enjoying making their bracelets and love apple slices. It’s that initial moving past not getting their way in the moment where the tension strikes, the protesting happens, and where I could see the good cop caving in.
- We do it to ourselves. I really think so. My husband and I are so like-minded on how children should be raised, I often wonder if I would just keep my mouth closed, if he would chime in, say NO, and take care of the issue. Bad cop parents (or at least it is true for me) are quick to squash the dilemma that it could be the other parent doesn’t have an opportunity to address it. I am a quick reactor and decision maker, and have a lower tolerance for discord and misbehavior than he does. So I naturally nip it in the bud so we can get on with things and the issue doesn’t gain momentum. For this reason, things won’t likely change, and if my control freak tendencies get the better of me, like they have I the past, I suspect “bad cop” will continue to be the dominant role I play in our family.
The good news is, I think our children are going to turn out great. They have my husband’s calm and laid back demeanor modeled for them on a daily basis. They see the ease at which he goes about everything. They also will for sure know the difference between right and wrong, They will who know how to behave in public, eat healthy, resolve conflicts and grow up to be responsible, well-mannered, resilient adults.
Our girls will hopefully look back and see that there were times when their mom and their dad played each of these roles: bad cop and good cop. Playing the bad cop isn’t easy, and somebody has to do it, but it doesn’t always have to be one person.