5 Reasons Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting Does Not Work

5 Reasons Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting Does Not Work

When parents don’t put up a united front, it can be bad for the whole family.


By Judy Koutsky

Is Dad always the disciplinarian and enforcer? Is Mom always the cheerleader? It’s important for parents to look at how they are presenting decisions -- or dealing with conflict -- to make sure they are a united front on topics ranging from chores and homework to fun activities. Having distinct good cop/bad cop roles is unhealthy for kids for a variety of reasons, including these five.

1. It divides the family . Good cop/bad cop parenting illustrates that Mom and Dad are not on the same page, and this is confusing to kids. “Children need to know that their parents are working together as a team and want to support their best interest,” says Tammi Van Hollander, LCSW, RPT, a family and child therapist at Main Line Therapy. If kids are getting conflicting messages from their parents, it affects the whole family. Who is in charge? What are the rules? Kids won’t know their place or the role of their parents.

2. It creates instability. Stability, comfort, and predictability help foster positive parent-child relationships, which is critical for a child, says to Jeffrey J. Froh, an associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University and author of Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character. If the rules are always changing, depending on which parent is in charge, kids won’t have a sense of security, and that should be the cornerstone of every household.

3. It makes kids choose sides. Kids often will ask Mom for something and then when she says “no,” they will go to Dad. If Dad gives in, he becomes the good cop and Mom becomes the bad one. Kids then start to follow a pattern of asking the “easier” parent for things they want, which ultimately ends up with kids choosing sides or picking a “favorite” parent. “This is confusing for the child, as they often feel guilty for choosing sides and they can also feel anxiety about pitting one parent against the other,” says Van Hollander.

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4. It creates unhealthy gender labels. It’s important for kids to grow up with an open mind when it comes to gender and roles. If one parent is always being the “nice” one, it encourages gender bias and assumptions at a young age. If Mom is always pushing for homework to get done, she can be viewed as “the nag.” The child may then view women in general as pushy or as nagging (including teachers, babysitters, and other women in charge). Instead, parents should discuss situations away from the child and then agree to enforce their joint decision no matter who is home or in charge at that time. That way it becomes a “family rule” versus Mom’s way or Dad’s way. It’s important for kids to have a healthy, open relationship with both parents and other role models regardless of their gender.

5. It pits one parent against the other. Having to always be the enforcer -- for homework, chores, and other tasks -- can make one parent feel resentful toward the other. Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated by their children, but being the disciplinarian and making sure rules are followed is important for kids’ growth and development -- something both parents should be doing. “Parents need to support one another in the decisions that are made. Parenting is challenging and everybody has their own parenting styles,” says Van Hollander. So conflicting messages can come across unless both parents set aside the time to discuss and create a unified parenting plan.

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Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/kali9



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