I’m the ‘good cop’ parent but sometimes my kids need a ‘bad cop’ – here’s why

Posted in Family.

I think I’m a pretty good mum. I’m very patient, have always got times for cuddles and my kids know how much I adore them. I also get the gist of discipline, structure, the importance of secure attachment and I ban screen time during the week. I’m across all these things, I’ve done the research, I’m on top of it.

But there’s one thing I’m not very good at.

Being the bad cop.

You know how most families have a good cop/bad cop thing going on? One parent is naturally better at taking charge and pulling up bad behaviours in a way that makes kids actually NOTICE?

That’s not me.

I’m built the way I am

I’m a gentle parent, and there’s not much I can do about that. My kids have cottoned onto the fact that mum is good for cuddles and soppy stuff, always there for a chat and happy to help with homework. My husband, on the other hand, is the bad cop. Now I don’t mean that he’s the ENFORCER, or that he’s rough, violent or overly aggro. He gets results, in ways I never can. 

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I’ve always thought I was fine being the soft touch. I wasn’t interested in having my kids see me any other way. It’s not like I’m a pushover and always give in to them, I know about setting limits and having boundaries and all that stuff. It’s just that overall, I’ve taken a gentle parenting stance, and I’m happy with it.

But four kids in and nine years of parenting, I’ve realised a thing or two about my children.

Sometimes they need the bad cop.

I’ve learnt that kids need someone to take charge when they’re behaviour’s gone too far, a clear signal when they’re in TROUBLE. They need to quake in their boots a little, feel worried about what’s coming next. Not in the form of physical or cruel punishment, of course. My husband and I made a pact that we would never hit or smack our kids, and we’ve stuck to it. But kids need help when they’re behaviour’s gone awry, whether it’s a two-year-old’s tantrum, wild shenanigans at bedtime, or older kids answering back cheekily when they’re asked to do something.

Sometimes I’m just at a loss

Sometimes – and I’m embarrassed to admit this – I feel entirely out of my depth when it comes to managing behaviour. I can see my children need me to take charge, show them I mean business, but no matter how cross I make my face, or how much I raise my voice, they don’t listen to me. It goes over their heads, or worse; they laugh at me!

This is where the bad cop comes in, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I never used to be a fan of this phrase, or the idea that there’s a difference in parenting. I thought it was important that we were united and consistent at all times. But who am I kidding? I LOVE my bad cop husband, who has saved me on more than one occasion when I felt lost for what to do. He only has to enter the room and look at them sternly or let loose a roar before they’re scurrying away to do as their told. Then he corners them with a l-o-o-n-g lecture about their behaviour (‘If your mother asks you to jump, you ask how high!’), and half an hour later, the sheepish child emerges to apologise to me for whatever they’ve done.

I don’t know what’s more effective at shaping their behaviour, the idea of being in trouble by dad or having to put up with the boring lecture. Maybe a bit of both. Either way, it works for me.

Good cop/bad cop: I’m going with it

These days, I couldn’t be happier with our good cop/bad cop roles. We balance each other out. I’m great with the emotional things, like spotting when someone’s upset, soothing tears and talking about ‘feelings’. That’s my speciality. My husband balances this out by taking charge as necessary. Rather than fight the roles we’ve slotted into, I’m running with it because the angry mummy thing gives me a headache. I’ve learnt that as parents we need to play to our strengths, not try to be something we’re not. As long as our goals are the same and we work together from the same page, I can’t see how we can go wrong.


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