The ‘good cop/bad cop’ parenting saga

In most homes, when one parent is the tough disciplinarian who insists on manners, respect, and rules, the other parent is enduring, avoids confrontation, and would prefer to appease, a situation that has widely been referred to as ‘good cop-bad cop’ parenting.

Because parenting is a self-learned task, it’s normal for parents to disagree on how to handle situations with their children from time to time.

Counsellor Jackeline Iringaniza explains that personality tends to affect parenting, which also dictates their responses to children. This, she says, is why it is common for one parent to be more lenient, or accommodating, than the other, or rather more authoritarian and stern.

“There are numerous ways to raise kids. The truth is, children need both sides of parenting. They need boundaries, they need freedom. They need fun and an ‘evil eye’ every once in a while.

Because of the need to provide a child with this balance, parents are often forced to move into the opposite role, especially the mothers, because they tend to spend most time with their kids,” she says.

Maria Kabatesi, a mother of three, agrees that a balance is required and it’s, therefore, acceptable for one parent to be more of an authoritarian than the other, as long as everyone feels that their opinion is heard.

“My husband and I share the parenting roles but that doesn’t mean we approach everything in the same way. Parents should meet in the middle and offer consistency. It is never going to be good for kids if both parents are too tough.

‘Me, being the disciplinarian, there are times when I am relieved that he steps in and I let him do it his way,” she says.

“There is nothing like one-size-fits-all when it comes to parenting. Kids need to learn tolerance and be trained with strong relationship skills,” she adds.

Yvonne Muhoza, another parent, disagrees with accommodating the good cop-bad cop parenting idea as it creates a strong contrast between parents.

“The emotionally supportive parent will withhold that support in some ways. The child can unfortunately, breed contempt for one or the other. 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 “tough” one, it encourages gender bias and assumptions at a young age.  

“It benefits the whole family for both parents to be on the same team, that means being in agreement on topics ranging from chores to homework to fun activities,” she says.

Emmanuel Karangwa, a father of one, says parents with different styles should join hands and come up with a middle ground in a consistently supportive environment.

For him, undermining your partner’s different parenting choice is where good cop bad cop parenting really takes a toll, as it sends inconsistent messages to the kids, eventually creating an environment of resentment.

“If I am tough on my children and my wife is more accommodating, but she isn’t doing anything about me being harsh, what kind of atmosphere are we creating for our family? Normally parents are supposed to work out their different personalities to benefit their children,” he says.

Balancing parenting styles

Muhoza advises that when parents see the signs of “good cop, bad cop” start to take shape in their home, they ought to start working on solutions with their partner to avoid the consequences from affecting the children.

“For starters, it’s important to establish a more consistent parenting foundation, and commit to maintaining these rules.

When disagreements do arise in front of the children, for instance, signal your partner to discuss the issues together before handling the situation.

It’s better to remain united in front of the children and back each other up than make rash decisions that cause disagreement and wear down family relationships,” she says.

Iringaniza says that the disciplining of children is one of the biggest contention between parents.

However, she says, rather than criticising your partner, “find a win-win agreement between the two of you and how you can support each other.”

“As annoying as it makes you feel when your partner lets the kids do whatever they like, or as much as she thinks it is controlling to discipline a child for talking back, you both need to be supportive and work towards a common rule book,” she says.

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