Q I need some advice regarding both parents having a uniform approach to parenting. I want to get rid of the ‘good cop – bad cop’ scenario; with both parents parenting together rather than against each other. There’s also the problem of the grandparent’s influence. What’s the best way to do this without there being a winner and loser?
A My first response is that the ‘good cop – bad cop’ is both confusing and emotionally unfair to a child.
A child needs consistent messages which are all the stronger by being
reinforced by both parents (or other caregivers).
A child will pick up any disagreements or bickering between the parents and imagine it means that they themselves are bad or wrong, and have caused mummy and daddy to argue or not speak to one another.
That is a good enough reason never to let this happen!
Any mother or father already has their own personality differences for the child to contend with – as well as their own background and beliefs about the ‘right’ way to be a parent.
Both parents have to agree that the child’s needs come first, and that they are willing to learn what best suits their child’s growing and changing needs.
That doesn’t have to just be a repeat of what they’ve experienced themselves when they were a child. With awareness, willingness and commitment we can change any unhelpful or dysfunctional patterns and do things better with our own children.
When we throw grand-parents into the mix it gets even more confusing for a child (especially if there are ‘secrets’ to be kept about having ‘special treats’ – such as sweets that are discouraged by the mother or father).
In my online self-help course called ‘How To Sort Out Your Child – Without Child Therapy’ I write about the need to be singing from the same song sheet, as well as the affects of consistency upon the child’s emotional attachment (which greatly affects the rest of their lives).
In the bad old days a child would be made to fear their father, and the ‘wait ’til your father gets home’ scenario was set up with the father being seen as the feared punisher and inflicter of pain. That’s certainly not conducive to creating a safe and loving bond with a child!
So, in a nutshell, it’s team effort that’s required and you both need to be rowing in the same direction – and with complementary and synchronized paddling.
When you both let go of your own childhood, and later, conditioning and learned patterns of behaviour, you can leave that old shoreline behind you, and your new family is free to create its own map and to set off on your co-created journey.
The grandparents might not like it – and may even take it as an insult or criticism of their own style of parenting. That’s their problem.
All you can do is to have jointly agreed boundaries with your partner about how much influence the grandparents are allowed to have. Yes, ‘allowed’ to have! It isn’t an automatic entitlement – especially if they are confusing a child and the child’s relationship with you. A child needs consistency and predictability.
You are now grown ups and can assert yourselves as such with your own parents – whilst still being caring and respectful of their perceptions, feelings and habits.
If you’d like to go deeper, find more clarity and have some on-the-job guidance then please have a look at my online self-help course ‘How To Sort Out Your Children – without child therapy!’ (from www.maxineharley.com) – where the focus is upon ‘Care & Repair From The Inside Out’ © and re-parenting’ ourselves so that we can become more emotionally available, consistent and nurturing to our children.
That way we all get to be good cops – although it may not always feel like that to a child when boundaries are asserted! 🙂
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com You’ll also find here a FREE e-booklet called OPTI-MUM PARENTING – which has lots of tips information and advice too. There’s also a sequence of e-mails that follow that I’m sure will be of help to you – and any other parent come to that 🙂