The Dallas Morning News
‘Bad cop’ mom clashes with ‘good cop’ dad
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have two teenage boys. My husband’s father was not very involved when he was a teen; mine was pretty strict. (Now I understand why.) This has resulted in me being the “bad cop” while my husband gets to be the “good cop.” One of our kids is very headstrong, and my having to serve as the enforcer of rules has negatively affected our relationship.
I thought I’d made my peace with this because I’d rather raise a successful adult than be pals with my teenage son, but I’m beginning to resent my husband as well, because I don’t feel like he has my back. For example, our son does not clean up his room after promising to do so. I take the keys to his car for the day. Son spends way more time arguing about the unfairness than it would take to actually clean his room.
Husband tells me he agrees there should be consequences, but taking car keys for the day is too much — then does not offer up alternatives.
I’ve asked my husband to have my back and he says he will, but when the stuff hits the fan, he reverts to his “Whatever I have to do to stop the arguing” mode.
Anonymous Anonymous: Is your husband a good person?
Did he emerge from his teenage years relatively unscathed?
You don’t mention a rap sheet or other dire consequences of lessinvolved fathering, and you did deem the result worth marrying, so I’ ll make the admittedly big leap to his having been more or less successfully reared.
Then I’ ll use that to ask: Why are you treating your/your father’s strictness as the only legitimate approach? Isn’t it possible “good cops” get some things right?
There are many shades of parenting between handsoff and strict, “pals” and adversaries.
Your son, in his way, is begging you to try one.
Your husband, in his way, is begging you to try one.
And after reading what you think is necessary parenting, and what I see as a needless power struggle, I am begging you to try one.
I absolutely share your definition of a successful adult. I also agree it’s important for coparents to back each other.
But your emphasis on enforcement over autonomy is undermining both outcomes now. Effective cops protect and build community, too.
If you’re worried you’ ll be to blame if your son becomes an inconsiderate adult, then stop — you’ve made your values and expectations clear to him for umpteen years. He’s gotten your message as well as he’s going to.
So start trusting him to finish the job of making those values his own.
Or not, if that’s what he chooses. He’s your son, not your sonbot.
As you await those results, you can still be an effective parent. You can negotiate hard with your husband to replace good/ bad coppery with consensus. And concessions.
You can agree your son’s room is his jurisdiction, and hold your lines on common spaces. Sure, Son can have the keys ... after he does his dishes.
You can make him responsible for his own laundry.
You can allow him a voice in these expectations and consequences. Not the last word, but a place at the table. Investment feeds compliance.
This is hard for — an affront to, even — believers in YouParentHeChild dogma, where if you want it done then he does it, period. But if it’s an adult you want, then rethink the iron fist/ punishment system and tilt toward independence/rewards, which he’s crying out for.
The flagrant notworking of the old method is reason enough to try a new one. But add this, too: Authoritarian parents often get the spotless rooms they demand — the nanosecond their children achieve escape velocity and rarely come home again.
Your revoking his freedom for violating your standards for his personal space is a punch to his autonomy center — and, for a freerange coparent, hard to back in parental solidarity.
If he doesn’t agree with them, then it’s actually to your husband’s credit that he won’t adopt your methods — though resistance so passive can make someone stricter out of frustration.
You’d address both of your problems at once, with husband and son, by letting your son take adulthood for a spin in all areas of his life where the consequences of failure are relatively minor.
When your reflex is to correct, remind yourself he has his own ideas, goals, selfimage and agenda independent of yours. Some of it will be adolescent and/ or misguided, but still important to him. Decide from there whether what you want to say needs to be said.