Good Cop, Bad Cop

By: Melissa Mensavage

As all parents do, I’ve been watching my son Max grow from newborn to infant to mobile infant to newly-minted toddler to officially a toddler.  Each phase brings something new – smiling, laughing, sitting up, crawling, walking, talking, walking and talking, walking, talking and mischief!

I’ve enjoyed each phase and have sadness when each passes.  Lately I am finding him to be a bit comical, especially when he’s totally into something he’s not supposed to be…you know, like opening the dishwasher and taking out all the dishes or rearranging my shoes in my closet or taking all the toilet paper off the roll.  Once I shoo him away, it’s the toilet flushing.

And then I hear him giggle.

And that is when my pursed upper lip relaxes and turns into a wide grin.

Max is starting to reach that mischievous toddler stage where he’s testing the boundaries –where I am saying (or lately, yelling), ‘No! out of the closet!’, or ‘Hot! Do not touch the stove!’ and he proceeds to do just the opposite of what he’s been told.  (For the record, the stove is usually not hot, but I want him to know it’s not to be touched per chance one day it is.) I get so frustrated with this behavior that I find I am yelling or just pulling him away from the area of interest.  I’ve noticed there are no consequences for him if he doesn’t listen.

I didn’t realize that I had to be the bad cop and the good cop.  But I guess that is the rule in a single parent household.  So I am starting to feel like a bit of a lunatic because I swing back and forth between bad and good.  Max is going to get confused as to what is what if I don’t come up with a solid parenting plan.  So how do I do this without always being the bad cop?

I do know that I need more ‘me’ time.  I am told that will help keep a part of me balanced where I don’t immediately go to frustration when something is not going as planned.

Maybe we need more structured play time at home, and not ‘hey, you go entertain yourself while Mommy cooks dinner.’  Maybe I need to follow through with consequences.

For example, one day after work, as I was making dinner in the kitchen, I let Max have a cracker.  He wanted more, but his mouth was stuffed full of cracker.  I had said, ‘No not until you finish what is in your mouth.’

I have no clue where this came from; he proceeded to spit what was in his mouth on to the floor.

(I laughed to myself for a minute, not facing him of course.)

I then said, ‘No more crackers for you.’  That lasted maybe 10 minutes and then I gave him another cracker because dinner wasn’t ready.

See? Perfect scenario where good cop and bad cop were at odds with one another.  I don’t want him to starve, but he needs to learn ‘one at a time’.

I need a plan that covers a good balance between good and bad.  A plan that I can stick to and right now I am just about clueless on how to acquire such a plan.  It might be time for a phone call to my sister, or a meeting with some of the teachers at daycare for their opinion and guidance.

(Notice I am not going to the Internet?  Yes, making progress here, making progress!)


  1. says

    Melissa, I would have laughed out loud when he spit out the food to get another one. I think all parents are both the good and bad cop. He will learned that you can do both. You are a great parent as you think of all these things. I raised my two sons when I was 22 and 24 and never thought about any of this. I just did what I thought worked and let it go. My sons are 40 and 38 and are doing okay. :)

  2. says

    You’re doing just fine and you’ll figure it out. It IS possible to be both the playmate and the disciplinarian. Max when learn to recognize the difference. Max will learn how to know when you’re setting boundaries and establishing rules and when you’re just playing. Disciplining your child and giving him boundaries that he should not cross does not mean you are a “bad cop.” On the contrary, the exact opposite is true. The more consistently you enforce the boundaries you’ve set, the more Max will learn to expect them and the more secure he will feel in his world. You’re doing JUST FINE.

    And by the way, it sounds like he’s getting old enough now that he can “help” with dinner. Sam always stood on a chair at the kitchen counter and chopped vegetables (with a toddler knife) or stirred batter (flour and water) while I cooked, and that made him less likely to get into mischief while I made dinner. The more you can involve him in what you’re doing, the better.

    Good luck. 3 1/2 is just around the corner and you have no idea what you’re in for. :)

  3. Tashia says

    No suggestions here, because I’m pretty much in the same boat with my newly-turned 2-year-old! She’s a spirited kid, but usually not in too much trouble – except at mealtime, which is always a bit frustrating for me. I never know how much to give in to her demands/behavior and how much to stand my ground and enforce the rules, and that ambivalence probably doesn’t help the situation at all. I recognize that I get more impatient and angry than I should with her at mealtimes, but I chalk a lot of it up to being totally stressed out and tired from my job – not that that’s an excuse, nor is it the only reason, but it doesn’t help.

    I think for the most part I do pretty well just winging it – it’s when I ask for advice or read up on what others say about this stage that I get more confused than ever, because the information is so conflicting. Some say mealtimes should not be a battleground as it sets up for negative reactions and emotions about food later on. Others say that children need to learn to behave at mealtime just like any other time and don’t hold back on the discipline. Some say time-outs are good to start at age 1, others say not till 2 1/2. What’s an inexperienced single mom to do? :)

    I also could use more “me” time but have denied it to myself for many reasons – financial, motivational, situational. My daughter is just now getting to the point where I can start to leave her with my family and know they won’t have to work too hard to keep her happy, so I’ll try to take advantage of this more and more now. I don’t have a regular babysitter outside of family and don’t particularly want to get one right now. But when I think about what I’d do with some me time, I don’t have a clue! I’ve been focused on work and taking care of her so intensely for the past 2 years, I’ve sort of forgotten all about me…

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