Good Cop, Bad Cop: Coparenting & Money
“Don’t ask Mom! Ask Dad,” said the wide-eyed boy to his sister as they planned their best path to puppy approval. Mom had already said no. Too much money, too many appointments, too messy of chores. But Dad. Dad hadn’t been asked yet. And Dad felt guilty for his workload. His presence was slim, so his wallet was loose. Dad was the answer, the kids told each other with mischievous grins.
Unity in parenting is a challenge. Sometimes, two opinions reign simultaneously. At times, different sets of information are known by each. It’s not uncommon for parents to struggle with the feeling of one having to play “bad cop” with discipline and rules, while the other gets the relational reward of giving in.
But when it comes to money, as with many other categories of parenting, the good cop/bad cop strategy is flawed and short-sided. Here’s what to do instead.
Design a “Template” for Decision Making
How could you possibly anticipate the demands and requests of a child? One day, they want to be a ballerina and absolutely need $250 in lessons. The next day, their newfound hipster persona requires a new wardrobe. And by the time the weekend rolls around, their bank account is empty and absolutely everyone is going to the movies. They can’t be the only one not going. Introducing “the template.” Rather than try to anticipate the want du jour and make a decision as a couple, parents should outline a template they use for various situations. Perhaps the template is first defining what need means. Perhaps that’s safety, food, and satisfying academic requirements.
Outside of needs, your family’s template may be to require your child to use their spending money. When that’s gone, it’s no buts. Or, you may have an appeal process that requires both parents’ approval. The only thing not to do: have no system at all, and allow manipulation of one parent to succeed.
When in Doubt, “Come Into My Office”
My parents used to use a common phrase when we could tell they were either uncertain or in disagreement regarding a request of ours. My mom would say to my dad, “Come into my office.” They’d close the door to their bedroom and come out with a single answer. If the answer was no, we’d guess as to who drove the terrible decision, but they wouldn’t spill. This was their decision, it was mutual, and it was final.
Don’t Cast Blame
Unity is more than a single final answer. “I agree that a puppy would be fun, but dad doesn’t want to pick up poop” is a quick way to create division in your household. Unity requires more than just going with the decision that’s been made. It requires supporting it. Specifically, not throwing the “bad cop” under the bus. The decision to not bail out your teenage daughter’s lack of movie ticket funds? “It was our decision, made out of love for you,” not “I get it, but dad doesn’t.” That may require not revealing your opinion before you’ve had a chance to check with your spouse. If you’d said “sounds good!” only to take your ruling back after discussing with your other half, the culprit will be revealed.
By now, you may be thinking that this approach to parenting through money management takes time. And it does. But the long-term result of all of your intentionality will be a more unified family, more financially responsible kids, and a more unified marriage. That’s better than a puppy, isn’t it?