People in the Know: Good Cop/Bad Cop

Q: My husband and I have fallen into a good cop/bad cop routine when it comes to keeping our daughter on track with diabetes care—I tend to avoid nagging, and he’s the one who gets on her case when she slacks off on checking and injecting at mealtimes. Is this kind of dynamic OK as long as her numbers look OK?

A: Remember the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? If your child’s type 1 diabetes is under control, and everyone—including you, your child, and your co-parent—ultimately feels loved, respected, and like you are all working together as a team, there’s a good chance that whatever approach you’re taking is a good fit for your family.

At the same time, however, be aware of the drawbacks of the good cop/bad cop routine—and the parenting traps it can create. It’s common for parents to settle into a dynamic where one parent is the “softie” and the other parent takes a more rigid approach to diabetes management. But what often ends up happening in these situations is that kids start to play their parents against each other, because they’ve figured out that it’s a great way get off the hook when they don’t feel like taking care of their diabetes. This is especially true for teens. They might bitterly complain that “Mom never makes me do this, so why do I have to now?” or “Dad always nags me, can’t we just let it go this time?”

When parents feel pained and guilty about their child’s diagnosis, it’s very tempting to give into these kinds of tactics and let kids get away with slacking off. You want to make life easier for your child, which is understandable. However, inconsistent parenting can set kids up with bad habits that make managing type 1 diabetes even more difficult. Being played against each other can also place added strain on your relationship with your spouse — stress that you just don’t need on top of everything else.

If there is a “right” approach to parenting a child with diabetes, it’s one where diabetes management is a nonnegotiable part of the child’s life, no matter which parent is in charge at any given moment. Think about it: Do you both expect your daughter to do ordinary things like complete her homework every night, come home by a pre-agreed curfew, and clean her room on a regular basis? Rules around diabetes management should be no different. Whether you are the softie or the stricter parent, both of you need to maintain the same expectations for diabetes-related behaviors and chores and stick with the same consequences when expectations are not met.

What we know is that working together with love and respect to support your child and each other as parents can have a direct impact on your child’s blood sugar management. It’s parenting your child—not policing your child—that will make a positive difference in helping your daughter gain the independence she needs as she transitions into adulthood.

Joe Solowiejczyk—Joe Solowiejczyk, R.N., M.S.W., C.D.E., is a diabetes nurse educator, family therapist, and founder of Amileinmyshoes.com.

 

How Other Parents Deal

“To get out of the good cop/bad cop routine, we made a diabetes chart with tasks that must be completed daily and posted it on the fridge. We also agreed on consequences that would be followed if tasks were not completed. This worked for us, because the good cop (my husband) shared responsibility in making sure tasks were being completed and the bad cop (me) had to stick to the consequences we had agreed to—no TV/Internet if checks were skipped—instead of nagging. This approach helped us as parents, but also as spouses supporting each other.”

—Liz R., Bryn Mawr, Pa., mom of 18-year-old Erica

Related topics:
Top 5 Things to Never Say to Your Spouse About T1D
People in the Know: Nagging About Numbers
People in the Know: Balancing Care Between Parents

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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.