Growing a Set

I have to say that one of the things I miss about being married is the fact that I no longer have a Bad Cop. You know how it is with parenting when there are two of you; one is Bad Cop, the other Good. In our marriage, Big Daddy played the former, me the latter. We embraced our roles. Big Daddy was the time-out giver, the one with the booming voice who would break up the smackdowns and escort/drag the offenders to their "corners".

I, on the other hand, was the soft, mushy marshmallow who would coddle both the victim and the perpetrator. I had attended Early Childhood Education classes, for Christ's sake, I was trained in the art of parenting. In those classes, we learned how to give children choices, how to name their feelings: "Oh, sweetie. I see you just threw your sippy cup at the baby's head. You must have some big angry feelings, huh?". Give your kid choices, they taught us. I can't tell you how many agonizing bedtimes we endured while giving the kids the freedom to choose which pajamas they were going to wear that night. The older my kids get, the more I want to call that ECFE place and get a refund. Options for a four year old? I think I was duped.

That's when it's good to have a Bad Cop living under your roof. And when my Bad Cop went rogue, I found myself in a quandary. How does a Good Cop learn how to go to the Dark Side? Answer: not very easily.

Looking back on the first couple years of being a solo parent, I realize that I should have done things differently. It was, quite literally, a case of the inmates running the asylum. My own heart was hanging in tatters while I tried the best I could to parent four other injured souls. I thought that they had suffered enough, and were going to suffer for a long time, I may as well make life at home "perfect". So I became the one who gave into their demands, the one who listened to the excuses, the one who let things slide. Mind you, I was not, and never will be a Stepford mom; things were not always puppies, rainbows and sparkles with me. There was plenty of wailing and moaning and great gnashing of teeth. I have yelled, screamed, thrown stuff and said things that I began to regret before the last bit of the word passed my lips. But more often than not, I buckled. I caved. I relented and gave in. And that came back to bite me, hard.

Now, don't get me wrong. I adore my kids. I think each one has a brilliant light around them. Each one of them is my favorite in their own little way. But these darlings know how to play me, and they play me like Pa played his fiddle for Ma and the girls. They are seasoned boxers, prancing and hovering around me, floating like butterflies and stinging like jellyfish.

They'd talk back, they'd insult me, they'd ignore my repeated requests. When I asked them if they talked to Big Daddy in such an appalling manner they would look at me like I had six heads. Apparently they were/are scared of Big Daddy, and then when Secretary entered the scene and took over some of the parenting (please don't get me started on how wrong that is, on so many levels) the fear was now mixed with a healthy dose of confusion. Who is this stranger screaming at us? Can we show her our horns or should we leave those for mommy? Why is she wearing sweatpants that say JUICY on the butt?

Anyway. They'd come home and tearfully tell me how "she called us effers" and "she pulled Henry's hair in a store!" and then they'd proceed to vent it all within the apparently safe confines of home. I became the Punching Bag, where life's frustrations could be taken out, free from judgment, hair pulling and screaming. They had been programmed to hold everything in, only to let it out in a big giant behavioral puke fest when they got back to mommy.

Then the fog started lifting and Good Cop got mad.

Little by little I have been starting to toughen up. Maybe not as quickly as I should have, but I'm doing it. And much to my delight, it's working. I am learning to say No, and then drop it. Not saying No and then giving them a ten minute explanation as to why I said No. I am learning that if I walk over and shut off the XBOX mid-game, it will result in a furious child but said child will not suffer any long-term damage (however, apparently doing so will not allow the child to "save" their points and badges and stuff, but guess what this rookie thinks of that? Tough shit).

For a long time I was convinced that I needed to find a replacement Bad Cop, that my kids would never have the fear of me that they have with Big Daddy. I was sure that I needed someone with balls to step in and get things right. But you know what? I think I can actually grow my own balls, figuratively speaking, of course.

I am still not a full-on Bad Cop. I will let my kids crawl into bed with me when they're having a tough night. I'll cave into the Dairy Queen pleading once in a while. And I will still, on occasion, let a kid wheedle me a lot longer than I should.

You know why? Because every kid needs a Good Cop in their life. And I wouldn't give up that role for anything.

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