When is balance not balanced? When extremes are cancelling each other out.

I can remember the treatment for a significant ankle injury incurred playing baseball. It involved two five gallon buckets. One filled with ice water. The other filled with steaming Epson salt water. The process was to immerse my injured ankle alternately in each bucket for 10 minute intervals. You can imagine the “joyful noises” that poured forth.

That was not balanced. You could pour the two buckets into one ten gallon tank and get something quite comfortable. But if I had to live in a world where temperatures vacillated to that degree I would rather have a bum ankle.

Too often parents do something quite similar in their homes. One parent is the bad cop; the other is the good cop. One parent handles love; the other discipline. One parent encourages; the other motivates. One parent emphasizes potential; the other inherent value. One parent doesn’t sweat the small stuff; the other does.

In the end the child lives being alternately plunged into buckets of expectations and responses that widely vary in “temperature.” Mix the two together and it would make a very comfortable home and life, but unfortunately the parents never mix.

Two very destructive things emerge from this style of parenting. First, the child learns a distorted view of gender roles. Second, the child learns a very confusing view of God.

There is not a combination of good cop (husband) bad cop (wife) or vice versa that results in a healthy view of gender. Either way, one is controlling and dominant while the other is weak. Yet weakness is viewed as loving. Strength is viewed as distant.  That is an awful choice to have to make.

This same false dichotomy is often projected on to God. Either God is loving and weak or strong and distant. The child has no other categories by which to understand relationships.

In this mess we can marvel all the more at John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Discussing the glory of God the Father seen in the Son, John says Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” As parents, both individually and as a couple, we are called to be Christ-like. This is much more than a guilt-trip about being “nice.” It cuts to the core of the good cop / bad cop parenting dynamic.

The problem with debate (nice word for argument) when it is between parents is that they want to determine “Who is right?” The answer is neither. Compensating for ice water with steaming heat does not create an environment where life thrives.

In order to solve the problem both parents must humble themselves and admit that something is more important than their position – namely accurately representing the character of God and the Gospel to their children. As long as the conversation focuses primarily upon bedtimes, test scores, and duration of groundings, the conversation (nice word again) will be an endless rendition of counter examples.

The two questions that I would encourage parents caught in this trap to ask themselves (personally) is, (1) “Did I accurately and intentionally represent the character and heart of God in that moment?” and (2) “Did my handling of my child’s sin or immaturity point my child to or prepare them to embrace/apply the Gospel to their struggle?”

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.