When one parent is the “bad guy”

E and I have been parenting together for more than ten years now, and we’re still learning and growing every day.

If you had told me before we had Z that I would end up being the “tough” parent or the enforcer, I never would have believed it. That seems way more E’s personality type and area of expertise than mine!

But sure enough, with our little girl, E tends to melt and want to say yes or make her smile and laugh. He’s not always big on enforcing things like a reasonable bedtime, making healthy food choices or limiting screen time. So the job of being the “tough parent” can often fall to me.

Add in the fact that 10 year olds are skilled button-pushers and boundary-crushers, and I end up feeling like the bad guy a lot. And not the fun, hip and edgy Billie Eilish bad guy.

Sometimes I want to cry out “it’s not fair – I want to be the fun parent, too!”

For example, E used to take Z to Krispy Kreme for “hot and now” donuts. I get it – that was their thing. He has instilled in her a lifelong love of doing errands with Daddy, because she knows he will almost always tack on a sweet surprise.

I like to treat her to sweet things, too – yet I feel compelled to keep these outings to just once in a while since we’re trying not to raise a sugar monster.

So if he has already taken her for donuts, then I feel like I can’t take her for ice cream in the same week to celebrate a good basketball game or report card.

I realize the answer here is good, clear communication between E and I so we can take turns being the one who treats to sweets… and we do try to make sure that happens. But sometimes it seems like I’m the only one who worries about things like this. E says I’m too rule-oriented.

Is this a pretty common mom vs. dad scenario, or are we unique in this?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all rules and discipline with Z. I get to do lots of fun things with her, and I always have tons of ideas for our next fun adventure together. She knows I’m a fun mom, just in different ways from how Daddy is fun.

Plus, Z has honestly always been a really well-behaved kid, so I rarely have to crack a whip to get her to go along. She’s almost always kind, polite and well-meaning.

But she does like to push bedtime as late as possible, wear clothes that flout the school dress code, skip boring tasks like brushing her teeth, spend as much time as possible on my phone or other devices, and avoid both winter coats and veggies like they might kill her.

In these instances, it’s usually me who has to step in and be the nagging parent: Z, please get to bed. Put on school-appropriate attire. Brush your teeth (for more than ten seconds)! Let’s put the phone down – you’ve had more than enough time. You need your winter coat and boots today. Please eat some veggies.

It’s not that E doesn’t care – far from it. He’s the most loving, caring, affectionate and leaned-in Dad I’ve ever met. Z and I are both lucky to have him! He gives her time, love and attention galore.

He’s just not always the most diligent at enforcing our family’s day to day rules around healthy behaviors. Maybe because they don’t seem like a big deal to him – or because he knows she’ll be fine either way. Or because I get to spend more time with Z than he does (and I know I’m so lucky that I do).

But these things do mean a lot to me. They are all very important because I want to instill in the lifelong habits that will help keep her safe, healthy and happy. I see it as our job to help guide her and ensure that she develops these behaviors on her own. But there must be a way I do that without being an annoying, nagging pest?

I don’t have any answers here. I am all about your tips and suggestions. How do I avoid being the nagging mom – yet still get kiddo to take good care of herself and her body?

And yes, I have E’s approval to post this. I am not throwing him under the bus in any way. He’s the best dad in the world! I’m pretty sure I’m the one who needs to flex here – I’m just not sure how.

So, friends and readers, if you have any ideas, please toss them my way in the comments below or over on Facebook! And if you find yourself being the “bad guy” in your family too, please let me know so at least I’ll be in good company.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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