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Help! I’m Always the Bad Guy When Disciplining My Kid and I Hate It

Fatherly's resident parenting expert talks about finding a way to discipline with a united front and how to console a friend who becomes unexpectedly emotional.

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Fatherly Advice” is a weekly advice column in which Fatherly’s Parenting Editor Patrick Coleman provides frank answers to reader questions. Want evidence-based answers and some common sense morality? Email advice@fatherly.com. We got you. Want a justification for some parenting decision you already made? Ask someone else. Patrick is busy.

 

Hey Fatherly,

Last week the bus driver told me that my eight-year old daughter was being really mean to one of her friends on the bus. She was basically yelling at her friend and bossing her around and stuff and it was so bad her friend went home crying.

I talked with my wife about what we should do because we aren’t about to raise a bully and we both agreed to be strict about it. We were going to talk to her and probably take away privileges. But when we went to talk to my daughter, my wife didn’t say much. I had to be the punishing parent and my wife was all friendly and playing the good cop. She even second guessed one of my suggested punishments of taking away her tablet time after school.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. It feels like I’m always being forced to be the bad guy and it pisses me off. What should I do to help my wife understand that we need to be on the same page about this stuff?

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Bad Cop
Nashville, Tennessee

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You may be surprised to hear that the problem may not simply lay in your difference of discipline styles. In fact, if you feel you are continually forced to be the bad guy, then the issue may lay deeper in the relationship with your wife. It’s could be time to have a serious talk.

Look, some difference in discipline is to be expected. You’re two different people who experienced two different upbringings. You learn about discipline from your parents and you carry that into your own experience. So, there might be reasons your wife is a softie. There might be reasons you prefer to be strict. Have you ever talked about that before? It doesn’t sound like it. And that might be part of the issue.

The solution? Start talking about it. I have a feeling that when you do you’ll discover some unexpected things about your partner. And she’ll discover some unexpected things about you. For instance, there’s a big chance you’re not feeling particularly appreciated in your discipline role. Those kinds of feelings run deep and infect other parts of your relationship. They need to be addressed.

When you have this conversation make sure you’re not going into it angry. It’s important to be curious and listen and really try to look for solutions. It’s possible that there’s a middle path but you won’t know until you talk about it.

Once you understand each others motivations for discipline, you can start building a plan with consistent rules so the expectations are clear for everyone in the family. Make sure those expectations are explicit. Make a poster, have the kid decorate it. Hang it in the living room. And then be prepared to change things up when you need to. Because the fact is that the rules will change. They’ll have to. After all the only constant in parenting is that nothing ever stays the same.

 

Fatherly,

My best friend’s wife and mother of their two children has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. He’s been my friend since my childhood and we pretty much know everything about each other. But even though we know each other really well, we never really get super emotional or cry to each other.

But we recently got together and this time he cried and he cried a lot. I had no f-ing idea what to do then. I still haven’t a clue now, several weeks later. I’m not sure how to approach the whole thing. WTF do dudes do when this happens?

Emotion Al
The Internet

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To be completely honest, my first reaction to your question was pretty harsh. And I was tempted to go on and on about how men have become emotionally hobbled. I mean, what do you do? You console your friend, man. It’s not that difficult.

But then I realized that, yeah, it is difficult. It is particularly difficult if the norms you’ve developed with your friend over a lifetime aren’t built on vulnerability and honesty. And based on the description of your relationship I suspect that’s the case. So it’s not really surprising that a sudden show of big emotion would cause you to freeze up. You were rattled by your suddenly vulnerable friend. Giving you a lecture about traditional masculinity would not be helpful. You’re who you are at this moment and I think you honestly want to know what to do.

There’s something you need to realize right away: your friend allowed himself to cry with you because he felt overwhelmed, frightened, and safe in your presence. As you know, this kind of vulnerability is not the most common for thing for men. He gave you a tremendous amount of trust. His willingness to break down in your presence says a lot about how he views his friendship with you. What you do next, however, will speak volumes about how you view your friendship with him.

Your best friend is hurting. And it’s likely that the hurt has just begun. There is a tremendous fight in front of him and his family. He will need someone close who is willing to sit with him in his grief because he’ll be compelled to keep a strong and stable facade for his family. Without someone to talk to about how he feels, he’s sure to become isolated and depressed.

Does this mean you need to act as some kind of de facto therapist for your buddy? No. And, in fact, he would probably benefit from a professional who can help him process his emotions. But, he still needs a friend who is willing to listen — someone who can offer an exit from the isolation and hang in with him even he breaks down.

I get that if you’re not used to this kind of thing, his grief will continue to feel awkward and uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that your masculinity is toxic. We arrive at these moments the way we are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to change.

Will that be hard? Sure it will. But you have an incredible motivation: your friend. You’d probably do a lot for him. And at this moment that means shaking off the weirdness and giving the dude a hug. Even if he’s weeping buckets, get an arm around his shoulders. Even if he’s looking sloppy and has snot dripping out of his nose, tell him you’re there for him, no matter what happens. Tell him you have his back and it’s okay to feel what he feels. Acknowledge that his situation sucks. And then just be there. Don’t offer solutions. Don’t judge. Don’t tell him to shake it off. Just be in the moment with him. Maybe ask him if he needs something. A handkerchief? A glass of water? A beer?

There’s no doubt that this will feel unnatural for you. That’s okay. You will get used to it. Try to put yourself in his place. Think of what it must be like to fear losing the mother of your children and facing the future without her. Sit with that thought. It won’t be pleasant but it will help you see your friend more clearly. It will make you a better friend too, and maybe even a better person altogether.