Differing Parenting Styles May Cause Friction

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Dear Miriam,

What do you do when a friend parents very differently than you do? It feels like every time we see each other, there is judgment on both sides, and it makes me not want to see them. The other parent doesn’t care if her kid has social interactions with kids outside of school, and thus he is awful at playdates. How do I help her see that I’m not judging her parenting style, just wishing she thought about her kids’ social behavior a little bit as much as how many vegetables he eats?

Signed,

We’re all just doing our best

Dear Best,

Since you framed this as “what do I do?” I’ll start by answering personally. I try to avoid the topics where I know I’ll clash with someone. I stay confident in the approaches I know work for my family. I refrain from commenting when I see something I disagree with, unless it is having a direct, negative impact on my kids.

If the issues are so vast that none of us have fun together, I avoid future get togethers as much as possible. Some of these are easier said than done, and it’s always a possibility that you’ll walk away from such an interaction feeling either totally self-righteous about your own parenting, horribly judgmental about someone else’s, or a difficult mixture of both.

Before future interactions with this family or others with whom you have similar conflicts, you need to identify your own priorities and see how they fit into the potential social occasions you have planned.

Is their kid eating organic produce and then smacking your kid in the head, or is he eating his apple in peace and then questioning why your child is allowed to eat Goldfish? Is anyone being hurt (physically or emotionally) through these less-than-ideal interactions, or are you mostly feeling annoyance at a parenting style that contradicts your own?

Social awareness develops in all different ways for kids at different ages and, believe it or not, for adults as well. It’s possible that this parent has tried and tried to get her kid to act more appropriately, but the kid isn’t developmentally there. Or it’s possible that the parent is completely oblivious to any of your objections.

You need to start by sharing your concerns in as non-judgmental a way as humanly possible.

“I was wondering if you’ve noticed any issues when our kids play together. Jack told me he was worried that Danny might be too rough, and I wanted to see if you had any ideas of how to help them play in ways that work for both of them.” Or, “My kids know I have very specific expectations of how they behave on playdates. Would it be ok for us to set some ground rules together with the kids before they start playing?”

She might take the hint and she might not, but if things go badly later, you’ll have a conversation to fall back on. From your original question, it sounds like you actually are judging her parenting, and it’s OK to be honest with yourself about that. The flip side, of course, is that she is judging you as well.

If your kids really like each other or your social circles are deeply entwined, your best option is to be confident in who you are and who your kids are, and let her judgment roll off your back. If you can spend less time together without any repercussions, consider taking a break until things have cooled off a bit and you can try for a fresh start.

Be well,

Miriam

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