Disagreeing With Your Kid’s Friend’s Parents
Our parenting policies don’t always align perfectly with those of other families.
From the day our kids are born, we’re constantly making parenting decisions, both small and large. While it’s relatively easy to adhere to our own particular set of family rules and guidelines when our children are young, things get trickier as they grow and interact with the wider world. Our own decisions about what our kids watch, eat and play don’t always align perfectly with those of other families. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges to our own parenting choices may be other parents. Navigating these differences takes courage and diplomacy.
There’s no one right way to resolve these issues. However, assuming your child’s mental or physical health is not placed in jeopardy by another parent’s rules (or lack thereof), here are a few suggestions that might help.
When faced with a set of values or rules that differ from your own, it’s tempting to condemn the choices other families make regarding their children, or even feel superior about your own choices. Do yourself a favor and try empathy instead. Remember that, while we might have different values, we all want to do right by our kids. Trying to see things from another’s perspective might even make us better parents.
Let Go of Guilt
Parenting is hard, and it’s easy to doubt your own decisions, especially when, according to your own offspring, you’re the only family in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD that doesn’t let your middle schooler have a cell phone, watch R-rated movies, or any other myriad “aberrant” behavior you may have exhibited as a parent. Be confident in your decisions. You really do know what’s best for your kids. Don’t let comparisons make you feel guilty.
As a mother of four kids ranging in age from 11 to 19, Tulsan Anne-Marie Lawson thinks it’s important to know and be confident in her own values and to communicate that to her children.
“I am comfortable with being myself and being different. I try to transfer that to my children,” she said. “To find their own voice. To develop their own thoughts and reasoning. To stop and think, and then to make a conscious decision.”
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communicating with other parents is key. It’s better to ask than to assume. When your middle school-aged child is going to a friend’s house, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask about curfews, supervision, or what’s allowed when it comes to screens and video games, for example. Likewise, when you’re the host, it’s helpful to let the other parent know what the rules are in your own home. It’s equally important that your own child understands and knows your family’s rules and values, as well as the reasons for them.
Shawna Gehres has two daughters, ages 15 and 13. She believes communicating with her children and the parents of their friends has been an important part of her parenting. She feels fortunate that her daughters have chosen friends whose families share similar values.
“I think we haven’t had big problems because the other moms and I text each other if there’s a situation we think the other might be concerned about,” she explained. “I think that by initiating a text, you communicate to the other parent your expectations so they do the same when the situation is reversed.”
Gehres offers two suggestions: (1) give your kids an understanding of what is appropriate and what isn’t, and trust them to exercise good judgment; (2) make relationships with other parents and model the kinds of communications/expectations you have.
Lawson thinks trust and communication are important, too.
“I think it helps to let them make their own mistakes and give them quite a bit of autonomy,” she commented. “If you’re honest and open with your children and teach them to accept the consequences of their actions with grace and see them as an opportunity to learn, they become level-headed and responsible.”
Lawson makes a point of encouraging open communication with her kids.
“I’ve always told my children that they can tell me everything,” she said. “There might be consequences, but they’ll be less harsh if they come clean before getting into trouble. I also encourage them to share about their friends with the promise that I won’t tell their parents unless I feel that the kids are in danger. Being honest with my children, expecting ownership of their own actions, is important to me.”
While we can’t control other families’ parenting decisions, values and choices, communication – with our own children and the parents of their friends – can go a long way toward resolving or even avoiding conflict.