When You and Your Friend Have Different Parenting Styles

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I thought we had everything in common until we became parents.

I potty trained my kids before they were two years old. She waited until hers were three. I pushed my little ones around in a stroller, and she almost always wore hers in a sling. I prefer that my kids don’t eat processed food, but she feeds hers anything that’s easy.

In the beginning, the strain on our relationship was slight. But, as our kids got older, our differences became more apparent, and the tension between us grew.

It didn't take long for me to realize that one’s parenting style can wreak havoc on even the closest of friendships. That’s because the choices we make as parents are rooted in our values, character, and upbringing. As we incorporate them into our every day, they become apart of our family culture. So, it’s difficult not to take it personally when a friend makes a snarky comment about the fact that you just binge watched Parks and Recreation with our kids.

Attachment parents disagree with the free-range parents while strict moms seem to have nothing in common with the laid-back moms. Then there are spiritual and religious parents, parents that co-sleep and parents that sleep train. Chances are you can identify with one of these styles while a good friend embodies another.

Naturally, we gravitate towards people who are like-minded because they validate our own choices. However, we don’t have to believe our friend’s decisions are wrong to have confidence in our own.

Your differences don’t have to ruin your relationship!  

No matter how drastically different your methods are, keep in mind that you and your friend have the same intention, you’re both trying to be a good mom.

There are NO set rules for parenting. Your friend’s unique family culture is rooted in their values, passions, and experiences. Many times the choices they make are not theirs alone but shared by their spouse and chosen for a particular reason. As a friend, it’s your job to show respect for those choices.

There may be more to her story than you know. If your friend’s choices seem haphazard and inconsistent, it might be because parenting was nothing like she expected, she’s exhausted and doesn't have the patience to do things any other way. The best thing you can do is come alongside her and walk with her in struggles.

One of the best things you can do is offer your opinion only when asked. This applies to any relationship. Many times your friends aren’t looking for advice but instead, someone to listen.

Take it a step further and ask lots of questions. Many factors can go into why a person parents in a particular way. By learning more about why your friend chose their styles and methods, you’ll understand them better and as a result, deepen your relationship. Hopefully, you’ll come to respect that she does things her way, and you do things yours. You may also be challenged to take a look at your own choices and ask yourself why you made the specific decisions you did.

If all else fails, maybe it's time to get together without your kids. It will diffuse tension and remind you why you became friends in the first place. And if it's a new mom friend, this will give you the opportunity to discover whether the relationship is worth pursuing outside of school activities and playdates.

It took humility for me to get over the fact that my friend’s choices for her little ones were different than mine. I realized that if her parenting style made me angry or less confident in my own then maybe it was time for me to take a look at why I felt that way. Once I stopped thinking so much about myself, I became less offended and was able to enjoy our friendship.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs many of us will ever have. Whether it's being a mother or being a friend, we can all use more encouragement and less judgment. So, let’s cheer each other on, so we can have the confidence in our friendship but also in our parenting styles, even if they are different.


This post was originally shared on Friending - a podcast about friendships. 

Episode 3 of Season 3 - “When You and Your Friend Don’t Parent the Same”

In this episode, Noelle Rhodes discusses what to do when you and a friend don’t parent the same. How do you navigate conflicting parenting styles and still preserve the friendship? This week’s guest is the amazing Clare Hooper along with me!

This is a good episode ... at times a little brutally honest... but a good one!

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