Thursday, August 21, 2014

When Your Friends Parent Differently Than You Do

I was asked to write about this topic a couple of weeks ago, and I've been tossing it around in my head ever since. In fact, it is something that I have toyed with writing about for years but thus far avoided...and the reason should be fairly obvious, at least to all my fellow non-anonymous writers out there.

People take whatever we say personally, even (and seemingly especially) when it isn't about them.

In the years that I have been doing this, there have been more than a few occasions where people have been personally insulted by something I wrote. Not a single one of those times was anything I wrote aimed at them, directed at them or had anything to do with them. Didn't matter.

I've been called out on Facebook.

I've been emailed, texted, phoned.

I've even had people yell at me in person.

I have, quite honestly, lost friends over things like this.

Consequently, I tend to tread lightly.

This topic, though, is one that I find myself coming back to over and over again even though I know it will be hard to write about and will probably come with some consequences. I keep coming back to it for the same reason that I was asked to write about it...because it is something that we all will have to deal with as parents eventually, multiple times throughout the years we are parenting our children.

It's just part of the deal, and it's one that likely started back before our children were even born.

As soon as you tell the world you are trying to get pregnant, you start to get advice from other people, the vast majority of which is unsolicited, much of which is premised with the "I would never..." statements.

There are a lot of "I would nevers" in parenting that people really and truly believe exist, until they suddenly see themselves confronted with the particular situation they were so sure about how they would handle. Then reality comes along, slaps you upside the head and tells you that you really had no clue what you were talking about back then in the land of hypotheticals.

It's not just the hypotheticals of course, because once you have your kids, there are actual issues to deal with. Constantly.

Unless you are going to homeschool your children and wholly prevent them from having any interaction with the outside world, eventually you are going to have to deal with the fact that the world is full of other kids and their parents, and they all operate just a little bit differently than you do.

Some more than a little bit.

When your kids are young enough that you can control all the elements that go into the exposure to other kids and parents, it's simpler. You can scoop them up from the park or the playdate or whatever, say to them whatever you want about whatever transpired and go on with your day.

If a parent is a yeller and you're not down with that, you can just leave.

If a parent doesn't care if their kid is stealing you kid's toys or hitting your kid, you can just leave.

If a parent is a spanker and you choose not to do that, you can distract your children and just leave.

You can just leave.

There is a TON of judgment in the pre-preschool set about just about every aspect of parenting these days. Everyone seems to care if you are breastfeeding or co-sleeping or making your own baby food or vegan or cloth diapering. Everyone seems to believe that whatever they are doing is best or better or superior in some way. I saw it in mom playdate groups when my oldest was a baby 13 years ago, and I can't imagine it has gotten better. In fact, I am sure it is worse than it ever was.

You name the issue and someone will argue with you about it. Car seats, bedtimes, meals, literally anything.

In those early years, though, it's the adults having the issues for the most part, not the kids and the adults and the interaction between them and other people's children that you have to worry about.

Once they go to school, it's all on the table. All of it.

Your kids are going to be around other parents when you are not there. They're going to start having friends over and they're going to start going to other people's houses to play and you've got to start paying more attention.
Yeah, we're those people.
The truth is that there are as many parenting types as there are families in the world. There are all these cute surveys online that seek to categorize us as the "strict" parent or the "fun" parent, but the reality is that there are so many more variations than could ever be made so simple.

As your kids get older, they will spend more and more time away from you, more and more time being exposed to the parenting styles of other people.

Some of those other parents will be people you don't know very well. Some of them will be your friends, whether you were friends before kids or because of them. Some of them will be neighbors. Some of them will be family.

The dynamics of each parent relationship, vastly different.

For me personally, I'm sure I would be categorized mostly as a strict parent.

When my kids have spent time with what I feel are overly permissive parents, I've placed limits on the times, locations, experiences they are allowed to have under the supervision of the other adults. I'll be the bad guy. I'm okay with that. My kids know they are to follow certain rules, be held to certain expectations, regardless of who they are with. My kids know that I don't tend to negotiate (though, god bless them, they still try) . The argument of so and so's parents let them do so and so has never once worked. And it never will.

When my kids have spent time with parents who are super competitive, I've had to work pretty hard to remind them that the only thing that matters at the end of the day is whether they tried their best. I set high standards for my kids, sure...but I don't fault them if they can't always perform at a level that I think they should. Certainly not if they fail to live up to the expectations of other people. This especially comes in once you have sports and coaches and other team parents to deal with.

When my kids have dealt with other kids who are rude or mean or bullying my kids or others, my approach has varied depending on how well I know the parents. Mostly, I stopped telling my kids they "had to be friends with everyone" a long time ago, even though the schools seem to push that concept on them these days. Not everyone is going to be friends, and some people are just mean. Period. It's better to avoid them than to force any interaction. Besides which, the kids who are mean quite often have parents who don't see it. Many of them think their kids can do no wrong, and have no clue how their little angels behave when mom isn't looking. I've always said that I'd prefer my kids be rotten for me than to do it out there in the world. They can frustrate me because I can deal with it, but they must be kind and considerate and well mannered to the rest of the people out there. Not everyone parents that way, and I've been pretty damn honest with my kids about that truth.

Most of the rest of the universe of conflicts, I try to let go. If people routinely feed their kids junk food or let them stay up super late or whatever, I just remind my kids that we don't work like that here. I've told the oldest he isn't allowed to play violent video games, regardless of where he is and what someone else's parents allow, and you know what? He doesn't.

I'm strict, sure, but I don't hover. I give my kids long leashes. I let them go do things. They have phones, but they don't have data plans. They have internet access at home and I don't regulate what they do too much, but you can bet your sweet ass I check up on the sites they are visiting and I know exactly what they are searching. I expect them to behave the way they are expected to behave at home, regardless of where they are and who they are with.

I am not delusional. If something happens, I don't assume they are innocent and being wrongly accused. I assume the opposite, in fact. I don't call their teachers and try to bail them out of missed assignments. I don't argue about grades. Do I know parents that do? Absolutely. I don't happen to think they are doing their kids any favors, but that's their prerogative.

My kids don't get whatever they want. They have to work around the house. Do I know kids that are teenagers and still wholly catered to by their parents, spoiled constantly? Sure. I don't work that way and my kids know it. They might whine about not having the newest phone or clothes or whatever, but it is what it is. I'm not changing how I do things because a 3rd grader they know has an iphone.

We don't keep up with the Joneses. We don't parent like them either.

Believe it or not, we haven't had too many huge conflicts. There have been a few, yes, and those that have happened have been fairly significant ones that resulted in breaking ties with the families at issue. Every single one of those situations had to do with threats of physical harm or emotional abuse that was actually happening to my children that the parents refused to see or handle.

Honestly though, people like that weren't real friends anyway...and their kids sure as hell weren't friends to my kids.

Sometimes being a parent means that you have to cut those ties, no matter how much history you have with people.

I'm okay with that...but then again, I am a mean mom and everyone knows it. ;)


  1. Stands and applauds. There isn't a manual for parenthood. We all do our best based largely on how we were raised by our own parents... incorporating the good and leaving out the not so good. We fail spectacularly and every once in great while, we knock a parenting moment outta the park, to the point our kids say "I have the greatest Mom & Dad ever!" The key things for any parents are to make sure kids know they are safe and loved; teaching them lessons in the teachable moments and admitting to them when we've made mistakes and letting them know we'll do better.

  2. Kelly, it took serious guts to write this. Thank you. It has given me a fresh perspective and will help me deal with issues in my life. I'll always be grateful for your honesty. Xo


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