Why Can’t They Be More Like Us?

Dear Mr. Dad: Some friends of ours have a very different parenting style than we do. They’re far more concerned with being their children’s friends than in being their parents. We like this couple as people, but my husband and I have a real problem with their parenting and we find ourselves avoiding them more and more. How can we salvage our friendship?

A: Wouldn’t it be nice if all parents had the same values and concerns? Hmm. Probably not—life would be pretty boring that way. Fortunately, though, we’re not lemmings and parents differ, oftentimes in the same family. Usually, these differences aren’t that big a deal and mom and dad figure out on-the-fly workarounds. Other times, they’re the elephant in the room and are impossible to avoid.

When they happen within a family, differences in parenting style don’t usually result in divorce. But when they happen between families, the natural inclination is to spend less time together. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • You may find it hard to control your tongue when a parent in the other family does something you consider wrong
  • You may find it impossible to stomach your friends’ children’s uncorrected bad behavior
  • You may not want your child to pick up the other kids’ bad habits or tendencies

So what are you supposed to do if you value the friendship with the other couple, but find it being eroded by your differences? First, understand that you’re in the right here. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to teach, educate, and correct your children. It’s the only way that they’re going to grow into responsible, well-rounded adults. It’s your responsibility to actually be a parent. Many parents today—including your friends—are more concerned with making sure their kids perceive them as friends than as parents, which leads to a whole host of issues.

Now, here’s the problem. Being correct doesn’t give you the right to tell other parents how to raise their children (unless, of course, they’ve specifically asked for your opinion). You can offer unsolicited advice, but doing so usually results in one of two outcomes: either your advice gets ignored or it ends up straining the friendship even more.
The best thing to do is to evaluate your friendship with the parents, and your children’s relationship with theirs. The question you need to be asking yourself is whether, despite your differences, those friendships are enriching your lives (yours and your children’s).

A lot of this will also depend on how old your children are. If you have young ‘uns who are easily influenced and are picking up bad habits, you’ll need to remind them that your expectations for their behavior aren’t changing—no matter what those other kids do. If your kids are older and are already well grounded in your family’s values, you probably won’t have as much to worry about. Since the older kids won’t be around as much, the other couple’s “bad parenting” won’t be as obvious and your differences may fade over time.

Ultimately, if the cons outweigh the pros, it’s time to take a step back. I hate to get all philosophical on you, but life is all about change, and with change comes growth. It’s always sad when a friendship ends, but in the long run, it may turn out to be a good thing, opening up some time in your schedule to explore or deepen other friendships. It will also lower your stress levels and may help you avoid problems with your own kids.