Staying Friends When Parenting Styles Differ

By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C

The sheer volume of parenting advice available in 2018 is nothing short of overwhelming.  Seeking out guidance on a particular subject can result in countless blogs, forums, and websites, many of which contradict each other.

Early on in my parenting journey, my wise pediatrician advised me to implement the “go with your gut” philosophy.  Now at times when your gut feeling doesn’t seem like enough, but a call to the doctor seems like way too much, many of us consult with friends.

Parenting allows for the incredible opportunity to develop new friendships with people we meet through our children.  We tend to surround ourselves with friends who share the same morals, philosophies and viewpoints because it helps validate our own parenting decisions.  But if a time comes when a friend feels drastically different than we do about a particular issue, it can be awkward. When a friend disagrees with your parenting choices, it may feel like criticism.  When you disagree with a friend’s decision – especially on an issue you feel strongly about –  you might second guess the friendship itself.

The chances of differing on parenting styles is present at every stage of child rearing.  At a young age, subjects such as sleeping habits, feeding choices and preschool curriculum arise.  As children enter elementary school, extracurricular activities, screen time parameters, exposure to violence and introduction to social media may take the forefront.  When middle school approaches, parents may differ on issues such as clothing choices, cell phones and increased independence.  Friends can even have differing opinions about colleges.

So, what can we do when we parent differently than our friends?

  1. Don’t assume you have all the answers. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your system/rule/decision is the best method.  Perhaps this is actually true for you and your family but your methods might not work for someone else.  Shaming someone for a certain parenting decision will only add additional stress to your friendship.  It is important to remember that there is no one, correct way to parent.  Keep an open mind and be willing to widen your world view.
  2. Know when to keep quiet. Sometimes, a friend may just want to talk through something and feel heard.  A conversation about a friend’s decision to purchase a smartphone for her elementary school child doesn’t necessitate you sharing why you’ve decided to wait until middle school.  Don’t become that friend who feels the need to counteract every statement, especially if you aren’t asked for your opinion.  Judging other people’s parenting styles can become a
    full-time job if you aren’t careful. Discrediting someone for a parenting decision isn’t healthy for any friendship.
  3. Remember that who we are is a product of where we’ve been. Our childhood, and the way we were parented (and yes, in 2018, parenting is a verb!) undoubtedly influences the way that we raise our children. Keep this in mind not only for yourself, but also when you have parenting differences with friends. Considering a friend’s background may help you better understand motivations behind a decision.
  4. Don’t be too sensitive. It’s easy to jump to conclusions when questioned about a specific choice you made for your children. Maybe your friend is just curious about how you came to that decision or wants to know how it turned out. If your friend is actually criticizing you, stay calm and remind your friend (and yourself) that just because you don’t agree on this particular issue doesn’t mean that you can’t support each other as friends and parents.
  5. Stay true to yourself. Although it often feels like it, parenting is not a competitive sport.  Don’t throw away a cherished friendship solely because your friend subscribes to the “Being a Friend to a Child over Being a Parent” philosophy and you don’t.  You are entitled to your own parenting paradigms and should stick with them even when someone feels differently.  Remind yourself about all the things you have been doing right.

Remember that as parents, regardless of our style, we all have similar goals.  We want our children to be healthy, to make good choices and to grow into well adjusted, capable adults.  At the same time,  because we are human, we’ve all made parenting decisions that we aren’t proud of.  Sharing these stories with each other and reminding ourselves of our vulnerabilities as parents can help smooth over rough moments between friends.


Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C has been with JCS for the past 4 years.

Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.


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