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Friendship and Parenting Styles

I'm excited tonight to answer my first reader question. Christina from MamasWorldwide.com had this great question:
How do you deal with parents whose parenting styles are very different from your own?  Is friendship out of the question between attachment style and cry-it-out style parents?

This is a really tough question and it is one that I have struggled with and that I know lots of other moms have struggled with. I guess I need to start by questioning what I get out of friendship and what would cause me to end a friendship.

  • What do I look for in a friend? I like to have friends that I enjoy spending time with. People with common interests. People that I trust and respect. People that I can learn from and that I can teach. People that make me smile and laugh. People that I can count on for support and guidance if I'm going through a rough patch.

  • When does a friendship need to end? I have trouble maintaining a friendship if I lose respect for someone, which would generally come about if I feel that they are disrespectful of me or of other people. I also wouldn't be able to maintain a friendship with someone that didn't support me and that constantly put me down.

So how does that apply to parenting styles?

I have chosen a specific parenting style that suits me and my children and that is based on research and my own preferences. Beyond the specific parenting style that I have chosen, I think there is a wide realm of parenting approaches that can work for certain families in certain situations. I'm really quite open to every family doing what works best for them, as long as they treat their children with respect and recognize that they have needs. I enjoy speaking with other parents that have chosen gentle parenting approaches because I think there is a lot that I can learn from my friends that have somewhat different styles from mine.

However, there is a limit. When I do hear about or witness people being extremely disrespectful of their children or when people feel the need to attack or make fun of my parenting choices, then I will slowly retreat from that friendship. I may try some gentle techniques to bring the person around first (talking about what has worked for us and why without attacking what they are doing or lightly flaunting the advantages of my choices), but if it becomes obvious that they have a completely different view of a parent's responsibilities to a child, then I will put some distance between us.

I liken the impact of vastly different parenting approaches on a friendship to the impact of diametrically opposed political views on a friendship. I lose respect quickly for people that have political views that are disrespectful of others, such as those that support racism or homophobia, and I lose respect quickly for people that do not treat their children with respect.

So back to your specific question: Is friendship out of the question between attachment-style and cry-it-out style parents? I think if nothing else, the friendship would be negatively impacted if I knew someone chose to let their kids cry-it-out or chose to spank their kids, especially if they did it in a particularly cavalier manner (e.g. laughing it off rather than being extremely pained by it). I'd like to say that isn't the case, but I need to be honest with myself here too. It doesn't mean that I would never do anything with that person again or that we couldn't continue to enjoy other shared interests. However, it would put distance between us and if they talked about it incessantly or if they expressed a lack of respect for my parenting choices, then I certainly wouldn't want to be around them.

That said, there are some situations I am aware of where friends have made parenting decisions that I think are poor choices (whether it is some mild CIO or something else), but they have demonstrated in other ways that they really do respect their children and it seems that was more of an exception than the rule. In those instances, I have been able to maintain the friendship and have had some interesting and respectful discussions about different options and choices. To draw a parallel, I often wonder how vegetarians can stand to be friends with a meat eater like me, but I hope that the fact that I try to make environmentally sound choices in general in life, that I have reduced my meat consumption, and that I try to buy ethically produced meat wherever possible makes it easier to maintain a friendship with me than it would if I was constantly and gluttonously eating meat from animals that were gravely mistreated.

I think you will know in your heart whether someone's parenting approach is so different from your own that you have lost respect for that person. Let that be your guide on whether or not to continue the friendship.

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Reader Comments (20)

That's a great question and one I've been wrestling with myself since become a mother. It really bothers me to be around people who leave their babies to cry, who frequently and proudly spank or belittle their children, or who are constantly correcting or snapping at their kids. That's not the sort of parenting I want to witness, nor do I want my son to see that more than he needs to.

I also find that if I'm around really punitive moms - or even just talking with them on the Internet - I start heading in that direction myself. I catch myself thinking "so-and-so would never let her child 'get away with' this" or "what would so-and-so think if she saw that", and I start engaging in ridiculous power struggles over things that never would have even flashed across my radar on a typical day.

In any friendship, I tend put more effort towards those with whom I have at least a bit of common ground - basically what you described in what you look for in a friend. If I'm feeling constantly defensive of my parenting style, sad by the lack of respect they show their children, unable to share my struggles because I know the response would be punitive, and just generally not enjoying the friendship, then I begin to question whether it's worth the struggle to keep the friendship going - for either of us.

November 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

What a good question--and answer! One of my very best friends has extremely different parenting styles from my husband and I, and while I love her and her kids, there is a huge element missing from our relationship. I am hesitant to let The Son spend much time around her children because they reflect how they are being raised and I do not want that to negatively influence my son. I realize at some point he will be exposed to things I consider negative, but he is only two. I have compartmentalized our friendship. She is who I go to do or talk about only certain things, but I do enjoy spending time with her in those very specific parameters. We just avoid the topic of our children..or how we raise them at least, and that is a huge thing to avoid, considering I am a SAHM! I think that you can not respect some of a persons views, but still respect them as a person.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHey You

Your posts lately (and always) have been incredible. They are so well thought out and insightful. I hope you don't mind me linking to your blog and this post in particular (and the previous one).

Please keep up the great posts, I am really enjoying reading what you put out.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommentertheCanadianLactivist

On the dot. Loved this post.

I am very intolerant of people that make fun of my parenting choices. All parents work hard irrespective of the choices they make and I think poking fun is a complete no-no.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaya

@theCanadianLactivist - You can absolutely link to my posts. Thanks!

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

This is a question I've asked myself many, many times in connection with parenting, but also other things I'm passionate about (politics, religion, etc.). My initial internal response is typically, "I can't be friends with someone who (fill in the blank with sufficiently offensive practice.)" But the truth is, I can, and I have, and though it hasn't been always been easy, I do think it's been worth it.

I've found myself friends with people I would never have expected to be friends with, with dramatically different views on matters that are of profound significance to me. But for all our differences - differences that can often inspire me to anger - they also have qualities that I appreciate, admire, and love them for. I do struggle with the idea that I'm 'condoning' things I feel strongly against in maintaining a friendship with them, but really, I don't do that - my friends know where I stand on the issues that are important to me.

We don't always agree to disagree either, we fight about the things we disagree about sometimes. But ultimately, I just can't justify eliminating them from my life.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commentereast end jenn

This is a great, great post. I have been exposed to all kinds of different people as a parent that I probably normally wouldn't approach to start a friendship with. The balance and the struggle is tough!

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLu

What a great answer to my question! Thank you!

I hadn't thought of the vegetarian thing before. I'm not a vegetarian, but I have friends who are and that's the greener, Earth-friendlier choice, so I could totally understand if they had issues with my meat eating. I think keeping that in mind will help me be more open-minded to parenting choices that differ from my own. But you're right, if I don't respect someone, it will be hard to maintain a friendship.

Thanks again, and now I'm going to go add your blog to our blogroll!

November 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristina G

[...] that are having children at the same time as them. This is harder than it may appear in some cases, especially when parenting styles clash. I think it is sometimes much easier to maintain a strong relationship with a childless friend who [...]

I'm totally dealing with this issue right now too, specifically with one group of friends. I thought that since we were all having kids around the same time, it would bring us closer together. Instead, I'm feeling more and more distant from them every time we get together because our parenting choices are so different. They are constantly pitying me because my baby doesn't sleep through the night regularly, because I haven't let him cry-it-out like they have. They encourage me to sleep train him all the time. They also pity me because I can't leave my baby - he needs to be nursed to sleep. They laugh about how their own kids are lacking compassion. They talk about spanking their kids, and although they do feel pained by it, I can tell they feel defensive around me because they know I don't agree with their choices.

The one good thing about them is they give me fodder for my blog! How terrible is that? My husband and I are seriously evaluating whether or not it's worth continuing the relationships. We'll see!

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheresa

Fantastic post. I think respect is the key issue. If I cannot respect a friend for whatever reason, it will put a strain on our friendship. If our values are so far removed, there is very little chance that a friendship will thrive.

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I think it depends on what kind of friendship is in question, and how 'deep' it is. I have friends who formula feed for example, and I'm a BF activist and am often in the local media supporting BF. I'm ok with their formula feeding as long as they dont make it an issue - I have a neighbour for example who is an (uninformed) formula feeder who insists on making BF comments every time she sees me. Needless to say my opinion of her is very low, not because of her parenting choices but because she doesn't respect the choices of others.

On the other hand, if I had a friend who I felt was totally disrespecting her children or torturing them, I don't think I would maintain the friendship becuase parenting would just be the outlet through which I would see another facet of that person's personality - and I likely wouldn't want that kind of person around me.

Great post, thought provoking as always :)

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaniela

You answered this question with wonderful candor, Annie! I appreciate that you didn't give the standard one-line about "all families are different and we can all be the best of friends despite our differences." Parenting choices DO impact friendships. That's not to say, of course, that we can't be friends with people of different opinions (we can!)...but a certain amount of respect and graciousness must be present between all parties.

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I think we go about this similarly. I am a lover, and a people-pleaser, so I have all kinds of friends BUT I always stand firm in how I parent and wouldn't continue surrounding myself by someone that couldn't respect my parenting style. I feel like if I am willing to give them a chance and hear them out, then the same should be done for me. And if that can't happen, it's not a true friendship. My circle of close friends has a wide array of parenting styles but at the end of the day, we see things with a healthy perspective. Anytime I start feeling a negative vibe, my heart starts checking out.


November 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteradventuresinbabywearing

Great post! I never would have thought differing parenting styles could jeopardize a friendship, but I've had it happen. I think its especially hard when you have two brand new parents who are both unsure of their decisions -- it feels like every choice your friend makes is a criticism of your own choices. Sometimes you need to take a bit of a break until you both feel more comfortable in your choices. A strong friendship should be able to survive.

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTamara

This comes at remarkable timing for me. I just wrote a blog post about "Dropping out of the Mompetition," and among other things, I said that I do judge moms who do things I think are abusive or neglectful. I think "crying it out" (I don't even like giving it the cop-out initials CIO to mask what it really means) falls into that category. A member of my moms' group lambasted me for thinking I'm "superior" to her. That ended that possible friendship.

So, in short, no, I don't think I could be close friends with a mom who chooses to do things I can't abide-- like crying it out. It would always bother me that I would feel they're doing something so disrespectful to their children.

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

I just found this post - it's exactly what my husband and I were discussing this morning after a recent conversation with my girlfriend. We've known each other for ten years and were thrilled when we became pregnant at the same time. We both chose natural births so I thought their parenting styles would reflect similar gentle choices.

I have been supportive of her choices, even though I haven't always agreed. But the other day she called to get me to, maybe jokingly (?) talk her out of not leaving her 7 month-old baby (who was crying in the background) in the car by himself while she ran into Babies R Us. Then just yesterday she called and said she was going to start letting her son CIO because he has woken up twice recently wanting about 1.5 ounces of formula. She insists he doesn't need it and I plead with her to reconsider and offered to send her info on CIO. She'd definitely made up her mind.

After talking it over with my husband (and kind of rehashing some other behaviors we've noticed), we decided to no longer pursue their friendship. As you said, it comes down to a matter of respect, and we've lost it for this family.

I also never thought I could break off a friendship over "parenting styles," but it is so much more than that, it's about how one human treats another. And unfortunately some people lack empathy for others - and even more sad, some of those people are parents.

(Sorry to post anonymously!)

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I have broken off friendships PARTLY because of differences in parenting style. One of my best friends- like deep friendship, we went through something major together in high school, lived together in college, were in each others' weddings friendship- was chatting with me on the internet about spanking her 11 month old. I flipped out a little and probably less than gently let her know that spanking an 11 month old is totally inappropriate, uncalled for, and completely ineffective. She came back with nothing more than "my parents did it and I turned out okay" (did you, did you really?). There were other things later that simply cemented my choice (she spent the entirety of my sister's bachelorette party telling me to shut up and calling me obnoxious). A year or so later I got in an argument with another friend from the same circle about co-sleeping. Funniest part- she doesn't even have kids, and was talking about how wrong it is and how much it messes kids up. She also proceeded to say that I had "been in California too long" so after that I was pretty much done with her, too. I don't think it's always necessary to end a friendship because of differences in parenting style, it depends on the degree of difference, and if there are also other rifts in the friendship. But in most cases I think that, especially in the case of old friends, you tend to grow in different directions. The kind of parenting style you choose reflects how you have grown up to this point in your life, as it does your friend, and two people who are growing in different directions are going to have a difficult time maintaining a friendship. Some of the best friends I have NOW I have met since having kids expressly because we did have common parenting styles, and they are the people I would rather spend time with.

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis

I would hate to think I get to a point where I can't have anyone around me with divergent values. I find people who think differently from how I think to be fascinating, and parenthood is no exception. Being around people with different parenting styles often (always?) reinforces my own beliefs for me.

That being said, I am very mindful now of where and how I devote my emotional and physical energy. I just don't have enough to spare and I am not about to waste it on negativity or pointless conflict. So I guess that is my line in the sand.

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

I always find the biggest barrier is how defensive people get about their parenting choices and philosophies. It can often create an unbearable amount of friction in a relationship.

I try to be respectful of the different parenting choices people make. I don't always agree with them, but families are all different as who am I to judge? It is true that if I perceive a practice to be abusive or neglectful, it will create some distance between myself and that person, but I feel this is rarely the case.

What really drives me crazy is that whenever I talk about what I find interesting about parenting or share information about parenting issues people often get really defensive. I can't stand it.

For this reason I find it difficult to be friends with people who have different parenting philosophies.

I do have one friend, who is quite the opposite of my NPx, crunchy ways, but she and I get along like a house on fire. And we DO talk about parenting issues and our kids (who are the same age). We've never once gotten into an argument or gotten our feathers ruffled. I think she's a good mother, and her child is a happy, well balanced kid. Do I see some issues shes having that could be made better with a more NP or AP approach? Totally. I'm sure she feels the same way about me. And we share our approaches, but at the end of the day, I trust her to know what's best for her child, whom she clearly adores, loves, and respects.

On the flip side I've had relationships completely destroyed bc I posted an article about some child psych study that came out and someone takes it as a personal attack. What can you do??? Never talk about parenting??? That would be ridiculous considering it's such a primary focus in my life.

So anyway. That's been my experience.

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWolf_Mommy

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