One mom is eager to share her knowledge about extended breastfeeding, only to learn that her friend has decided to use formula from Day 1. Another mom invests hours crafting homemade snacks from scratch, while her friend has no problem serving pre-packaged goodies. Another mom uses time-outs for discipline, while her friend uses spankings.
Of course no two parents think exactly alike, and there’s no one “right” way to raise a child. But if your highest priorities are in direct contradiction to what your friend believes, those differences may be enough to drive you apart. At best things might be awkward for a while; at worst you decide the friendship won’t last. When you and your friends have different priorities and parenting strategies, can the friendship survive?
One of the best ways to sort through parenting differences is to make it clear that your priorities reflect what’s best for you and your family So if you and your friend seem to be on opposite sides of the fence on an issue don’t say things like, “Doctors agree that breast milk is the best nutrition for baby’s first year.” Instead, you can tell your friend, “I’ve decided that breastfeeding is the best for me and my baby.” A corollary to that advice is not to judge your friends. So don’t say, “I would never give my child a food that has trans-fats.” Instead, make it more about yourself: “Our kids seem really seem to love fresh fruit.” You can’t know all of the factors that have gone into your friend’s decision-making process, so it’s unfair to decide flat-out that your way is “better.”
It’s also important to make a distinction between parenting decisions that will be irrelevant in a few months or years (like breast- versus bottle-feeding) and ongoing lifestyle choices that will make it difficult for you to stay friends over the long term. Let’s say you have friends who don’t do much in the way of discipline, and their kids tend to run wild and talk rudely to adults. You can set limits while you’re at your own house, but when hanging out at their house becomes too much to handle (or when you find your kids imitating bad behavior after visiting them), you may need to cut back on the time you spend with them.
Remember that it’s OK to have different levels of friendship too: You can have some friends whom you see every week, and some other friends whom you visit once a year (and decide that that’s plenty). Also you don’t have to be best friends with the parents of your kids’ friends. When your kids are old enough to go on playdates without you, you will need to teach your kids that everyone’s family does things a little differently. Just because your son gets to have cheese puffs and gummy worms at Johnny’s house doesn’t mean you’re going to start serving them at your house. But you can love Johnny – and nurture the boys’ friendship – just the same.
You can always hope that things don’t get “ugly” between you and a friend, but if they do, try not to let yourself get dragged down. At best you can be frank and say, “It sounds like we simply have different approaches to what we believe is best for our children. I hope we can respect each other’s differences.” Besides, you don’t want to start a major feud over a disagreement about your four-year-olds. Before you know it, your kids will be in middle school and high school, and you may need to serve side-by-side with the same mom on the PTA or as chaperones on a field trip. By that point your differences over time-outs will seem pretty small.
Lastly, remember that parenting is just about the toughest job out there. We all need support as moms, and even if we go about it differently, we should all try to support each other whenever possible. So don’t worry so much about whether your friend keeps an organic-only kitchen or uses cloth diapers. Does she make you laugh? Does she help you keep things in perspective? Do you have a good time when you are with her? Above all, it’s the things that you have in common – your love for and devotion to your kids – that will sustain a friendship over the years.