The Hard Facts: Friends With Kids

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“No matter the cause, no matter how well-managed the reaction, the disagreements arising over parenting practices can hit hard and cut deep. Because what’s at stake is much more than different ideas about Ferber versus Sears, or organic versus conventional, or the use of timeouts, or the limits to be put on TV time. What is often triggered, in the divide between what mothers and fathers do or don’t do — whether or not those differences escalate into out-and-out confrontations — are convictions that push all the most basic parent-buttons.” (“Friends For Life? Wait Till Kids Enter the Picture”; New York Times, 4/20/2012)

Of all the things that could cause a friendship to break, it never occurred to me that differences in parenting styles would be one of them. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have kids.

Here’s how I see it, er, saw it: The way you parent is behind closed doors and really has no bearing on friendship. It seemed, to me, similar to saying “she runs funny, we can’t be friends.” (Nod to Rachel and Phoebe.) What does running have to do with friendship? How does one affect the other? That’s how I felt about parenting, until I read this article.

It seems I was wrong. In some cases, how you handle your kids can come in direct conflict with your friendships. Especially if how you treat your kids is to never leave them, forcing them on girls nights and asking pals to adjust their environments to fit your needs. I was struck by this story in the article:

One woman, a professor from New York, remembers clearly when she reached the breaking point with close friends. The trouble had started when the friends instituted a 6 p.m. bedtime for their preschool-age son. Then there was the banishing of all creativity-squashing, bright-colored plastic toys. Then there was the diet — raw parsnips, duck eggs, sunflower butter — all ordered up by a naturopathic doctor, who had diagnosed multiple food intolerances in the boy. … In the end, it was a birthday cake that did her in. The dad baked it — “some kind of spelt hoecake,” she recalled. As a memory formed of the little boy, once joyfully eating chocolate cake and ice cream, she lost it. “I said: ‘This is insane. This is bordering on abuse. I can’t take it anymore! I love him, and I think he deserves a birthday cake!’ ”

I’ve always known that how people parent is a really personal thing. The couples I know who have kids all do their care taking differently. I even know that people judge how other people parent. What I didn’t know is that it can have a direct on the relationship  between two adults. But clearly I don’t know much, because, apparently the “clash of [parenting] visions can be explosive.” Yikes.

Have you ever butt heads with a friend over your different approaches to parenting? Can’t we all just get along?



Filed under The Search

26 responses to “The Hard Facts: Friends With Kids

  1. Excellent article!

    The only thing that narks me about parents is ones that teach religion as an absolute and not as an opinion. I have a friend brought up strictly Christian, but he’s never accepted/decided on Christianity, he was always told that it was the only way since a young age. My mum’s an atheist but she always educated me about religion and let me make the choice.

    Half the problem I think is that we’d want our kids to be the best they can be. But what’s best is based on our opinion and is hence flawed with respect to us!

    • My wife and I just had this very conversation. I do believe in God; however, we have decided to raise our future kids to understand what we believe but to educate them on what other religions and opinions are as well. Believing in God is supposed to be a decision, and although I want them to believe in God, it truly should be a decision that they make and not one that is forced on them.

  2. Oh you have no idea! Parenting styles DEFINITELY affect friendships! I’m a stickler on routines and bedtimes. New Year’s Eve is one thing but every Friday and Saturday because the parents want to drink is unacceptable to me.Plus, I have concerns about children watching parents get drunk. So yes, it can definitely be a problem!

    P.S. I’m slowly getting through your book. Please don’t take the pace as a sign of discontent with the reading. The book is great. My life is insanely busy.

  3. OH YES! My sister-in-law does the home school, all organic, no chemical kind of life, which is cool. But she’s never ever flexible. She wonders why we can’t be close, but you are never welcome to drop by and see the kids. Their schedule are exact, never bendable. We once were there to visit and they couldn’t even postpone naptime for 30 minutes. They had to go to bed while their cousins were there to play. It was so ridiculous I quit trying. Finding friends with similar parenting styles is essential, for so many reasons that I can’t even put them all in one comment, but if you’d like a guest blog on the topic, I could write it up! 🙂

    • I so agree with your reply, Tiffany! My husband and I don’t even have kids, and we’ve still lost quite a few friendships over friends who just refuse to drive with children in the car, or a number of equally ridiculous constraints. Some people really think that you don’t need friends if you have kids. It hurts, when a friend has a kid and just forgets your existence.

      • Yes, she always said it was too hard to travel with the kids! I never understood that. I’ve been taking my kids everywhere, forever! Even when I added 4 more, I still travel, and funny thing is, she thinks it’s easier for my family of 9 to go to her house??!! URGH

  4. Anna Sthetic

    My brothers and I were brought up much more strictly than our parents’ friends’ kids, up until each of us hit about eleven, when we were let go and allowed to do whatever we wanted, prettymuch. (Good strategy, as it happens.) I know that both phases caused tension in some social circles.
    I reckon that people can perceive difference as some kind of unspoken criticism sometimes – so a discrepancy in bedtimes turns into a fight where one person thinks the other one is somehow insinuating that they don’t care enough to make sure their child gets enough sleep, and the other parent thinks the first parent is implying they’re some kind of alarm clock Nazi…

  5. I actually lost two friends due to child-reaaring issues. We were friends before any of us had children. I still feel the loss. (I feel bad saying, “I was still right!”)

  6. I met “Jane” at a parenting group, and we loved talking and became phone friends–talking on the phone almost daily. But almost every time we got together with our toddlers, safety issues came up. One day when I went in her backyard, there were dangerous things there (like glass in a bucket). Another day her toddler ran down the street and “hid’ in someone’s car, and Jane thought that was fine. The last straw was when we were at a parenting group picnic and I found her child in the parking lot and tried to coax her back to the group (even though the child protested). Jane said she was fine and to leave her in the parking lot. Later Jane called and said she had “forgiven” me for trying to make her child come away from the cars. I told her I cared about her but our styles were too different, and I would no longer be doing things together with her and her child. Could I have maintained a friendship sans children? No.
    BTW, in regard to the food sensitivities in the article, we’ve had some fairly strange diets and interesting birthday cakes in our house, too, with family members who had severe sensitivities or allergies to chicken eggs, dairy, corn, wheat and sugar… with symptoms ranging from hives head to toe to diarrhea to depression to breathing problems. Avoidance diets or rotation diets are one way to get rid of food intolerances. So one would have to know the entire picture to know whether a strange diet and strange birthday cake is good parenting or obsessiveness.

  7. I think that discussions of parenting philosophies should be treated gingerly between friends- much like discussing religion or politics. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree and just be calmed by your inner voice chanting, “But WE are right! We are right! We are right!”. Smile and nod, my friends, smile and nod!

    • Love this! I’ve already adopted the smile-and-nod with friends whose parenting style has resulted in a bunch of self-centered tyrants being added to this planet, but usually my inner voice is simultaneously screaming and pulling its hair out. I love the we-are-right mantra instead – it will make the smile all the more genuine.

  8. Jen Q

    There is nothing abusive about not feeding a child what he is allergic too. It is abusive to do it. I have food alergies, my one son does, my other 4 kids do not. So I am not attention seeking or being difficult, it is just a medical fact. One wrong bite and either of us could be violently ill. Adults get offended occasionally when I can’t try their award winning family recipe. My son has to opt out of chocolate ice cream and traditional cakes no matter whose brithday it is. Food allergies do create social problems with those who do not understand.

    If some one says “This is how we do things in our family” and I disagee, well, such is diversity. If they say, “And you should be just like me!” well, then it’s a problem. It is also a problem if both people have kids, and of course they play together, and the kid’s behavior influenced by the parenting styles causes problems. The parent who never says no has a kid who hits your kids. The strict parent so uptight she always yells and frets and no one has fun. Parents with kids so over schedualed, you never see them anymore. The kids who are left in unsafe situations, so you are trying to be friends while wondering if you should call social services. Etc… Parenting styles of friends who’ll last have to be similar enough to be compatable.

    And really, how someone parents is a reflection of who they are, what they believe, and that determines if you can be friends with a person. Having kid’s changes people, and they make issues more real. It is far easier to ignore differences when they are only hypothetical. When kids enter the picture, a person’s beliefs become manifest in little humans they are totally responsible for, madly in love with, and are willing to die for. Now that is intense, how can it not affect everything?

    Also, I have also lost many a childless good and even bestfriend because I do not force my kids on them, and yet I do not have enough babysiting to keep up with the childfree life – apparently – as I am now no longer contacted by them. The activites they want to do are not at all child friendly anyway if I did want to bring kids. So it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t on that front.

    • Amen to everything you said, Jen Q. Our extended family has lovingly made some weird (but fun) birthday cakes to accommodate severe allergies, too, where a traditional cake would have caused an emotional scene (allergic reaction) and physical reactions.

  9. For a period of 10 years I couldn’t visit a certain group of friends because of our children. It was my choice but it was a difficult one. I was brought up with rules that prevent problems in the future such as not hitting other children (even pesky siblings), no jumping on beds until they break, in restaurants and at home children had to follow the same rules as the adults: no climbing along the tops of banquettes, no running up and down aisles whether the room is empty or not, and most of all no exceptions to the rules because a kid doesn’t understand why they can do something one place and not another. My decision moment came when my daughter at age 5 couldn’t understand why she couldn’t do these things with the children of my friends. So I quietly withdrew from any child-included events which basically meant all events. Was it worth losing the friendships for a period of time? Definitely. There is no greater influence on children than peer groups as they get older. I didn’t whine about it, I found new people to hang out with that had similar expectations of their children.

  10. Oh this is so true. It’s a shame that it happens sometimes, but friends do drift apart when their parenting styles don’t match. I feel lucky (knock on wood) that it hasn’t happened to me… yet (and I hope never). I don’t know if it’s because the parents I’m friends with are parents who I clicked with before kids or during pregnancy? And don’t get me wrong, there are moments I think “I wouldn’t do that with my kid,” but overall we share similar discipline, nutrition, sleep & play visions for our kids. I think everyone is entitled to raise their kids how they want, and I think everyone is entitled to slip a little bit every now & then. The one good thing I see in having friends with different parenting styles, is perhaps it can open up eyes to doing it a little differently – cuz you never know, it might just work for your kid.
    Great post, thanks!

  11. Christina

    I actually lost a friendship over this matter. I was invited to a friends New Year’s eve bowling event and the grand daughter who was 6 years old was an out of control, hyperactive brat. Half the time instead of bowling, we were looking for the kid who was running all over the crowded bowling alley with her 6 year old friend. (In this age of pervs snatching kids, not keeping an eye on a child while at a crowded venue is asking for trouble, IMHO. )

    Anyway… when I told the child to sit down and behave (when it began climbing on tables and standing on chairs) my friend who was the grandparent and also my co-worker became upset with me about it… and told me it was not my business. We argued about it and she then said that she no longer wanted to hang out with me anymore and proceeded thereafter to give me the complete snob treatment at work.

  12. See for me and my friend it’s not different parenting styles. I’m not a parent. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell an ill-behaved child when I see one. I was over at her house one day and her son (9) and his cousin (8) were playing and the difference between their manners were night and day. She asked them not to do something and the cousin said “ok, no problem I’ll stop” but for her son it was a 10 minute whining argument. As is everything for him. He’s disrespectful (I’ve heard him be flat out rude to his grandmother and no one told him to apologize) and argumentative about everything. He’s entitled and selfish. He lacks any sympathy or empathy for other people because it’s all about him (mom lost her job? Does that mean he can’t get a new iPod? You’re 9! Why do you need an iPod in the first effing place?).
    If everything we did didn’t have to include the little brat it’d be less of a problem but he is always there. Every movie we see, every place we eat (my effing birthday dinner!), every thing we do he has to be there. I’ve known him for 3 years and I keep waiting for him to change but he’s not going to because my friend isn’t raising him to be a functioning adult. I pretty much can’t deal with him anymore which means I can’t deal with her. I won’t put up with brats and she won’t let anyone tell her her son is a brat.

  13. Juliette

    How you raise your children can be a very clear mirror of your character. It would be impossible for me to be friends with a woman to did not believe was doing her best to be a good mother,

  14. Dr. J

    I feel that friendship involves reciprocity. Most of my friends who have children have completely abandoned any attempt at maintaining our friendship at all. These friends never call, never make an effort to come to even important social events, yet they want and expect me to make that effort. I do understand that social opportunities are more limited when you have children. But if I’m ALWAYS the one calling, offering to stop by, or attending your events, then what kind of friendship is that? I can’t put my life on hold for twenty years until your children are grown.

  15. I lost a best friendship once over her criticism of my parenting, although it was probably a friendship that needed to grow apart anyway. We were college friends and married near the same time. (She was one of my bridesmaids). She had (has) four kids, decided to be a stay-home mom (awesome), and was rabidly and vocally anti-daycare. My husband I were married 10 years before having kids, I went to grad school and got a job, and so my oldest was slightly younger than her youngest. And we put him in day care at 4 months. Looking back I can see some signs of tension emerging, but we spent a big chunk of money when he was almost 2 (a difficult age to travel under the best of circumstances) and flew cross-country to visit her and her family. We stayed a few days, and it was at times a challenging trip for me, because I wanted to hang out with my friend and soak up her kids, and my own kid was at kind of a challenging age. When I got home, I got a looooong email from her dissecting and picking apart all the things I was doing wrong as a mom, and detailing how I needed to “rein him in.” I cannot tell you how crushed and hurt I was. We have (kind of) repaired our friendship (thanks to facebook), and are now back in touch and can communicate and occasionally share laughs (and she is even complimentary about my kids sometimes) but I will never forget the pain of that letter, which blindsided me. Hopefully it’s made me a more compassionate friend.

  16. We CAN all just get along, but only if everyone involved is mature about it and keeps a balanced perspective. I don’t have kids, but a kid issue almost mushroomed into a friendship-ending explosion for me and my BFF when I intimated that she was worrying too much about a small incident that could possibly be less than entirely comfortable for her daughter. We were both upset, and fuming for a few hours, me at work, her at home, when she called later in the evening and said, “This is dumb. We’re both unhappy not talking to each other, so we need to just put this behind us. That was 12 years ago, and we’re still BFsF. I’m glad we agreed to be mature and not dwell on our differences.

  17. On the other hand, there are times we CAN’T all get along. For instance, with a good friend who thinks it’s just fine to let her son whip out his privates 2 ft. away from me and take a whizz, I won’t be frequenting her house to visit. So she comes to my house, but she calls me a snob for reprimanding her 7 year old son for climbing on our new $800 ceramic fountain that we bought when we landscaped our yard. That was her last visit, since my husband and I think kids should respect others’ houses and furniture. So I guess every parent and kid and friend is different.

  18. Laurie Lee

    The thing is you don’t only parent behind closed doors. When the kids are small you are constantly with other moms and their kids. So, if the parenting style is different there can be conflicts.

  19. I think the big issue is whether or not you can accept each other as people and respect the other person in general. I have friends who do things differently, but I respect them as people and their right to make different choices for their kids as fits their situation. As long as disciplinary issues (and the lack of handing them) don’t affect our kids’ ability to play together, and there does not exist a sense of condescension or judgment, I think differences can exist. The parties have to trust that when different approaches are discussed it’s sharing, not a personal attack, and that trust requires some time and other positive experiences to build. Also, as I’ve recently discovered, if your only connection is your kids, and you have many differences in parenting approaches, conversations can end up feeling like a battleground when there is no safe, mutually interesting topic to share. So it helps to have many mutual interests if parenting practices differ. I do think that flexibility and committment to the friendship are important for those friends with children, as it is easy to wrap up all our energies in our little ones and forget our friends along the way.

  20. Everyone has already said the thoughts I was having while I read, but I’ll write them anyway to lend them support. To me the problem with certain friendships has to do with respect. Do they respect that parents can do things differently without being condescending or rude about them? Do they respect the situational requirements (like no kids at moms’ night out)? And the biggest one echoes what Pamela said above: are their disciplinary styles similar? Because to me that is a big indicator of what level of respect that they and their child have for others and their property. I haven’t been able to grow or maintain friendships with people who won’t teach their children that it’s wrong to hit others or break toys or speak rudely. Kids will do those things and I don’t judge that, but some parents ignore it. It’s too much strain and I agree with the person above who said that peer influences on kids are enormous, so limiting who their peers are now while they’re still little is the best I can do. Also, it’s just too distracting for me to be able to enjoy that friend’s company, no matter how much I might like her.

    But I will confess here that sometimes even little things have bugged me enough that I don’t have playdates with certain friends anymore. One friend is so over involved her child’s play – and then mine when we get together – that it is distracting and annoying. She constantly suggests games to them, constantly cleans up after them, constantly allows interruptions from her child. However, in this case, I don’t feel like I have to stop being friends with her; rather, now I try to see her without our kids.

    In any case, I know that some of these things may seem a bit silly to people who don’t have kids, but our children do take up so much of our lives that it impacts *all* of our relationships – with our spouses, with our extended families, with our careers and colleagues, and yes, with our friends.

  21. Your blog is wonderful!

    And yes, I have butt heads with friends over how they parent and with those who have a problem with how I choose to parent.

    Most of my friends have the same parenting style, but one in particular, have children who are OUT OF CONTROL!!! They are only unruly when she, their mom who is my friend, is around, which means that she is their doormat and they know that they can do and or say whatever they feel like when she is in their presence. So, since she has not made it clear to them that their behavior is unacceptable and offensive they are not allowed over my house anymore.

    And the friends who have a problem with what I do with my children are the ones without children. No disrespect to the single people out there (men/women without any children), but they aren’t even worth commenting on. I can’t take advice from people who have yet to walk a day in my shoes.

    In a perfect world, yes, we could all get along, but most people take their kids seriously. It’s bad enough that our children are naturals at plucking our last nerve. We do not need to add fuel to the fire by allowing them to pick up more bad habits from some other momMEs kid.

    And I can’t fault single people for not wanting to have to deal with a whiny toddler while they are catching up over lunch with their old girlfriend. I have been traded by a few friends since having children and although it hurt, it’s just us growing in different directions and that’s ok because I need friends with children who understands and appreciate when I need a MomME break.

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