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How Different Parenting Styles Affect Friendships

And what you can do about it.

When I gave birth to my first child, I was the first of my friends to have a baby.

I was determined to remain the pre-kids Trish, while also transforming into an all-loving mama bear. This meant listening to friends lament about botched dates, as I bounced a fractious baby on my knee. It meant going for drinks when we had visitors, being careful not to disappoint with early-evening exits. It meant keeping in touch with long-distance friends, and being mindful not to dominate the conversation with what my genius three month old was doing at the moment.

I was so determined to prove that motherhood was not going to swallow me whole.

And it didn't. But I was labouring under the misapprehension that what would affect my friendships, was my ability to stay up late and still be able to focus during conversations. It wasn't until my friends started having babies that I discovered that how we parented our kids would really be what changed our relationships.

When disciplining styles clash

Parenting is so personal, which is why it gets tricky when you parent side-by-side other parents on play dates or road trips. Friends who were always easy to be around, are suddenly a source of stress. Joanna, a mother of three from Vancouver, shared a story with me about a time when her family travelled with close friends.

"Their son and our son got into some trouble, and ours was disciplined and given consequences — their child was not," she explained. "Our son kept asking why in the world he got away with it. This was not the first time something like this had happened. It is very difficult to stay close friends with people who don't parent the same way, because your kids look at you like, 'why am I in trouble, but they aren't?"

It's tough to explain to kids that what we deem important for them to learn, may not be important for their friend. I have been in this predicament myself and it's difficult to communicate with a child who feels that the boundaries unfairly only apply to him. But in light of not judging how others parent and trying to model this, I have to explain to him that I'm concerned with his behaviour — not the other child's.

Differing domestic lives

If it is not our disciplining differences that challenge our friendships, perhaps it is our varying domestic lives.

Victoria, a mother of two from Alberta, said: "My friend is really bothered by the fact that I have a nanny three days a week while my toddler is at daycare and the newborn is at home. She decided to do it all by herself, and she did. Good for her! But I find it really hard, and I will take all the help I can get."

The choices we make about how to discipline, feed and educate our children, are stacked up on top of whether we work, who we use for childcare, and how much help we receive. It seems like there is no escaping judgement from other parents. We are all in line to be persecuted for the choices we make at some point.

Debbie, a mother of three from Calgary, shared her wise advice with me on the importance of honoring your friends' limits, rather than casting judgement.

"What we all need to realize is that we have our own personal limits, and they are different from person to person. Recognizing, accepting and showing support for our friend's limits can be the key to successful friendships post-kids."

How you can save your friendship

When we become new parents, some of us read all the parenting books, make plans and load ourselves up with expectations, while others enter parenthood with more of a laissez-faire attitude. During these early years, parents are prone to judging each other more, parenting expert Beverley Cathcart-Ross explained. And when these friends take on different approaches to parenting, their kids may experience an unexpected clash. She said that speaking with your friend about your concerns is key to saving your friendship.

"One hundred per cent, you have to talk about it," Cathcart-Ross said. "It's the elephant in the room, but all four adults are aware of the difference and the issue, so it isn't about right and wrong. You can say, 'This is what we're practicing in our family and we see you guys are doing things differently. At the time, this is what works for us and we don't want to impose this on you, but it's obviously going to cause struggles. So how can we handle this?'"

Handling the matter delicately and without any fingers pointed is the key to harmonizing a stressful situation, Cathcart-Ross explained.

"You don't have to insist that the other parent do things differently, you just have to inform them as to what you're doing," Cathcart-Ross advised. "The adult relationship is separate, and we can be big about it. This is how it is at this point in time, but things will evolve and parenting will change."

When we enter parenthood, we're all so busy just trying to do our best, each and every day — regardless of the parenting style we take on. The more we can keep this in mind, the less room there will be for judgment.

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