How to Manage Different Parenting Styles on a Playdate
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Gentle Parenting is an awesome parenting strategy. You use positive language, connection before correction and natural consequences to create a peaceful home. Your children learn to do what’s right out of a willing heart, and you’re able to take a step back and learn not to sweat over the small stuff.
Gentle Parenting is great.
But it’s not the norm.
And as confident as you can be in your Gentle Parenting approach it can all come crashing down when you face the inevitable.
Interacting with other parents.
Your friends who have kids, or the parents of your child’s friends, might not use Gentle Parenting, and this can sometimes we difficult to balance when the families get together.
Personally, I am all for parents choosing how they want to parent (as long as it’s truly safe and legal). I write this blog to educate parents on Gentle Parenting but if after reading my stuff it’s not their cup of tea then that’s ok. If they want to for their child to say sorry, or give time outs it’s not my place to tell them they shouldn’t. They’re the parents, and if they’re interested in positive discipline then I am going to be right here to teach them about it.
But parenting my child around a parent who parents differently can be treacherous waters.
Why is it hard to have different parenting styles?
It’s difficult to have different parenting styles than your friends for a few reasons
#1. You don’t want them to discipline your child the way they discipline their child.
#2. You won’t force your child to do something “nice” that they might force their child to do to your child (ex. Sharing).
#3. You’re worried they will feel like you are judging them by choosing not to do things the same way as them.
I think this is mostly a problem when the fellow parent is someone you are close with. In casual encounters it is easy to avoid these things, but when the fellow parent is a dear friend it can feel differently. You don’t want to sacrifice the friendship but you also don’t want to compromise your parenting style.
So what do you do?
Now I know it’s tough, especially if you’re non-confrontational like me, but in order to manage different parenting styles on playdates or with your friends there are two things you can do.
#1. Talk to them about it
#2. Model Gentle Parenting
When do different parenting styles become an issue?
For the most part, you can avoid clashing, but when behaviour issues come up with one of the children that’s when the different parenting styles can become very obvious.
Maybe your friend yells at their child, or forces them to share, or forces them to say sorry, or says no all the time, or even spanks them.
These can really become an issue when…
#1. They’re trying to discipline your child in the same way.
#2. They expect you to do the same to your child when they misbehave.
#3. Your child becomes afraid (ex. When their friend gets spanked or yelled at).
So what should you say?
It can be very hard to talk to your friends about this without coming across as judgemental – especially when the issue is spanking which you might feel very strongly about.
It is important to address that differences are ok.
You can let them know that you are totally ok with the fact that you two do things differently, maybe you could point out some of your differences.
“You know, we are such great friends even though we do things differently. I had an epidural but you gave birth without any pain meds! I love that we can be friends even through our differences.”
By starting out with a positive look on your differences it will help your friend to know you’re ok with the fact that you do things differently. If you can think of a difference that doesn’t even apply to motherhood/parenting that could be a great observation.
You can continue by saying,
“Now that we are both parents we are coming into our own specific parenting styles and we have to make decisions that we believe are best for our own family. What’s best for me might not be best for you, and vice versa. So we will probably do things differently and that’s ok. I don’t expect us to do things the exact same because we have different kids.
Personally I lean more towards Gentle Parenting, so I use positive discipline and have made a conscious decision to say “no” less and also not to spank. So I might make different choices in regards to disciplining my child.
I don’t want our parenting styles to get in the way of our friendship, or the friendship of our kids, so I think it’s best if we can commit to respecting each other’s differences for the best interest of each child. I’m sure neither of us wants the other one to discipline our child in a way we’re not comfortable with, or to receive parenting advice we didn’t ask for. Do you think you can honour our differences for the sake of the friendships?”
Now of course you can change this in anyway to fit your needs. By speaking in this way you are being kind and non-judgemental while also setting some boundaries for both of you. Notice how I have avoided starting sentences with, “you,” and this is an intentional choice on my parent. By starting sentences with “I” instead of “you” you can avoid it feeling like you’re pointing fingers or only focusing on them. You two are making an agreement together, and just as much as you want your friend to respect your choices you are willing to respect theirs.
What if you have specific issues with how they parent?
If you are a Gentle Parent you probably don’t want to use spanking or yelling as discipline. (If you’re on the fence about spanking you can check this out). So if your child is scared, or if the other parent wants you to spank your child for something, then you probably need to tackle this issue head on in addition to what you might have already said.
Some parents choose to always have playdates at their own home, and tell any visitors that they are a “spank-free” home and request that they don’t use spanking in their home because it confuses and scares their child. This is how you can talk to your friend about it:
“I know that you use spanking as discipline, and I’m sure you tell your child that spanking is different than hitting, but we don’t spank my child and they don’t understand that spanking is different than hitting so spanking scares and confuses them. When we are at my house if you could refrain from using spanking that would really help me a lot.”
Again, you don’t want to come across as judgemental or critical, but you can rephrase this in the best way for your own situation.
Be as kind and gentle as possible with your friend, just as you have learnt to be with your child. Making them feel bad about their parenting choices won’t help the situation at all, it will probably make them feel very closed to what you have to say.
Model Gentle Parenting – Don’t Preach It
You might feel uncomfortable with how they choose to discipline their child, but if their parenting choices aren’t affecting your child in any way then it might not be your place.
Honestly, I don’t think most people enjoy getting advice they didn’t ask for. Actually, that was the #1 thing I didn’t like about being a new mom.
So you might be like me and be super passionate about Gentle Parenting and just wish the whole world knew how super duper it was, but constantly preaching it to your friend might make them feel judged rather than encouraged.
Allow them to ask your questions, and you can talk about it when it naturally comes up, but if you start to constantly give them advice they didn’t ask for it might be difficult for them to see how great Gentle Parenting really is.
So if you want them to know how great Gentle Parenting is you would be better off showing them.
Use Gentle Parenting with your own child, use positive language with both children, and just be your typical gentle self.
Gentle Parenting certainly doesn’t guarantee instant results, it’s a long term approach. You’re not looking for instant good behaviour from your child, you’re helping them to develop a heartfelt willingness to do what’s good. So there may be days where on onlooker might think Gentle Parenting is wack, but overtime the effectiveness of your approach may become quite clear. And a lot of people don’t just want to hear that Gentle Parenting is good, they want to see it.
And your friend might never really be into positive discipline and that’s ok. If she’s interested though tell her what you know and feel free to refer her here. This article is a great intro for someone new to Gentle Parenting.
What if the different parenting styles remains an issue?
No more playdates.
Your friendship doesn’t have to end, but it just might be best if the two of you hang out without the children.
If you can’t respectfully honour each other’s differences there may be a lot of judgement and criticism between the two of you. For some friends this issue can become so big that their entire friendship ends, and I am so sorry for anyone who has had this happen to them.
You can only do what you can on your end, by being as kind and loving as possible, but some people will feel very strongly about their parenting style to the point of intruding in your parenting.
It happens, and it stinks.
Surround yourself with like minded parents
Even if your authoritarian style parent friend can get along with you just fine, it’s still great to have a community of like minded friends. Try finding like minded friends who can support and encourage you on your Gentle Parenting journey.
Do you have any Gentle Parenting friends? How did you meet them? Drop a comment below to tell us about your friendships and how it encourages you as a parent.
But if you’re totally new to this Gentle Parenting thing, or want some confidence to really know what you’re doing and what you’re talking about, then check out my free course, Gentle Foundations for Parenting. It will give you a kickstart into this awesome parenting style. Sign up below to get started with a parenting style that will change your life!
The Moving Mama
Lizzy Mash is an experienced early childhood educator now living in Africa as a missionary working with children and families.
She teaches Christian moms how to take a more respectful and Christ-like approach to motherhood by using Gentle Parenting strategies.
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