Can we still be friends if our parenting styles are polar opposites?
British expat Melanie Rae wonders if having a totally different parenting style means being friends is no longer an option
I never thought we’d be so different. Clare and I have been best friends since primary school and, despite having gone our separate ways geographically over the years, we’ve maintained our friendship. We always meet up – especially since our children are roughly the same ages – when I visit the UK. But my past few visits have shown glaring differences between the ways we parent our offspring, and I’m starting to worry it’s going to mean the end of our friendship.
I’m all for children experiencing real life as soon as they’re emotionally ready; she doesn’t believe in consequences or punishment. I’m a stickler for table manners and as formal a dining situation as a roomful of little people will allow; she’ll happily chase her children around with a spoon or allow them to run riot amid other diners. Crucially, I still believe in respect – where due – for elders; she’ll let her children speak their minds and it doesn’t matter who’s on the receiving end. And that’s what’s making me think we can’t possibly continue our friendship – at least the way it is now – when our parenting approaches are so vastly different.
There’s a real mix of parenting styles among my mummy friends here. Some follow gentle parenting; some are happy to give their offspring a swift slap on the bottom when they step out of line. Some insist on fresh and organic or nothing; some swing by the Golden Arches at any given opportunity. None of us is on exactly the same page, but when I see them once or twice a month for a play date, it doesn’t really cause a problem. So how about for close friends and, in particular, long-standing close friends? And how about when you’re at polar opposite ends of the spectrum?
It’s a difficult one. Of course, we’re all going to have different ideas about the best way to bring up our children. We’re all going to believe we’re right, because – let’s face it – we wouldn’t be doing it that way if we didn’t. But is it really possible to live and let live, and carry on socialising together, if our approaches really are that different? How do we explain it to our children? Especially in close quarters, for example, when it’s close friends with whom I spend an awful lot of time over here. Or when we visit the UK and stay with Clare and her family for a week.
I don’t want my girls to see another child speak to an adult in a disrespectful way and think it’s acceptable. She probably doesn’t want to see me take toys away from my girls when they’ve just trashed their toyroom and refused to tidy it up. I’m worried she’s looking at me and thinking I could do with growing a small moustache and combing my hair over; she could well be thinking I’m looking at her and wondering why she’s such a pushover (although, to be honest, I think she’s so convinced she’s doing the right thing, she might not even care).
It’s a tough one. I value our friendship and I like that we’ve known each other so long – half the time we don’t even have to say anything to know what the other person is thinking. But I really don’t like that there’s the possibility I’m being judged as a parent, and I don’t like myself for judging someone else as a parent. I can’t see any other conclusion than us going our separate ways; me to my military academy to knock some proper manners into my offspring, Clare to her ivory tower to spend her life as a doormat to her entitled little darlings. I’d be really sad not to have her in my life, and I’d be even more sad that we’re clearly not as good friends as I once thought, but don’t my children come first?
Is too much of a good thing, too much of a good thing?
British freelance writer Elisabeth Maynard questions her sister’s enthusiastic approach to parenting and the domino effect it has on her own children
My sister is an amazing mother. During the day, there is never a dull moment as her kids get whirled from dressing up as pirates to making dens behind the sofa, baking fresh cookies and finishing off a 3-D Peppa Pig puzzle. All before lunchtime.
Watching her as she plays and chases them around the garden is the sort of Enid Blyton existence I wish I had the energy to give my kids, but most Friday mornings my lot are getting a trip to Spinneys as their weekend highlight.
Now while this might be seen as an excuse to appease my mummy guilt, there is a little voice inside that sees all the painting, reading, dancing and cooking as a way of delaying the inevitable… that eventually the games will end and she will need to realise she’s created offspring whose expectations of a regular Monday morning are so wildly unachievable, they will only be disappointed when the fun stops. And it has to stop at some point.
That point is normally about 5pm in my sister’s house, which is when the den is dismantled so the grown-ups can take back ownership of the sitting room.
My nephew then becomes a whining nightmare, and pretty soon my kids will also assume this incessant drone of demands, which makes a sleepover an ongoing challenge.
The droning will then escalate when it becomes clear there aren’t going to be any more puppet shows or Cath Kidston-style crafting sessions as it’s bath time. My nephew is inconsolable and there’s usually some screaming.
You would normally use the naughty step now, but that’s still got the Peppa Pig puzzle on it…
Bedtime would offer blissful relief, if he was going to bed. But considering he’s now so overtired from the scheduled activities and terrified that the Gruffalo they made out of papier mâché earlier in the day is now under his bed, the hysterics are well under way. Which means my kids won’t sleep either.
Any advice given is met with negative comments on my own parenting skills and a reach for the bottle by Mary Poppins, who is now so understandably exhausted that she has turned into Cruella De Vil.
Of course we want our children’s lives to be magical and full of adventures, but we can’t do it at the expense of our own sanity (and bank account).
My sister shouldn’t feel like she needs to prove she’s an amazing mother by making homemade biscuits. And while I understand why she does it, I just hope the kids don’t end up thinking that this is reality. Because most of the time, reality is a packet of chocolate Hobnobs…