If you're lucky, the parents or caregivers of your children's friends will share many if not most of your same values and parenting ideals. But that is not always the case. For these other times, there is still a way to try and navigate relationships with the parents of children your child is friends with without letting parental differences get in the way. Here are some ideas to help you on your way.
Getting to know you
Just as your children are starting a relationship with others, so too must parents start a relationship with the parents of their child's friend. It doesn't necessarily have to be a close relationship, but it does have to be filled with respect, understood boundaries and open communication. If we want our children to treat others well, then we must model that behavior with the parents of others.
Start with an introduction at school drop off or pick up or another common ground and set the stage for healthy parent-to-parent relationships. Let the other parents know you are involved in your child's life and will be aware of time your kids spend together. Even if you don't have a chance for in-depth communication initially, make sure to set aside some time for a conversation when and if your child will be spending time over at their friend's home or when their friend will be coming to your residence.
Not seeing eye to eye
Once you've gotten to know another parent, you might realize you don't want to be friends with them. That's okay. If you don't share values or ideas on parenting, then keep some distance to avoid disagreement, but be friendly. You don't have to tell your kids how you feel about the other parents. "This can make your child uncomfortable and can create negative feelings if the gossip gets back to the parents," said Gayle Weill, licensed clinical social worker who specializes in child-parent psychotherapy, in an article in verywellfamily.com.
"Know your deal breakers and anything outside of that, grin it and bear it," said Laura Doyle, author of best-selling author of Things will Get as Good as You Can Stand and a relationship coach. If you do have larger concerns, however, especially with regard to safety issues, those need to be addressed.
Setting the stage for respect and boundaries
When you have a chance, make sure to bring up topics you feel strongly about with the other parents. If you put certain parameters on your child's behavior - including not allowing soft drinks or junk food, restricting access to digital devices, or regulating what they watch on television or at the movies, make sure to make those boundaries known. At the same time, consider that other families have their own standards. It is up to you whether to grant exceptions or have them hold firm, but talk about it with your kids and the other parents.
There are occasions when more in-depth and sensitive conversations should take place. If you feel strongly that you don't want certain topics discussed, including politics, religion and other sensitive issues discussed, make that clear with other parents. That doesn't necessarily mean that everything you say will be respected, but it does give you a barometer of how much you can trust other parents.
Be tolerant and understanding but know where to draw the line
Just as your child will have to learn how to be accepting of differences with their friends, so too will you have to be accepting of other parents and their ideas about child rearing. It's okay for your children to be exposed to different ideas, even about parenting. If you are open to it, you might also learn from how parents deal differently with situations. Still, hold firm to your ideals, especially when they involve safety issues or fundamental values.
Not every parent is alike, but if you don't let your kids be outside unsupervised after a certain hour or in certain places, make sure to let other parents know about it. If those values are not respected, that can be a deal breaker when it comes to your child spending time at their friend's or out alone with the other family.
In the article, "When You Can't Stand Your Kid's Friend's Parents," in education.com, one parent encouraged others to make distinctions between parents they may not like, and those who could put their child in danger. When she found out that her child was at a house with unlocked hunting rifles, it was time to take action. "Two teenage boys and guns floating around the house did not make for a good outcome," said Cheryl Butler, who writes as Mighty Mommy for Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting.. "(The father) didn't deny it, and told us it was his business as to how he stored things in his house. Let's just say that was our signal that our son would never, ever be hanging out with that child in his house."
When your child starts making friends, you will have to start interacting with other parents and many of these issues will likely come up. But there is no reason to wait. Join The Children's Trust Parent Club for free workshops to build parenting skills, ways to build relationships with your kids and interact with other parents. Visit www.TheChildrensTrust.org/ParentClub for more information.