Can You Stay Friends With Someone Who Has a Wildly Different Parenting Style?

My friends needed an intervention.

An old friend came and stayed with me for a long weekend recently. Her husband (also an old friend) and their young child came with her, as well.

We’ve grown apart over the years, as people typically do through life’s transitions and changes. But we’ve always managed to pick up right where we left off on those rare occasions that we do actually get to hang out.

But what was supposed to be a relaxing time to catch up with old friends that weekend became an unrelenting four-day exhibition in the travails of neurotic parenting. My friends put the HELL in helicopter parenting -- whirring over their poor child’s every move, fretting over his every glance. Are his toes getting wet? Should his pants be swapped out for shorts? Must he reach for that toy dinosaur himself? Can he really play on the back deck for five seconds alone?

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So much fretting, worrying, indulgence and indecision went into the welfare of this kid that the entire weekend became about him. I didn’t even get a chance to talk to my friends, they were so busy running after their son with an arsenal of useless pacification devices -- cheese sticks, tissues, toys, jackets, mallets, rain coats, brushes.

This isn’t to say that he’s a bad kid. He’s great -- funny, chatty, full of personality. And I understand that parenting a 3-year-old isn’t easy. Parents of littles are constantly on the run. But even with all these considerations, my friends needed an intervention. They needed someone to sit them down and say, “He’s not going to die walking to the bathroom by himself. He will survive. I promise.”

Halfway through the weekend, I found myself watching the clock, waiting for them to leave. As they hovered and gesticulated over his every move, I found myself thinking, "Wow, I wonder if we can be friends anymore."

Which begs the questions: Can you be friends with people who parent a lot differently than you?

I dislike cheesy parenting style classifications, but I would put myself more in the “free range” category. I don’t mind if my 1-year-old takes a tumble; it teaches her body awareness and dexterity. I don’t freak out if my 4-year-old wants to go outside without a jacket; I figure she’ll come in when she’s cold. So, it can be tricky for me to be around people who are the polar opposite of that. To be fair, they probably find it difficult to be around someone as laissez-faire as me.

One thing parenting does above all else is cut to the core of who you really are -- it’s an expression of your values, aims, goals, and attitudes. And seeing my friends reduced to a puddle of insecurity and paranoia over the minute details of their child’s care (who cares if his toes get wet? It’s raining!) makes me -- as bad as it sounds -- sort of second guess them.

I love my friends. We’ve been through so much together. But I can’t help evaluating (even a little bit!) our friendship through the prism of their parenting style. It’s simply not a lot of fun to be around them when they’re in full-blown mommy/daddy mode, because everything becomes an unnecessary crisis, which makes me a little uncomfortable.

So what’s a mom to do? Do you end the friendship? Take a break? I think I’ve decided to take a breather for a while. Let them parent the way they need to without judgment from me. They’re old friends. Old friends are rare and precious and I have to honor that, regardless of how they choose to raise their child. Letting go of them for something so intimate and primal to their way of thinking would be unfair and in some ways, cruel.

It doesn’t really affect me -- not in any real way, anyway -- how they parent, so what do I care?

My hope is that this is a temporary, neurotic “new parenting” phase that will lessen with time. If not, I can always suggest meeting somewhere neutral without the kids next time.