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Parent conversations: When parenting philosophies differ

Is it just me or does it seem like getting along with everyone has gotten harder over the past couple of years? We’re so divided on so many issues. It’s easy to see those with differing opinions as the enemy. This plays out in the parenting world as well and can get pretty sticky. I really appreciate the Christian perspectives that both Sarah Reik and Ann Ponath bring to this conversation. We don’t all need to do things the same way, but we do all need to treat one another with Christian love.

— Nicole Balza

I REMEMBER being a teenager and observing parents with little kids sitting near me in church. “Why can’t they keep them quiet? I would never let my kids move around that much!” Those particular judgments vanished as soon as I experienced sitting in church with my own children. But isn’t that tendency to judge still present when we have friends who parent differently? How can we navigate our differences with grace and love?

Understand the differences

The best antidote to judgment is understanding. Why does my friend parent differently than I do? It likely has to do with past experiences. Does a parent seem overprotective? Maybe she had a traumatic experience growing up. Does a parent seem overly critical of what seems to be a slight misbehavior? Maybe he knows from experience that if he doesn’t stop that behavior immediately it will lead to a meltdown. As I come to know friends on a deeper level, I come to understand their parenting choices, even when they are very different from mine.

Respect the differences

As we come to understand why we parent differently, we can learn to respect those differences. One way I do that is by encouraging my friends’ children to respect their parents, even if they make different choices than I would. I once had a boy over at my house and was serving pizza and soda for my son’s birthday. The boy said to me, “I’ll take water—my mom wouldn’t want me to have soda.” Rather than say, “Oh, it’s just a little treat, I’m sure it would be okay,” I praised him for respecting his mom’s wishes—and made sure she knew about it! The other way to respect differences is in how we talk to our children about them. If one of my children asks why their friend’s parents made a certain choice, I use phrases such as, “They just choose to do it differently in their family,” or “That must just work better for their kids—we don’t all need to do things the same way.” What a great opportunity to model acceptance of others!

Protect the differences

We can respect differences and stand up for the choices we make for our children at the same time. One time we were at a football game and a parent sitting next to us said, “Oh my! Look at those children high up in the tree! What parents would ever let their children do that?” My husband and I just smiled and said, “Pretty sure they’re ours. They love climbing trees.” Whether it’s what you allow your children to do or what you don’t, it’s good to be clear about the values and boundaries you have set for your family. This may lead to some difficult conversations. Maybe you pick your son up early from the sleepover because you don’t want him watching the R-rated movie. Maybe you say no to a cell phone, video game, or app for your children, even when your friends’ kids all have it. It is so important in our friendships to approach each other in love and humility, but we can be confident in our different choices at the same time.

Learn from the differences

I’ve come a long way since I was that teenager sitting in church, and throughout the years I’ve had the opportunity to observe many different parenting styles. Not only have I come to respect the differences, but at times I’ve even adapted my own approach based on what I’ve learned. My husband and I have watched and learned as our friends teach their children to be generous and good-mannered. My friends have told me they have learned from us how to help their children be more responsible and take more risks. We’ve all encouraged one another in how to teach our children love for their Savior. We’ve learned from our differences, and we’ve learned that God knew what he was doing when he placed his children with the parents he chose for them.

Sarah Reik

 first birthday! You’ve carefully created a sugar-free cake so your one-year-old can enjoy the day in a healthy way, but then one of the other parents starts spooning ice cream into his mouth.

It’s a park playdate! Your daughter is clambering all over the equipment like a monkey while you casually observe, but you notice that your child’s friend’s mom is more like a spotter at a gymnastics meet.

When differences arise in areas not delineated in Scripture, be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

It’s your teen’s first day with his new driver’s license! Your teen is convinced that driving into the big city to see a basketball game with his friend is completely doable, and his friend’s parents are okay with it too.

Whether you realize it or not, ever since you first contemplated parenthood, you’ve been developing your own parenting philosophy. Faith, nutrition, sleep, discipline, education, curfews, and more all fall under this umbrella. But what if your child’s friends’ parents have different ideas on which movies or prom dresses are appropriate? And what if you discover that philosophy contrasts not just with that of the mom next door but also with that of your spouse? Even after four children test-driving our parenting philosophies, my husband and I still find ourselves in these “sticky situations,” but searching Scripture and our hearts, here’s what we’ve learned.

First, “set your minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2) with God’s Word as your guide. Certain family tenets may change based on the child or the situation, but if the Bible speaks directly for or against something, that’s the final word. It is not okay to pepper casual conversation with God’s name or spread the latest gossip in a group chat. Immersing your family from birth in God’s law and gospel is crucial and foundational, always remembering to “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and to “shine . . . like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15,16).

Disagreeing over how many sports per season are beneficial or family rules for teenage dating? You are not alone! The Bible tells us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and not to “be anxious about anything, but in every situation . . . present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). God promises to listen and answer our prayers even when “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).

When differences arise in areas not delineated in Scripture, be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19,20). Think about growth, not conflict; listen, learn, communicate, maybe even change, as you consider other ideas that may coexist with or even replace your own. Not every child fits the same mold, and loving discipline can take many forms.

Finally, remember that in this sinful world not all conflicts will result in successful compromises—we will not always get our way; everything will not always fall neatly into place. Colossians 3:12-14 reminds us that we are God’s chosen people, “holy and dearly loved,” who are to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Maybe one spoonful of ice cream is worth a peaceful party; it’s alright if your friend’s playground posture differs from yours; and you can take your time in deciding if your teenager will drive to the game. With God’s help, may you and yours be blessed as you navigate the not always easy parenting journey, each in your own God-pleasing way.

Ann Ponath

Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 109, Number 01
Issue: January 2022

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This entry is part 19 of 70 in the series parent conversations

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