Women's friendships are often deeper than men's but they can be severed more quickly as well. Just try telling your best friend's child to take a "time out" or that he needs to learn to share or that in our house we don't crash toy trucks into the furniture. In fact, any difference in parenting style can cause one or the other mother to bristle.
The first reaction from most mothers who feel their parenting is questioned or their child is unjustly accused or reprimanded is to become defensive and protective. Some mothers become irate, thinking or saying, how dare you tell my child what to do-or me how to discipline my child. How do you diffuse the tension and preserve the mom friendship?
In his book, The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem, Guy Winch points out that "For women, compared to men, greater and richer vocabulary expressiveness creates a greater sensitivity to the nuances of verbal and nonverbal communication...therefore they [women] have to wield these powerful instruments with a greater degree of care and caution."
Dr. Winch notes that women have an "innate and practiced ability to discuss complaints with female friends." I asked him how should mothers react in the battle ground of parenting styles? Their parenting approach questioned?
Dr. Winch answers: "I advocate using the 'complaint sandwich' in such situations: the two slices of bread are each a compliment or a positive statement and the complaint, the meat, is sandwiched in the middle. For example, [A compliment opener gets the other person's attention] "Lucinda, I think you do a great job with Isabel as you're very consistent. [The complaint or meat of the sandwich is short and delivered without anger] We women have a great sense of our child's specific needs discipline-wise so if you see my Ralphie doing something you don't like let me know and I'll take care of it in a way that's consistent with how I do things [Close the sandwich on a positive note]: I promise to do the same if Isabel acts up so we can be supportive of one another no matter how badly the kids behave."
For more detailed instructions from Guy on how to prepare your complaint sandwich, click here.
In some cases with extreme differences in parenting styles, would it better to see a friend without the children when possible? Or do you believe most differences can be resolved with respect for the other person's point of view?
Dr. Winch answers: It might be better to see the parent without the kids when the differences in parenting styles are extreme. Even at very young ages one child will notice how they are treated differently than the other and that can raise all kinds of other issues that many parents might want to avoid. For instance, when one parent believes in spanking and the other doesn't, seeing a friend getting spanked tends to be very disturbing to the child whose parents don't spank.
When differences exist between how you and a friend manage the children, it may also be wise to evaluate the friendship. Is it worth your being upset when a friend yanks a toy from your child's hand or thinks finger painting on the walls is creative expression? Perhaps, you may want to put that friendship on hold until the children are older.
How did (or do you) remain friends with a mom friend whose parenting style was vastly different from yours? Did you use your verbal skills in a "compliant sandwich," ignore the issue, or drop the friend?
Reference: Winch, Guy. The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem
Copyright 2012 by Susan Newman