She’s a more permissive parent — and it’s tearing us apart
My cousin Chavi and I live in the same community. Over the years, we’ve become much more friendly because of our kids; her oldest two girls are in high school with my middle daughters and they’re all close friends.
Lately, though, things have become very uncomfortable. Chavi’s parenting style is much looser and more permissive than mine. Not irresponsible, just looser. Even when they were preteens, she allowed her daughters to do things and go places that my husband and I weren’t comfortable with our daughters doing/going to. Not hashkafically, but safety-wise.
I understand that many things depend on the girls themselves, and their maturity and responsibility level, but here we’re discussing typical American teenagers who are all more or less on the same level of responsibility and maturity. The main factor is simply parenting styles.
But the fallout is impacting our friendship. Our two families are very intertwined, and our daughters are having a hard time finding a middle ground when they want to do something together. Days off, Sundays, winter vacation, summer vacation — my daughters want to make plans with their friends/cousins and it always becomes contentious.
I don’t feel I need to defend my choices to anyone, but with Chavi I suddenly do. Either to her or to my kids. Sometimes, my girls tell Chavi’s daughters that it’s crazy that they’re allowed to do XYZ and her daughters counter that my daughters should grow up. Many times our daughters get upset over what they perceive as overprotectiveness, and I end up feeling resentful toward Chavi.
It’s gotten to the point where I constantly feel annoyed with Chavi. I have no problem with the fact that she’s probably rolling her eyes over what she perceives as overprotective parenting, the same way I always sort of rolled my eyes at her overly casual parenting. That’s fine — different strokes for different folks, and it’s not my business. Until — it kind of did become my business because it causes me to be the bad guy. It’s hard not to have hard feelings when my kids are frustrated with me!
The one time we did try to discuss this it backfired, with each of us feeling attacked for our parenting styles, which was just futile. I’m not trying to change anyone.
At this point, I feel like our parenting differences and differences in standards get in the way of our friendship, which is a relationship that we both really value, because I am feeling resentful towards her. How can I get myself into a better mindset about accepting her decisions when it’s affecting my relationship with my teenagers?
Sarah Wikler, MA, MFT, a former high school principal, is a therapist in full-time private practice in Lakewood, NJ. She works with children, teenagers, and adults.
You’d like to know how you can come to accept your friend’s decisions more wholeheartedly. The truth is that you don’t need to accept her decisions. They are her decisions the same way your decisions are yours. And no one outside of your family needs to be able to accept them. What parents do need is the confidence to stick to the value system of their home.
You say that you’re resentful toward Chavi, but nothing you described indicates that this is coming from her. It sounds as if the problem is that Chavi’s daughters are being given more freedom than your daughters. Your daughters are then upset and take that out on you. Instead of dealing with that issue, you’re resentful of Chavi for giving her daughters more freedom. It’s as if her parenting is making your parenting more challenging.
And yet, this scenario is not any different from any other situation where parents try to instill values in their home — whether they are hashkafah-based, safety-related, or anything else. People around us have different views than we do, and every family has different hashkafos and rules. At some point or another — and usually many times over the years — every mother will come up against a situation that challenges her values and forces her to stand strong in the face of opposition.
Let’s say your sister lives close by and buys takeout for supper twice a week. If your daughters begin to nag you about buying takeout like their aunt, would it make sense to be resentful of your sister? The people in our lives will be different, and we don’t need to — and shouldn’t — be resentful of people who aren’t exactly like us.
Yes, there might be times we should cut off bad influences, and we might try to stay away from whatever topics or issues might be points of contention with people who see things differently than us. But, in general, we can have friends who are different from us. Your first grader might have a friend who plays outside until 10 p.m. or rides her bike without a helmet. Even a first grader can be taught: “They do what they do, and we do what we do.”
What’s your response to any other issue that comes up that challenges your values? The same would apply here. This isn’t simple and it’s understandable to feel irritated when your kids are getting frustrated. Yet, as in any other situation, if you know that what you’re doing is correct for your family, then this shouldn’t translate into resentment toward your cousin.
It does appear, though, that there’s some friction between you and your daughters over limit setting, and that’s when you begin to feel upset with Chavi. Your resentment may be misplaced. Perhaps you’re really resentful toward your daughters for not accepting your limits?
In order to maintain a solid relationship with your daughters, try to create and maintain a positive atmosphere within your home. Don’t bend your values. Parents might allow certain things against their will because they are afraid of their teenagers’ reactions. That’s not the answer, because that would just make you more resentful.
Of course, there are times where parents might need to reevaluate their rules and values if they see the rules are truly not working or creating excessive tension at home. Only you can decide if that’s necessary here. Your daughters want to have fun. Instead of feeling like the bad guy and resenting that you can’t send your children with Chavi’s children, brainstorm ways of keeping your daughters happy within your value system.
It might mean introducing other friends into their routine with whom they can spend their vacation days, or you yourself taking them to the places where they want to go, or arranging a chaperone to take them on a fun, safe outing. But once your daughters are happy and you’ve figured out a way to reduce the friction between them and your values, your resentment toward Chavi should dissipate.
This issue is not really about her at all, but your home, your values, and how to create an environment where your children can feel secure and have acceptable alternatives when other families have rules and values that differ from yours.
I hope these suggestions help you eliminate your resentment toward Chavi so you’re able to restore and maintain your valuable friendship.
In every relationship, communication is the key to keeping the dynamics healthy and happy. Here’s how to keep the lines open:
All friendships go through bumpy times. Sometimes the little bumps are insignificant and you can pick up where you left off after they smooth themselves out. Other times, those bumps — however minor — can create a rift or a handicap in the relationship.
There are times when a friend is not acting herself, lets you down, upsets you, or causes you hurt or pain. When that happens, the most important thing is dialogue. Have a conversation about it. Talk it out. It’s so unhealthy to hold it in and assume it will just go away by itself. It usually doesn’t. Somewhere down the road, it will pop out in a very negative way. Something else may happen and suddenly everyone is overreacting, or there’s terrible resentment because it’s piled on top of a different, old hurt.
Issues between friends are so often caused by misunderstanding; somewhere there’s a lack of communication and neither side has the full picture. As a very basic example, imagine someone feels her friend wasn’t there for her at a time when she really needed her. She’s hurt, but doesn’t say anything. However, she holds it against her friend and the resentment builds.
If she would open a dialogue about it, another picture might emerge that would explain why her friend was unable to be there just then. So many misunderstandings and hurt feelings in relationships can be resolved by talking things out and getting the full story.
One major caveat is not to ever attempt to settle a disagreement via text. Texting can be great for scheduling, sharing information, swapping anecdotes — but not for resolving sensitive relationship issues. It’s not the proper way to communicate and can be very dangerous. Texting is not the same as speaking. Many relationships have been destroyed because of texting miscommunication.
The nature of human relationships is that everyone has expectations. But because we’re all different, and everyone has different needs and expectations, we need to clarify them. No one can read your mind — not even your best friend, or your husband.
For some people the ability to communicate comes more naturally and other people have a harder time sharing their feelings. Even for those who find it more difficult, it’s a crucial life skill to learn, and one that enables relationships to thrive.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 705)
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