I made a point, early on, of cultivating a group of mom friends whose parenting rules aligned with mine. It always just made life (and playdates) much easier not to navigate two sets of food rules at the playground picnic table.
But over the years, my kids have developed some wonderful new friendships outside of my own carefully constructed crew. Through school, sports, and camps, they have a bunch of new buddies whose parents I am just getting to know. And while I love this for them and their expanding social lives, I quickly realized how difficult it is to parent kids with different rules than their friends.
From video games to biking routes and everything in between, my 10-year-old son’s friends are all working under various sets of rules. And while I urge my son to feel grateful that I fall somewhere in the middle, he still gets wildly frustrated when a friend can do something he’s not allowed to do (see: ride electric scooters on the main road; participate on YouTube; watch R-rated movies; and stay up late).
While logical explanations about differing parenting strategies and ways of life are helpful in adult conversations, they seem only to make my kids more frustrated. There is no practical, diplomatic, and final way to explain to a 10-year-old that he isn’t allowed to have an iPhone when his friend is texting right next to him. And it’s starting to cause some resentment.
So how do I navigate this? My instinct is to give in, because I suck at toeing the line when my kids are upset. But my husband would be furious, and I know that’s not the right solution. And then I thought of petitioning for a city-wide parenting pact where we all adhere to the same rules, but if the the last few years taught me anything, it’s that that surely won’t work.
Ultimately, I think I have to ride it out. I will continue to explain to my kids that parents make choices that are best for their families, and that those choices are not always the same. I will stand firm in the rules and boundaries that I deem appropriate and know that he might be too young to understand my rationale. I will also casually point out moments where he is on the winning side of the rule war with his buddies, like when I randomly wake him up for a midnight swim or allow him to stock up on copious amounts of candy for movie nights. Honestly, his barometer for “strict” is way off.
And someday, provided we both survive the emotional warfare that is the double digits, I know he will understand and be grateful for our guidance. Psychologists would probably even argue that he is subconsciously grateful now — something about kids secretly craving limits and protection. Someday he’ll get it. And for now, he can deal.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.