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When Parenting Styles Differ

We all have friends and family that parent differently than we do. We have different children, who have varied temperaments and we have different home environments. Sometimes it can become difficult to engage with one another with children involved, because of parental variations. With a wide array of values and expectations held by us parents, discussing this topic can bring tension. In our world today with a “right/wrong” mentality, we often try to categorize each other as negligent, irresponsible or too strict and overly involved.

However, it is okay for parenting styles and expectations to be diverse. How we approach the world varies and therefore our approaches to parenting will carry the same variety. It is not necessary to always agree. It is actually okay to have different expectations for your children while being with other kids that have other rules. You will find, the way to adjust to these situations has more to do with you and your family than convincing someone else to change. As we often say in therapy, “The only person you have control over, is you.”


This may seem silly. However, most parents are not aware of the expectations they have for their children until the situation arises. By knowing your individual values and allowing that to direct your expectations, you can navigate an unexpected circumstance with more clarity. The awareness of where you stand, and the reason you hold to that rule, can drive your action.

Your child may need a certain schedule to manage their behavior, or you may be able to have a more flexible schedule due to your child’s personality. Neither are wrong. However, you need to know what your child needs and understand why your child has those needs. As a result, you do not need to get defensive when someone else has different plans. You know what you need to do and you know why you need to do it. You will be less likely to be swayed by outside influences.


It can be tempting to alter our expectations depending on the environment. However, this can be very confusing for our children. They can jump on the couch at Mimi’s house, but not your house. That’s not going to translate for them. It can cause them some anxiety due to not understanding the rules or cause them to become defiant because they get confused.

To maintain exceptions everywhere sets us up for more challenges. It takes more management, more interventions, more attention. However, being consistent will eventually make it easier for you to enforce rules and for your children to follow them. They cannot read your mind. If we change our approaches based on our environment, they may attempt to read our mind (anxiety) or treat our expectations as suggestions. They may draw the conclusion that Mom obviously does not know what she wants (not that they’ll consciously think that).

If you are a parent/caregiver watching someone else’s child, it is important to know their rules. It is important to try and adhere to their rules whether you agree with them or not. This might be enforcing a no screen time rule that you feel is ridiculous or you allow your children to jump on the couch – even if you think he should be allowed to. However, it can be more confusing for the kid to have different rules. Allow the consistency to prevail. Once again, this is if the rules are not harming anyone.


Your children need reinforcement. They need reminders. This is especially true, the younger they are. Have a phrase you use for each expectation and repeat it. This could be “please keep your voice down when we are inside” or “remember, we only sit on furniture.” Stating the behavior you wish for them to model, is more helpful for them.

It is also helpful for those around you to know what you expect from your children. It does not mean that they need to comply. It is okay for parents to have contrasting rules. It does not mean one is right and one is wrong. You are each parenting individuals. Each child comes with their own needs. There is no reason to feel insecure about your expectations. There is no need to feel insecure over someone else’s expectations as long as everyone is being respectful to one another and the property of other.


It is okay to recognize the varied expectations–not only with the other parent, but with your child. You can tell your child that “other people have different rules, but you need to follow Mommy/ Daddy/Caregiver’s rules.” This acknowledges to the child that you are aware, and that your expectations have not shifted with varying circumstances.

In the end, ignoring the inconsistencies can be more confusing. It will not cause more tension or suddenly cause your child to notice the differences. Children are way more observant than we give them credit for, and more observant than we’d like them to be sometimes.

Parenting can be a struggle. When you add other people and their kids, it can create a bit of chaos. Chaos isn’t bad. Chaos can add a little bit of diversity in your life. However, you can set up skills that allow you to parent how you parent, regardless of your environment.

As we identify our own values in conjunction with our child’s unique personality, we can communicate our expectations to our children with confidence and clarity. And if you think about it, this may actually teach them to hold strong to their own values later in life when others go a different way.

Parenting differently,


Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.


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