Agreeing to Disagree: Can Moms With Wildly Different Parenting Styles Manage to Stay Best Friends?

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Pam Jenoff relies on her best friend for support. Courtesy Pam Jenoff

By Pam Jenoff

As the mother of three kids under the age of 3, I consider my best friend, Joanne, one of the great saving graces.

The mother of almost 4-year old twin boys Kyle and Adam, Joanne hosted innumerable play dates for Ben, my 2-year old son, when I was struggling through my pregnancy with my own twin girls.

She's brought her crew to see us weekly in the 10 months since Charlotte and Elizabeth were born, and helped me on my early voyages out of the house with all three kids (testing the claim of a few restaurants that they are, indeed, "family-style.") She's also given us more baby clothes and gear, advice and moral support than I can count.

But, though we've been friends since second grade, Joanne and I have always been different ("We'll never steal each other's compact discs or men," she used to joke in our single 20s) -- and our parenting styles reflect that.

Joanne is, by her own admission, the stricter mom of the two of us, while I am hopelessly over-permissive. Her boys frequently take time-outs on the stairs ("the naughty step") when they visit our house, whereas my son didn't even know we had a naughty step. Dinner at Joanne's house is a well-mannered affair; ours is a mess of games and songs. And her boys know they must eat the dinner put in front of them, while I'm pushing more food at my son an hour later if he doesn't eat.

Joanne and I would likely both attribute our parenting approaches to survival: She would say law and order helps her cope with twin preschoolers. I would counter that, with two baby girls, I don't always have the time or strength to rein in my toddler son.

Bringing together our parenting styles for playtime carries with it its own challenges, too: Joanne has to weather the insanity of my house, including food in the playroom, yelling and banging and endless sticky hands and runny noses. And I have to set more boundaries for my son (like no toys at the table during dinner) when we visit her.

Outside of our play dates, her sons are proficient self-soothers, while my husband and I always rocked the kids to sleep and leaped up at the first cry, even when it results in the ill-advised middle of the night visit to our bed.

But, in spite of our mismatched parenting styles, we've persisted. I think at the end of the day we've learned a lot from our differing styles. She's taught me how to bring some structure to our household, and perhaps we allow her boys to let loose a bit more.

In my crazy younger years, I used to say that if I called Joanne and told her that I wanted to rappel down the Empire State Building, she wouldn't try to talk me out of it, but would ask instead, "What time should I be there and how much rope I bring?" It's that same kind of mutual respect, non-judgment and unconditional support that has seen us through the past 30-plus years that is enabling us to take this chaotic parenting journey together.

Pam Jenoff is the bestselling author of several novels including "The Things We Cherished" and "The Kommandant's Girl." She lives near Philadelphia with her family where she teaches law school. Read her blog on Red Room.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.