When Family and Friends Don’t Understand Your Parenting Style

By Rachel Schofield

When we choose to parent differently to the norm, we add an extra layer of challenge to our already overfull plates. Without the support and backing of family, friends or professionals, the challenging job of caring for our children gets a whole lot tougher. Parents who choose to parent by connection rather than the mainstream rewards and punishment approach often feel isolated in their views.

We can be taken aback at the tensions arising over our choice to parent differently.  We may feel judged for staying close and listening when our child offloads feelings.  Or perhaps we have to head off pointed comments and harsh criticism about our parenting style. But often, being judged is not as hard on us as the breakdown in connection with our loved ones, and the misunderstandings that result.

The pain of rejection when those around us don’t understand our parenting is heartbreaking.  Mothering without your own mother’s approval is lonely. Fathering without your own father’s blessing is tough.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Bit by bit we can turn things around with these 4 steps:

#1. Build our confidence in our parenting style

#2. Zap our own knee jerk-reactions to other people’s opinions

#3. Tactfully handle the disapproval from others

#4. Help bridge the gap with those around us

A good place to start is to recognise the impact our parenting choice has on others and ourselves. As humans we are deeply social beings, our instinct to maintain close ties with one another is strong and vital. Belonging and sharing values are primal needs.

Simply ‘doing differently’ can seem like disapproval to others. ‘Doing differently’ can accidentally touch on old wounds and fears, and feel like criticism.

And when we rub on sore spots in our friends and family, they’ll likely show us. They may have no idea that we’ve stumbled upon a painful place. To them it feels like we’re the one who is being difficult, we’re the one who is making life hard, we’re the one who is wrong. And that’s what they show us with their “off” comments or looks.

And likewise for us, we tend not to notice that our differing views have touched a vulnerable part inside ourselves. We’re inclined to feel like our mother is really unsupportive, or our friend is so critical or the family doctor is plain annoying.

Accepting that differences do create challenges helps. It calls upon us to navigate them more skillfully. If we are to feel more secure in our relationships and hold steady in the face of differences, we need to heal our own hurts and find ways to show our friends and family how much we still care. These four steps will get us there bit by bit.


Build confidence in your parenting style


When those closest to us implicitly or explicitly disapprove of our parenting style it pretty quickly taps into our worries. Somewhere inside we all carry the fear, “I am not a good enough parent.” We love our children so much and would do anything to make life go well for them. So our imperfections shout loudly. We can’t be perfect parents. We can’t smooth life out for our kids as well as we’d like. Imperfection is inevitable and it hurts. We need to release and counter those feelings and build our confidence.

Parenting Book "Listen"Get knowledgeable. Getting clear about why we are parenting the way we are can help boost our resolve and strengthen our conviction of the path we are following. Hand in Hand offers a basket full of resources to help: success stories from parents, and articles on the science of parenting (especially the Parent Education series). And our recommended reading list cites plenty of books that back the idea of focusing on building the parent-child connection (notably, A General Theory of Love, and Parenting from the Inside Out).

Get support. We don’t need to abandon our family and friends but we do need to find others who empathise with us and support our parenting journey. Hand in Hand has many ways for you to do that. Online, you can connect with like-minded parents with our Parent Club, Support Groups, Starter Class, or FaceBook Hand in Hand Parenting community group. In person, contact your local instructor.

Get listening time. Working on the fears that get kicked up in the face of others’ disapproval can help enormously. Find someone to listen to you as you figure out what worries you about your kids and your parenting. Talking about and releasing those fears can do wonders to build your parenting confidence. Exchanging warm, supportive listening with another parent is at the core of the Hand in Hand approach. The emotional support offered through Listening Partnerships (where two parents exchange time to listen to one another with a focus on releasing emotion) will leave you refreshed. It will then be easier to squarely and compassionately face the judgements from others.

Exploring these topics might help unravel buried feelings:

– How deeply do you want your mother, father, or friend to agree with you and support you?
– What are you afraid might happen if you can’t agree with them?
– What feelings come up for you as you consider that you might be wrong? That you are indeed a good parent? That you’ve always done your best? That you may also have made one or two mistakes along the way?


Zap your own knee jerk-reactions to other people’s opinions


Notice your automatic responses. Take a step back at what you tend to do in the face of difference to others. Do you feel defensive, clam shut, or lash out? What impact does this have on your relationships with those people? Some parents freeze and lose their voice, others react angrily, leading to conflict, some parents get so embarrassed or defensive that they might end up parenting the expected way like scolding or distracting their child and later regret not connecting, listening and empathising.

Women laughingGet listening time. Regular listening time can be a powerful way to shift our knee-jerk reactions and figure out new ways to respond in the face of judgement.  We can use the safety of the Listening Partnership to rant and rage in privacy without damaging our important relationships. We can go back to our families and friends with love and compassion, having vented away our anger. We can use listening time to explore:

Finishing the sentence, “I wish my mother/friend/family doctor would ….” Finishing the sentence, “What childhood memory does this lack of support remind me of?” Taking the lighthearted attitude, “That’s my mum/dad/friend!” to practice embracing who they are.

Take emergency measures. Figure out some emergency strategies you can use in the heat of the moment when whose around you are pressing your buttons. Maybe you plan to simply walk away, or go drink a glass of water, or phone a friend or perhaps lock yourself in the toilet for some time out. Having a plan and practicing it can help shift the pattern of those tricky moments. This article, outlining a few survival skills for when our children press our buttons, may give you more ideas.

Experiment with new responses. Figure out new patterns. How could you stand strong in your opinion and still convey warmth to others? It’s important not only to hold steady in ourselves but also to get across the message, “I care” to those around you. We can use our Listening Partnerships to try out new responses that might work for us and let us tune into our child. The next two sections give some suggestions.


Tactfully handle the disapproval from others


Trying to persuade those around you to convert to your parenting style is usually pointless. Trying to prove you are right (and they are wrong) seldom works. So try these responses instead:

In the face of criticism  say, “I guess we’ll just have to agree to differ.”

In response to pointed comments, sarcastic remarks or mockery, say a simple, light, “Ouch!”

When well-meaning adults step in to “help” by offering mainstream responses to your parenting challenge, you can say, “I think we’re okay just now,” or,  “I’ll let you know if we need help.”

When your child cries or has a tantrum, others might rush in and try to distract your child with food or entertainment. Or they might chip in with comments like, Stop crying,” “You’re being silly,” “Don’t be sad,” “Be brave,” or, “You can’t always have your way.”

You can respond with a warm and strong, “It’s OK, thanks! I’ve got this,” or, “I think we just need a moment.” You might whisk your child away to another space, away from watchful eyes, so you can offer them connection. To outside eyes, this can also look like punishment, which can ease tensions too.

Balance your child’s need for empathy with the needs of an adult who’s struggling.  Sometimes you can soften an adult’s heart by empathising with them as you bring in empathy for your child. If the adult says, “They never do what they’re told,” you can say, “It’s so frustrating isn’t it, when our kids are resistant!’ Or, “It’s so hard for them when we’re annoyed at them.” If the adult says, “She’s always so mean to her sister,” you can say, “It’s hard when our kids fight. It’s so hard for everyone.”


Help bridge the gap with those around you


Make time together work. What can you do, or where can you meet, that might work for everyone? Is it better to meet at the beach or the park, or home? Should you try preparing the food ahead of time so you can give everyone more relaxed attention?

Set limits around your time together. Sometimes the way you or your loved one gets triggered by the differences between you might mean you need to figure out new ways of being together. The core message you want to get across is, “I care.” Sometimes you’ll be able to have direct conversations, other times you’ll need to lead from behind.

You might be able to say things like:

“I really want to enjoy being with you, so when we come and visit we’ll rent a unit nearby rather than stay with you so we can enjoy our time together.”

“I very much want to see you and I think we’ll all have a good time if we meet for 2 hours this time.”

Or you might need to do these things indirectly, like, “Billy’s not sleeping well and I don’t want to keep you up all night so we’ll stay in a unit nearby.”

Try time together without the kids. Spending time with the adults in your life without the kids can help you enjoy each other without the tension the children bring. Even 10 minutes can make a difference. Spend the time really appreciating the other person and being interested in them. Treat the time like Special Time for them!

Be playful. When we’ve shed a good chunk of our own emotional tension we might find we can be playful about the differences that have caused friction in the past. We can try playfully inviting others to laugh at our own quirks, “Well, you know me, I’m the freaky one that won’t let my kids have star charts!”

You might even be able to respond playfully when one of those closest to you responds in knee jerk way. Maybe your father scoffs as you do XYZ so you playfully ruffle his hair saying, ”There’s my Dad!”

Appreciate your loved one.  Notice the way they care. Let them know that you see the good effort they put into you and your family. It might not look the way you want it to, but you can assume that they want to connect with you.


  • Listen to them. Ask them about their childhood. This can be a wonderful way to build empathy and help people see things from a child’s point of view. Listening and taking an interest in them shows you care. You could ask, “How did you parents deal with you when you’d done some off thing?” or, “What happened to kids in your family when they cried? How did that make you feel?”
  • Ask them to share a skill.Gently share information. Focus on modelling your parenting style without uninvited explanations. If called for, you might humbly offer something like, “I know it seems really odd but someone showed me that if you just listen until your child has stopped crying they actually get to be happier and think better than if you try to stop them.” And if they looked interested you might offer to lend them your Listen book.

Have that difficult conversation. Sometimes, it’s important to courageously sit down with an adult in our lives and have that very difficult heart to heart. We can:


  • Find the common ground. This could be many things, for example, simply pointing out how much you both love your kids, how you both want the kids to do well in life, or how much you want to enjoy their company.
  • Set the scene with something like, “I know we have differing views here and I guess we might have to agree to differ, but I’d like to explain where I’m coming from. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to say anything, but I’d appreciate if you’d listen.”
  • Explain that you’re trying to use the latest brain research that shows how important connection is, that rewards don’t work well in the long run, and that punishment leads to further antisocial behaviour. Explain that your goal is to raise an emotionally healthy child.
  • Reassure them. What do you think they are afraid of? Maybe they think you’re being too permissive.  Tell them you believe setting limits is important. Maybe they’re worried it’s taking too much out of you. Tell them that parenting is exhausting no matter what approach is taken, and you’re doing all you can to get support.
  • Thank them for listening. Give them the opportunity to speak too. Be sure not to get into your knee jerk reactions. Simply listen.

If you’re struggling with parenting differently from those around you, I hope you’ll be able to turn things around using these four steps.

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