Opposites Attract? Surviving Friends With Radically Different Parenting Styles

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I hear a lot of mothers gripe about summer vacation and what the heck they’re going to do with a full house all that time. For expat mothers like me who are also primary caregivers, summer is a time for heading back to the motherland, which can generate exponential anxiety.

The benefits of a home visit – quality time with family, reunion with friends – usually outweigh the disadvantages. But then there’s the time away from your spouse, if he or she is lucky enough to have a job in your adopted place of residence. And the close quarters: all of a sudden you’re not only play-dating other families, you’re often bunking with them, too. They’re seeing you at your (and your children’s) worst. And everyone’s making judgments about the other’s parenting style.

This year I embraced all that transparency. I likened it to summer parenting school – or an internship that might, eventually, qualify me for the job. Sure, my peers could be aggravating at times (please don’t pull out the gummy bears before lunch), but they provided a window onto many real-life scenarios I might not have been better prepared to deal with. Like the father who comforted his child after a traumatizing rendezvous with a leech and had her back in the pond before day’s end. Or the mother who reminded me juice should be the exception, not the rule. The disciplinarian who coached her child to walk rather than expect to be carried. And driving: whoa, did I have a lot to learn about Baby on Board.

Then there were the hippies, the helicopters and the hot messes. The ones for whom schedules are anathema vs those for whom they’re the law; who let their children dictate the dinner menu; who kept the TV on past the watershed; who made everyone within earshot a nervous bloody wreck. Parenting styles are absolutely personal and family dynamics are unique, but watching other families work from the inside is an amazing eye-opener.

Who knows what they all made of me, she of the sluggish reflexes and the tendency to shout at the slightest provocation. The one who fed her two-year-old maki, then was taken aback when she choked on the seaweed. And never trained her toddlers to wear a life jacket or, at the very least, water wings in the lake.

I learned from those mistakes and others involving stairs, canoes and marshmallows – not the hard way, thankfully, but just in time. You never do know when life’s pop quizzes are going to occur.  At least now I can say I’m better prepared than I was last May. Maybe next summer I’ll finally graduate.

(Photo: Jupiterimages)