Reader Q&A: When Your Family Rules Differ From Your Friends

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reader_qaA reader wrote in with the following question. It’s a good one and one that doesn’t have one “right” answer. I’d love to hear what you think!


I’m a newer parent (toddler age) and we are starting to find ourselves in situations with other families where the rules for their children are different from the rules for our child. Do you have any tips for how you handle those types of situations when you are in that group setting?

Example: At a restaurant with another family. Their family allows their children to run around the restaurant. Our family does not – restaurant means sit in your seat, play in your seat – no running.

Our toddler is having a hard time understanding that different families have different rules. I’m having a hard time knowing what to say in that moment to help her understand without being rude to the other families.

I’d love some ideas. I know I’m not the first parent to be in this type of a situation.

How would YOU answer?

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  1. I just try to explain that every family has their own rules and that is is my responsibility to raise them to the best of my ability. I know with a toddler this is hard. I remember simply telling my kids that the other kids are not mine and I love them too much to let them behave a certain way.

  2. I always told my son, even as a toddler that different families have different rules. I believe that if the child is old enough to ask why others are allowed to behave differently they are old enough to understand that every family is different. Theonly difficulty came about after using the statement that I care enough about my child to not let them do something. He eventually told his friend that his parents didn’t love him enough to care about what he did. Poor choice of words on my part. 🙁

  3. Mine are 8 and 10 and I had a conversation with the 8yo last week – in front of his friend AND his friend’s mom – that every family is different. My exact words. Though – AWKWARD!! Lol! I feel that as long as I have a firm idea of what WE do, and yet am gracious about the fact that others have other ideas, that it is not offensive. Hard to explain to a 2yo though! I remember saying (back then) “I say THIS is what you need to do. I’m your mommy. I’m not his mommy. He has to listen to his mommy, you have to listen to me” 🙂
    🙂 Erin

  4. As a mom of a 5 and 3 year old girls, I often find myself explaining to my girls that our rules might differ from those of their friends. Certainly at 5 my little girl understands that better than her sister who just turned 3. However, regardless of your child’s age it’s never too early to explain to them that it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, its about what you know to be right. The earlier that your children learn that people in their lives may do things differently the easier it gets. For the little ones, sometimes that means explaining “I’m your mommy, not X’s mommy. X has to listen to his mommy, and you have to listen to your mommy. Sometimes that doesn’t seem fair but that’s the way it is.” As they grow you can explain more about it, and get them to understand the importance of thinking for themselves and not being a follower. The old “if X jumped off a bridge would you follow” truly does work.

    It doesn’t change the fact that its still difficult to parent your child while their friends parents have a different style. Over time you might find that the people you spend most time with parent similarly as those are usually the people who have the most common values.

  5. OK, I haven’t gotten there with my toddler yet, but I’ve seen some others at that point. It seems to me that the way to go is just as many of these women have said. “I’m your mommy, and you need to obey me. She is X’s mommy, and X has to obey her.” To me it will be important when the time is right to also explain that sometimes people do things differently, but that doesn’t make those things bad; we’ve just chosen that it’s not what our family will do. It’s a hard thing to explain to kids, the difference between moral right/wrong and right/wrong due to the situation. As a teacher in public schools, I think learning this difference is critical to becoming adults in our society…and even to becoming peacemaking children.

  6. I co-facilitate an 8 wk parenting course twice a year & in reguards for rules, we always tell our parents to say “The rule in our house is “x”.” It helps kids to learn to understand that different families/homes, even times when they are at their grandparents house, or another relatives, have different rules. Good luck–you are setting a great example & teaching your children to be fine adults! One of our sayings is “You are not just raising your children, but your grandchildren.” You want to be able to say ‘Oh! I remember saying that! (insert smiley face here), not ‘Oh, I remember saying that’ (insert embarrassed/sad face there). Take care~

  7. All of the above posters say the same sort of thing I have said over the years.

    I will say though, that for a toddler it’s going to be a struggle, and for a LITTLE WHILE perhaps it’s best to avoid the specific situation that you describe as much as you can. There are times when it will be easier to be with an obviously more boisterous family – but I wouldn’t want to eat in a restaurant with them – I certainly wouldn’t want to do it if it was causing stress for me and my kid. See them elsewhere LOL. I say this because my very best friend is your friend! I still avoid certain situations with them to the extent I can because it’s just not fun – my kids don’t question the difference in rules anymore but I will tell you that we had them at a restaurant with us last week for the first time in a LONG time because it was my daughter’s confirmation – and at 13 and 10 I still had to speak to their children several times [which luckily doesn’t cause friction with my friend]

    So stick to your guns because it will pay off – my kids at 3 behaved better in a restaurant than some 13 year olds obviously – but try to set things up so you have less of that – you can’t eliminate it obviously but it will stress you less!!!

  8. This scenario points out a few hard lessons every child needs to learn very early on. 1) Every family has its own rules. I am your mommy and it is my job to set the rules for your behavior. 2) Life is not fair. You will not always get to do/have exactly the same things as your friend. This one will come up a LOT when the tween years hit – designer clothes, cell phones, expensive concert tickets, 1 AM curfews, $700 prom dresses, etc. 3) If you are going to be a follower, choose your leader wisely (the old if your friends jump off the bridge…). 4) Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. This is another biggie as they get older. No you are not going to a party at another home with boys and girls without an adult in attendance. It is just asking for trouble. You are staying home. Again, anyone with tweens and teens will be able to relate. 5) Choose your friends well. We are judged by the company we keep. Again, looking forward, how likely is your young tween or teen to get in trouble? In any given situation it often depends on who they are with. The more you reinforce your family rules, expectations, and moral values when they are little the easier it will be when they get older and the stakes are MUCH bigger than just letting them run around in a restaurant. I know it is easy to say, but try to remember parenting is long-term project. The ground work you lay today will pay off when you watch your child grow and mature into a happy, accomplished young adult.

  9. I have been in that situation many times. Some of our friends allow their children to sit at another table in a restaurant. I personally want my child next to me so that I can immediately correct her when she needs it. At 2 she didn’t understand why she couldn’t sit/play with her friends, now at 3 she knows that she will be sitting next to mom or dad and thats the way it is. Before we go into the restaurant we will typically remind her of the rules and what we expect out of her. I also let her know it doesn’t matter what your friends are doing, you must listen to me. I also try to have quiet toys with me, books and other quiet things that she hasn’t seen in awhile to distract her.

  10. It is very important to be consistsant and as a parent not give in to other parents’ rules for their children. What you set as reasonable rules for your household must hold true all the time. As someone who no longer has children it bothers me in a restaurant to have someone’s children running around and bothering people at other tables without parental intervention. It is rude and unloving not to dicipline (teach) your children to behave well.

  11. I can’t really add anything to talking to kids about different rules for different families, other than to tell them just that. However, I can say that as a restaurant manager and someone who has worked in that business for 40 years, that all folks with kids should be aware that allowing children to run loose in a restaurant is putting them at risk! Restaurants are potentially dangerous places for children to be on the loose! When servers are carrying large trays of food, it blocks their lower peripheral vision, in other words, they might not be able to see a child in front of them. Also, they are often carrying heavy plates of hot food which could burn a child and the weight of the dishes could further injure them if the server fell over the kid and dropped a tray of food on them. Parents with young ones who come to eat out should bring activities to keep the younguns entertained at the table! Crayons and paper are a great start. There are also games you can play with them to keep them busy, like the “draw what I see game”. You say “I see a ________” (whatever) and then they look for it and draw it, but something that can be done from their seat at the table! Children running loose in a restaurant should be a no-no in any family!

  12. One of the most helpful things we do with our almost-three-year-old is to set up clear expectations before we even set foot out the door, whether it’s to a restaurant, the zoo, grocery store, wherever. Even if you don’t think your toddler is old enough to understand yet, while you are still at home, tell him what you expect of him (in this case, staying in his seat). We also make it clear what the consequences will be if he does not obey the rules. You could add something about how these are our family’s rules, no matter what our friends are doing. Children understand more than we give them credit for and as with anything, preparation is the key to success.

  13. As advised by our pediatrician, I say, “In OUR family, this is what we do. All families have different ways to do things, but OUR family does this.” And it’s really about belonging to a family. You may get a complaint about belonging to a strict or whatever family but so far my children (6 yrs, 3 1/2 yrs old boys, an 18 month old girl, and our 4th baby due in Aug) would still prefer to belong with us. God bless.

  14. Ideally in these situations we talk beforehand about what behavior is expected. If it comes up during a meal/visit I try to pull the kid aside and have a quiet quick conversation more or less like what has been said. One thing to add: afterwards, as soon as possible, I tell them that I know how hard it is when you see friends doing things we shouldn’t do, and thank them for listening and tell them how much I appreciate their polite bahavior. I also try to them why–so for example at a restaurant it’s because we can all enjoy our meals peacefully, it’s kind to other diners, and it’s considerate of the staff to not run around. This usually works reasonably well, though I will say that shortening a visit is also helpful. After awhile their natural restlessness plus influence of friends makes it really hard.

  15. I think it’s great you are asking for advice now versus when your child gets older. I have a 5 and 2 year old and still struggle with this to a strong degree. I’m not going to comment on your specific situation, I think the other moms did a great job with advice. To the other part of it, without being rude, sometimes when you are trying to parent your children with your rules, even if you do it in a kind, polite way you are going to have other parents who may feel akward or insulted or worse question you in front of your kids or the ultimate offense tell your children their mommy is wrong. Please stay strong through all of that and know you are doing the right thing for your kids. I decided what rules I wanted to be non-changers when around other kids and decided which to be a little more flexible on. My son now knows he difference and has even helped his judgement in social situations. Keep up the great work!

  16. Mommy and daddy rules go with you where ever you go. You need to follow our rules. Tommy has different rules to follow.

  17. This resonates with me as well.

    I do not expect children to share, and that can make for some awkward situations when there is another parent who is saying over and over again to their child, You have to SHARE. SHARE SHARE SHARE, to the point that children are allowed to just take things from each other on the pretense of sharing. Parents are constantly needed to step in and solve problems about toys. I don’t want my daughter to learn that just because you want to play with something someone else has, you automatically get it.

    When my daughter wants something that another child has, I tell her that she can have it when they are finished. Similarly, when someone else’s child wants the toy my child has, I ask her to remember that Jimmy wants to play with it, and to give it to Jimmy when she is finished. Then when she does, we notice together how happy Jimmy is to have a turn with the toy. I believe that this fosters giving with a willing heart so that she can start making her own decisions about sharing.

    So….yeah…that makes for some awkward moments when I won’t “make” my child give up a toy just because someone else wants to play with it.
    Different families have different rules. The only thing that would be difficult to overcome is hitting. We don’t hit in our family, so if someone hits their child in front of me and/or my child, we’d have to reevaluate spending time with them.

  18. The above comments are very helpful and great! One additional thing I did when my kids were younger, for their own benefit, was to ask them questions about the behavior they were seeing/witnessing (not in front of the other family, obviously), such as “Can you imagine what it would look like to have a 10 year old kid running around the restaurant like that?” or “What would it look like if Uncle Tom ate like that at the table, would you want to eat with him?” (trying to show that these behaviors would be ridiculous in older people, so why would I encourage them to do that behavior). Or reminding them that public places have rules and would ask us to leave it we did this or that. I would try to get them to understand my rule/guidelines (ESPECIALLY about manners which includes your topic), as much as their little minds could understand. I felt in a lot of situations that this put any argument or jealousy to rest because they could understand it a little better.

    In fact, I still kind of do this with my 10, 11 and 13 yr old by asking questions like “Would your future wife like to see you behaving/smelling/acting like that?” LOL. 🙂

    and GOOD FOR YOU for holding strong to your convictions!