Your child has great news: He made a new friend! Soon you and the friend's parents make plans to spend an afternoon playing at their house. You like the child – he's polite, engaging and your son enjoys his company.
There's just one problem: You can't stand his mom and dad.
None of us will like everyone we meet. Unfortunately, one consequence of your kids making friends is that some children have parents who will rub you the wrong way. Maybe their home is a mess. Maybe they're strict with their kids while your parenting style is more laid back.
"There's a million reasons that we don't want to hang out with someone," says Deborah Gilboa, a family physician who writes and speaks professionally about parenting. But you can maintain your own comfort level and allow your child to stay friends with someone who is important to her.
If you don't like a child's parents, remain polite and diplomatic around them. It's possible to do that while remaining firm about your own boundaries and family rules.
Why don't you like these people?
If you find that you just don't like the parents of your child's friend, ask yourself why. Torie Henderson, a life coach who focuses on parenting, says there are two main reasons for not enjoying another person's company. Some are intellectual, like the fact that a mom lets your kids walk to the park unsupervised. Other times there is an emotional trigger. Perhaps permissive parents bother you because you think you are too rigid in your own life.
Henderson suggests asking yourself, "How much harm could come from my child spending an afternoon at their house?"
If you're not worried about your child's safety, she says, look at this delicate situation as a way to teach him that he can be friends with people who are different from him. How you handle your own relationship with the other parents depends on how old your child is. Play dates with preschoolers push parents together, too. If your child is that young, Gilboa suggests creating a sort of buffer between yourself and the other child's parents. Plan activities such as outings to a movie or museum, or invite other children to reduce the amount of time you and the other adults spend together.
Creating this buffer is simpler if your kids are school-aged. When you drop your child off at her friend's house, leave quickly.
Gilboa says it's important not to tell your child that you don't like his friend's parents. To avoid that, talk to her about her friend, not the family.
Your child is bound to have at least one friend whose parents have rules you disagree with.
However, exposure to other families teaches kids how to act in different settings. As long as the disagreement isn't serious, Gilboa says it's best to tell your kids to follow the rules of the home they're in.
"If everyone takes their shoes off at their house, you have to do it," she says. "If everyone prays before a meal, you have to sit respectfully and privately."
If the friend's parents infringe on your own family guidelines, she suggests asking them to call you before letting your child watch an R-rated movie, for example.
Frame this request in terms of your own rules, not something the other parent is doing wrong. Henderson says you can use a diplomatic phrase like, "I prefer that you not let them watch TV."
If the other parents raise questions about your parenting style, Gilboa stresses that you don't have to explain your philosophy. Just apologize for what made them feel uncomfortable and say you hope your child's friend can spend time at your home in the future.
And if the friend's family is really bothersome, you can host the friend instead of sending your child to the other home.
There's a big difference between a parent you find annoying and a home where you're not comfortable leaving your child.
Listen to your intuition if it's telling you the home of a child's friend isn't safe, Henderson says. You don't have to let your child spend time at her friend's house if you feel uncomfortable there.
Cheryl Butler, who goes by the name Mighty Mommy on the website Quick and Dirty Tips, says one of her sons was once friends with a boy whose single father didn't lock his hunting rifles.
"Two teenage boys and guns floating around the house did not make for a good outcome," Butler says in an email. "When my husband and I asked the boy’s father about this situation, he didn’t deny it, and told us it was his business as to how he stored things in his house. Let’s just say that was our signal that our son would never, ever be hanging out with that child in his house regardless of whether the father was home or not."
You can't choose the parents of your child's friends. But there's no reason to limit your child's friendships because you don't enjoy the family one of these friends comes from. Being firm and polite with adults you don't like is good for your child's social life – and your mental health.