updated 18 Aug 2014, 11:47
Login password or
Mon, Oct 10, 2011
my paper
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Minding friendship minefields
by Clara Chow

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she had given her child the first caning of her life.

At the risk of sounding like a real judgemental b****, I have to admit that I was aghast. Not at the caning - for I am aware that different children require different parenting methods, and to each his or her own cane or rod or paddle or whatever - but at why a mum would go public with something like that.

Why open up this way to your social circle, given that discipline remains a potentially divisive subject among people of all ilk?

It was then that I confronted a hard truth about myself: That I can never look at my friends the same way again - no matter how lovely they are as individuals - if I strongly disagree with their parenting styles.

It's okay if I don't know that you cane your kids. I don't. I'm like the US Army: don't ask, don't tell. But once I find out, I cannot help but wonder if you and I are ideologically opposed, and how soon we might clash over something else seemingly innocuous. I try, of course, to not let it show. Oh, how hypocritical, you scoff. Hey, I'm just very good at compartmentalising, okay?

To me, being a mother is a skill: you have to work at it like you do any other profession. Train, practise, research, upgrade, until you become good or better at it. There are people you do not think are very capable at work, but that does not stop you from socialising with them after hours, right?

Or does it?

Writer Eliana Osborn recently wrote on the Imperfect Parent website that she finds it impossible to stay friends with women when she cannot stand how they raise their kids.

Perceiving some of her friends' children as "horrible", and these mothers as too lenient, she concludes that "I guess we aren't going to be able to hang out. I'm sorry".

The Washington Post blog promptly took her up on the question: "Is bad parenting a friendship killer?"

I forwarded the article to my best friend at work. She is also the person I share most in common with, when it comes to raising kids (we believe in letting our sons run like free-range chickens most times).

She read the first sentence of the Washington Post's post and texted me back: "Yes."

I now live in fear that my sons will do something bad to hers one day, and she will "un-friend" me.

In this day and age of parenting blogs, Dr Sears-style attachment mothering, and assorted play and support groups, it has become widely accepted that parenting is hard enough, without other people trying to tell you how to do it or criticising your decisions.

Consequently, we have all become very careful about not throwing stones at other people who live in kid-ragged, noisy, food-stained glass houses like we do.

But, amid all that enforced, merry tolerance, something has to give. If we cannot take the direct route of telling someone that we disagree with them when it comes to certain child-rearing methods, neither can we communicate unease or clear misunderstandings.

The only sensible strategy left is to distance ourselves. We mind our own business. We politely avoid talking about children, steer clear of swopping mummy tips, and never ever mention play dates.

But here's where Osborn and I differ: While it is only human to want to hang out with like-minded mothers, I know I am not a paragon of motherhood. Nor am I justified in shunning anybody. And what I view as a "fault" in a fellow mum today, is merely another story that I did not live through; another page I haven't turned.

Now, if my social calendar starts looking empty, and Mummy BFFs start giving me the cold shoulder, I think I'd know why. Don't worry, enough said, I can thoroughly understand.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.