Parenting When Friends and Relatives Have Different Values

How can we raise our kids effectively when so many of our friends and family members hold perspectives and values that conflict with our beliefs? We're a strong Christian family and we require our children to live by Christian standards of behavior. But not everyone shares our faith, and it's frustrating to feel as if aunts, uncles and neighbors are working against you and undoing all the lessons you're trying to teach your kids at home. What should we do?

Your first step is to make sure that everyone in your household is absolutely clear about the values, priorities and spiritual perspectives that define you as a family. In other words, know who you are, what you believe, and why you believe it. Take the time to provide your children with careful and easily understandable explanations of the reasoning behind the rules you live by. Equip your kids to articulate these principles themselves when asked; for example, to say something like “We don’t watch ______ at our house because we want to keep our thoughts pure and clean.”

Once this foundation has been laid, you’ll be in a much better position to deal with the challenges that may arise as a result of your children spending time in the homes of friends, neighbors, or family members whose standards and convictions differ from your own. Train your kids to be gracious, yet confident about standing up for the principles they’ve learned at home. If you run into conflicts, humbly tell the friends or relatives concerned that while you love them and respect their feelings, it is your responsibility as parents to raise your children in the way you feel is right. If they consistently disregard your wishes, let them know that you can’t allow your values and your authority as parents to be undermined in this way, and that your kids will no longer be allowed to visit until things change.

Naturally, you should try to stay sensitive to the motivations behind these friends’ and family members’ behavior. If you can see that they’re contradicting you out of pure spite or simple lack of concern, don’t hesitate to take a hard line with them. But if it seems clear that they really love your children – if, for instance, it’s a case of doting grandparents who dole out too many sweets in an attempt to gain a place in their grandkids’ affections – then look for creative ways to defuse the situation by enlisting them as members of your “team.” Explain that you’re trying to raise your children according to a certain set of standards, and that you won’t be able to succeed without their cooperation and assistance. They’ll probably jump at the chance to help you out.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, we’d like to invite you to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors will be happy to discuss your feelings with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to licensed Christian family therapists in your area who may be able to offer further assistance.


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