Parenting Here vs. Parenting There

by farrah on May 13, 2013 · 25 comments

Last month a friend of mine posted a link on my FB wall about differences in American parenting vs. parenting pretty much everywhere else. Then there was the recent article about letting a five-year-old play with knives (not really what it sounds like) and the ways we are or are not helicopter parents. Both articles are very good, and if you get a chance to sit down and read something— I highly recommend both to help you think about parenting here vs. parenting there.

No compromising. Helmets are non-negotiable!


Is that how parenting is done in other cultures? Specifically, from the first article it says about the Dutch:

The Dutch, for example, liked to talk about long attention spans and “regularity,” or routine and rest. (In the Dutch mind, asking lots of questions is a negative attribute: It means the child is too dependent.)

And in the second:

Similarly, Brittany, an American mom, was stunned when she moved her young family to Sweden and saw 3- and 4-year-olds with no adult supervision bicycling down the street, climbing the roofs of playhouses and scaling tall trees with no adult supervision. The first time she saw a 3-year-old high up in a tree at preschool, she started searching for the teacher to let her know. Then she saw another parent stop and chat with one of the little tree occupants, completely unfazed. It was clear that no one but Brittany was concerned.

Both statements have been rolling around in my mind as of late- mostly because they are so true. I wonder how I would look at these ideas not having lived here and seeing them put into practice first hand. What is my priority as an American parent?

Arrows point where people (of all ages) sit as passengers on bikes. 


When I say first-hand, I give you the example of the Dutch and their bikes. We all know that the bicycle is a major part of Dutch culture- and people of all ages ride them- everywhere. Can you imagine seeing a 3-year-old riding his bike down the street? No helmet or training wheels. Maybe not even a parent with him. But I assure you- I see it every day. No one wears helmets- and the biggest laugh of all are the seats the kids ride in ON the bikes.

So we know they have the bakfiets– like I have my Madsen bucket bike. Here, if a parent doesn’t have a bike with a bucket the child rides behind or possibly also in the front (the rack above is not what I am talking about- they do have seats up there).

And let me clarify here that they do not for the most part have super high-tech safety seats. Oh no.

I remember years ago talking with some other moms on FB that I went to high school with. We were comparing bike seats for the kids- 5 point harnesses and all- and studying the Consumer Reports reviews, safety standings and parent reviews. Safe! Secure! Yadda yadda.

Oh my goodness if my friends could see us now. We just got B a seat for the back of my husband’s bike and it’s not much more than fold up flap with a seat belt. No leg protection- nothing. Basically the one my dad had in the 80s was probably ‘safer’ than this thing.

Our new seat for B:


But all of this has me scratching my head and thinking about these articles. Am I too much? Am I hindering the boys by being too cautious over things? How do I know? What if something…. happens? And then there’s that whole thing with how we see nutrition. Hagelslag?! I mean kids really eat this stuff. And here you felt guilty about that pop tart.

I find that I am already starting to let my mind go in the direction of European parenting. Don’t intervene. Give them a chance to figure it out. He’s going to be ok if he falls…that sort of thing. It’s a process and I hope to take the best of both worlds to mish-mash a parenting technique that works for us. There are things that I won’t compromise on though- and I am not one to worry about the Dutch judging me. Actually- the very idea that they would waste their time judging other mothers is pretty ridiculous (they clearly don’t indulge in that sort of thing!) so I have nothing to worry about. Well. Except a broken bone of course.

I am very curious of your thoughts on this. What do you think? 


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Olga @The EuropeanMama May 13, 2013 at 8:38 am

Great post , Farrah! However, Europe is so diverse that you will find a plethora of parenting ethods raising from letting children roam free and “helicopter parenting” them. And, all these article make me crazy- it’s not nice to be told how you’re doing everything wrong…and I believe that Americans got so many things right-it’s just different parenting, not “better” or “worse”…and moms al over the world love their children and want all the best for them.


2 farrah May 13, 2013 at 8:42 am

Agree! I do. I think the main thing I appreciate most is seeing things another way- which leads to another and another and another 🙂 right?? Thanks for commenting!


3 Ann May 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

This is something I’ve been forced to come to terms with because my own family is a bit international (my mom’s from the Philippines), we’re American, living in Germany. I’m sure I was raised with a strong Filipino-leaning. I’m sure I’m raising my kids with a strong American-leaning, but at this point I don’t even know anymore.

One thing that is popular in the US that I’ve never seen here is those cushions for the shopping carts. I think they exist in the states to protect baby from germs. I think people would look at me like I’m nuts if I tried to use one here. Not that I could because the shopping carts are tiny compared to the ones at Publix or Target, and also because I usually don’t need to since I usually have to use a stroller to cart my kids around and don’t have to drive to a grocery story + I have to go to the store more frequently because I carry everything I need. So, part of the reason we parent differently is because we have different circumstances that we are faced with.

It also seems that some things that are such no-no-no, never-ever-ever do this here in Germany, are big tools for parents in the states. Looking at a typical list of must-have items for new parents in the states, and I couldn’t even get a majority of those things here (swings, a glider, those green chairs to help kids sit up (I don’t even know what they’re called)! I don’t actually know what Germans feel they need when they are new parents because I wasn’t on German websites when I did my research, but based on my friends and things I see at stores, the list is pretty limited.

It’s weird for me because I see things that I imagine to be so different than in the states. I’ve never actually parented in the states, though. I’m so fascinated when I talk to my friends here because in our conversations, I feel like we parent the same way. But in practice and what I see, it seems so different. It’s truly a fascinating topic.


4 farrah May 13, 2013 at 9:50 am

Wow Ann- great point about the seat covers. I’ve written at length about the Dutch and their ‘hearty’ germs and all that- the lack of a seat cover is a perfect example. And that seat- the Bumbo! Yes, totally agree. That thing is in reality nothing but an accident waiting to happen. I never understood it and had two with all 3 of the boys.

I’m guessing you probably don’t approve of the wipe-warmer either? 🙂 Thank you so much for your great comment. I love thinking about this. It really is so interesting.


5 Ann May 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

I probably would’ve bought one if I was in the states, but here… There’s not enough outlets in the rooms for that luxury!


6 farrah May 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

So very true! And I do online ordering lol. Which I ADORE.


7 Jen May 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Bumbos were banned years ago in a lot of countries, actually a lot of common US baby items like the door jumpers and crib bumpers have been outlawed years ago because of safety.


8 Kay May 13, 2013 at 9:57 am

I’ll have to agree about the diversity in parenting here in Ireland as well. While I am more the liberal, loose leash parent (although nothing like the Dutch it seems!) I think the Irish are more of the helicopter parents. Kids are so babied here I wonder how most of them learn how to bathe themselves by adulthood. However, there are kids in my son’s school that are in 1st grade ride bikes to and from school (with full protection and high visibility vest though) without any adult supervision. The idea of a 5 or 6 year old riding across and next to busy roads without any adult nearby gives me heart palpations.

It just goes to show that as parents we are all so different that even in homogeneous cultures there is a range of how we each parent.


9 farrah May 13, 2013 at 10:01 am

K, I’m shocked! Goes to show I know nothing about Ireland. I was thinking they were even MORE lax than the Dutch!! Wow. Thanks for the insight- I feel so lucky to have such a diverse group of mom friends from all over the place.


10 Danielle May 13, 2013 at 10:20 am

I am still trying to find a happy medium here in America. I try to let her be independent and have free play and now that she is a little older its getting easier. Although I feel I’ve seen both living here- too much of being a helicopter and then parents that are completely absent minded. I am interested in the articles that you recommended and I think keep doing whatever you are doing- your mama instincts know what is right for your own children. Either way being there too much or letting them self explore they’ll turn out great because they know you are there when and if they need and that’s all that matters. That’s the best kind of parenting.


11 farrah May 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I agree. But I also have been able to recognize that to an extent I have been way over the top with them. They’re boys. They play and explore a little rough sometimes (not the same as ‘boys will be boys’) and I have to get more comfortable with that. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching and waiting in the wings 🙂


12 Solon May 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Being raised mostly in Europe, I believe parents in America are more protective of their children because the crime rate here is horrendous for a country that is not a Third World or Middle Eastern country. The U.S. is lst in assaults out of 58 countries; 6th in murders out of 63 countries; lst in rapes out of 66 countries; and lst in total crimes out of 66 countries. The school shootings and the recent Boston Marathon bombing give parents good reason to be afraid for their children. Sometimes when I hear this country called “The Land of the Free,” I wonder if that only applies to the predatory criminal element.

I am already giving it serious thought about home schooling my children rather than sending them off to school and never knowing if they will come home again.


13 farrah May 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm

So awful. So so so awful. I hate waking up to news of horrible shootings. It scares me to death when I think about moving back.


14 Veronika May 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

The biggest difference I found is in relation to diapers. From my experiences it is pretty normal in the US to have three or four year olds in diapers. In Czech republic, the kids are off diapers by the age of two, two and a half. They would not be accepted to kindergarden or preschool (not sure about the terminology) with diapers.

However, I myself have been looked strangely at as well. I think every child needs to get hurt a bit. So when my son would fall on the ground (you know how kids just suddenly drop or trip when walking) I would just stand above him and told him to get up. It got pretty curious glances when he was about year and half , still unsteady, and was trying to get up and I did not help him (we were at the shopping centre). But now at 4 years old, he falls, he gets up and unless he is really hurt, there is no crying and that is great.


15 farrah May 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm

That is pretty huge! And yes- I was completely laid back when it came to diapers. B wasn’t forced to be potty trained until we came here and I had to get on board. That is pretty interesting.

And I absolutely see where you are coming from with regard to the fall down/pick up part. Some might look at that and think it’s cold- but it’s not. And it is a very European way of parenting. I understand it and need to do a little less ‘immediate’ pick up myself.


16 Leighann May 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I love this! I love it because we are very relaxed in our parenting; meaning we don’t rush over to our daughter with huge awwww’s and oooohhhs if she falls, we see how bad it was. We let her figure things out on her own, we encourage her to ask questions, and we allow her to be independent.
I love that about Europe.
I think we in America (Canada) are too overbearing sometimes and need to relax.


17 farrah May 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I was a very uptight parent. Can you imagine? With three boys I was due a heart attack by 40. I can feel myself unwinding a little here and it feels good. I am still in the range of high strung American by Euro standards (I’m sure) but at least I’m trying.


18 Jen May 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Well as you know I’ve parented in both countries. I always thought I’d stay laid back when we came here to the US but you’re almost forced to become a helicopter parent if you don’t want to have CPS called on you.

If you don’t have a full on first aid kit for the littlest scrape in your 40lb diaper bag, bad parent. Don’t get on the school bus and strap your 3rd grader into the provided seat belt? Bad parent. Don’t have your kid in a bunch of activities they aren’t really interested in so ‘they’ can have a well-rounded social life? Bad parent.

But I do confess that my Euro born kid was in diapers until 3.5, and the American one will follow suit. He’s excluded from attending public preschool until he’s potty trained but that’s the way it goes.


19 Charlotta globatris May 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I once blogged about spotting parents from different countries on a playground by watching how they interact/interfer with their children. Easy, and interesting 🙂 !


20 farrah May 14, 2013 at 6:20 am

Ha- I’m sure Charlotta!


21 farrah May 14, 2013 at 6:20 am

That’s a good point. The intervention from people in the US is something that I don’t think you will see as much over here. And as for the judging- yes, yes and YES.
I think what frustrates me the most with that is I think we all have the common goal of wanting a society with good people. Right? So who gives a crap how you parent? As long as they’re people who aren’t sociopaths that can hurt me and mine- I’m pretty much ok with whatever you choose.

Same with us and the dipes. B decided he was ready just before 4 and that was a-ok with me because it was so insanely easy by that point. He still has yet to have an accident day or night so why would I want to torment myself?


22 CK May 14, 2013 at 12:03 am

I like to compare parenting styles to that of siblings in a family – there are differences if you go looking.

It’s such an over discussed topic as of late… yes there are some parents in some regions of some counties who parent differently than other parents in other countries (EU, NA, SA, Asia, etc.).

Personally speaking, I don’t think it’s a North America vs Europe. Just within Europe alone (Switzerland and France), I met local families where the parents were very hands-off (with laissez-faire approach) and while at the same school, I met locals who were very hands-on with an uptight parenting approach. Back in North America… same diversity in parenting. Shocker, I know!! 😉

My conclusion from my personal observations in the EU and NA… families (no matter what country they are from) with several children (3+) are more relaxed and hands off (for various reasons).

Equally important personal oberservation… more families in the EU (of course there is bias as this is based on only two countries I lived in) seem to be large (3+ children).


23 farrah May 14, 2013 at 6:25 am

Isn’t everything that has to do with parenting hashed and rehashed to death? Seems like the cycle of ‘hot’ parenting topics just goes round and round and there is rarely ever anything new to say.
What I’m grateful for is the opportunity to see it actually put into practice. It’s also helpful for me to actually SEE that relaxing a little isn’t necessarily the end of the world.
It’s probably logical to assume that a family with multiple kids is going to be a little more hands off- they have to be! I remember when it was just B I was always up in his face. ha! I’m sure that he’s now grateful for his brothers to take away some of the focus.


24 Veronika May 14, 2013 at 6:35 am

I have also discovered another difference. In the US, the parenting styles are a big topics of discussion in the media. You hear about tiger moms, helicopters moms, worst moms (Lenore Skenazy) (I know of these because I read CNN.) In the Czech republic, that is not an issue. The parenting styles are more or less similar, as the society is pretty much unified (we have the rich and the poor but not so much, this is still a left over from the communist era). So in media the issues that are discussed are for ex. the length of maternity leave, finances in the family, not enough of places in the state kindergardens, the return of mothers to work after maternity leave and so on. So in essence, practical matters.

One thing, needs to be realised is that we do not have Stay at home moms. This is due to the fact that the maternity leave is 3 YEARS (yes, you read correctly. The first six months are required for the mother to stay at home, and then you can switch with your husband and choose one, two or three years of paternity leave. This sounds great on paper. BUT because there are no state daycares for kids younger than 3 and not everybody can afford a private daycare. Most mothers stay at home for three years and if they have more kids, than they stay at home even longer). Mothers who choose to work during paternity leave (you can) are actually looked down upon (unless they are famous) that they do not want to dedicate themselves fully to the children.

And after three or more years all the mothers go to work, because they have had enough of isolation and because living on a one salary and meagre subsidies from the state is really hard. However, finding a job that will allow you to work part time so that you can pick up kids from kindergarden is also tough. In this sense, we have a lot to catch up on.

So to summ up, the biggest difference is the discourse in the media.

I think over all, in Czech republic we allow the kids freedom the explore and be responsible simply from the fact that the parents do not have time to watch over them all the time (parents are working and grandparents as well) and we believe that kids need to learn how to be on their own, yet on the other hand they have much stricter discipline at home than for ex. in the US.

But the kids still have fun 🙂


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