Parenting Like the Dutch: Why Can’t I?

by farrah on September 16, 2013 · 27 comments

This weekend we were pretty busy. We did more things on Saturday and Sunday than we normally do on a weekend (if we’re not traveling) because I am the laziest person in our family. We were out and about, enjoying the fall weather and having a good time. As usual however, after we spend a weekend surrounded by Dutch families I am once again reminded that I need to practice parenting like the Dutch.


This weekend we had an expat club meeting on Saturday and the Dragon Boat Festival on Sunday. I took some time during these events to think more about the Dutch people themselves and in particular the parents and kids. I’m still trying to figure them out- understand why I read things that say they’re so successful with their relationships with their children (go ahead, google Dutch parent/child relationships), and understand how I can become less of a ‘hoverer’ so to speak.

Saturday night was an expat club meeting in Tilburg at 4pm. It was a great turnout and held at a bar/restaurant that has the playground in the back. That’s so common here, I have to say it’s pretty brilliant. The restaurant soon grew too crowded for us, so we made our way to the playground and then eventually out to dinner with some other expat friends. The place we took them is pretty new for the area- and serves up pizza and pasta (really fast and really cheap). Our favorite thing about this restaurant is that there is a play room on the second floor with a completely enclosed climbing structure/ball pit/etc. The boys LOVE it.

My husband is really great about being the one to monitor the kid situation, so he took the first round of watching the guys in the play area while I stayed at the table. After a bit, we traded and I hung out with them. Besides our three, there was our friend and maybe 10 other kids of varying ages. You know I was the only other parent there, right? Because I was. Why? Why did I feel like I had to sit there and monitor them? Why couldn’t I just be ok, know they weren’t going to go anywhere- or be taken (honestly, that’s my last thought over here)? Because in MY mind- my biggest thing is that they’re going to get hurt.

As I type that I actually asked myself – hurt with what? And how? And so? They need to learn.

photo-237Where we sat to watch the race, along that wire at the bottom. I had a nightmare last night B fell in.

So yesterday… we went to the Dragon Boat festival in Tilburg. Along the canal there was a street filled with beer tents, inflatable bounce house things, a food stand, and on the side of the canal were the team tents. Since my husband was rowing- our ‘home base’ for the day was pretty much in the tent area watching the Dragon Boats finish. However, there were also pretty big spans of time in between their races and we (of course) had to see the bounce house things.

Chaos. Total chaos. But isn’t that the point?

photo-236Where’s Linc?

I remember back in SC there was a bounce house place we used to go to with the boys- they had ‘toddler mornings’ where kids over the age of 6 or 7 were ‘discouraged’ but not disallowed. You know I was filled with contempt if I saw a child who looked too old to be (gasp!) bouncing in one of the things. I would hurry the boys from one bounce thing to another if I thought they were in danger of being jumped on.

Oh my gosh. Was I serious?

So hereΒ I have learned that with bounce houses- anything goes. They are not monitored, there is no limit to the number of kids that can go in them. There is additionally no age limit either. They are just gigantic air-filled germ-colonies colorfully gyrating and beckoning my kids.

I watched the Dutch parents set their kids loose- and minutes later their child would return crying. Quick hug, and they would go back in. Rinse and repeat. The parents weren’t worried…they were there to comfort their kid, and then move on. So what was my problem? Why couldn’t I relax just for a minute?

Because I can’t. Those things fill me with dread. I still think of my boys as too little, too easily injured. They’re a head injury waiting to happen.

But I need to let go a little bit more. I need to just exhale and say- so what? So what if they get their head bonked. I did! I clearly remember being in those things- or things like that and hurting myself. It happens. They’re kids and they’re going to get banged up. B actually got a pretty good smack on the side of his head. When I saw the red mark I was yelling in there (hovering on the edge) ‘Are you ok?!!’ and he just laughed and kept going.

The Dutch must think I’m crazy- but HOW. HOW DO THEY DO IT???


Expat Life with a Double Buggy

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sarah September 16, 2013 at 8:27 am

I was a hover parent until my grandmas german landlord told me to stop letting my kids not gain independence. Leonie told me that they need that to become productive citizens. That slapped me into reality. So i now let them do more. When leonie and Hans came to dinner we did a call stateside to my grandparents via skype she and my gram both got on me. One thing i noticed too is our area has low crime rates. That eased my mind some. That the german people all look out for the young and old. My son fell of one of those spinning things. A mom was there to see if he was ok as i crossed the park to get to him. I have fully embraced this parenting and it has lessened the tension in the house. They know too this is a privledge and if tey mess up i have no problem putting on a fasching hat holding their hand and singing to them in public. You can do it start little let them go in a play area and you stay back. Let them know you will be sitting there and keep line of sight. Build off of there. We are from summerville SC πŸ™‚


2 farrah September 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Ah! Hello there! I really really do love the mentality of the community helping out- not because they have to, but because they want to look after their own. I am uptight to begin with- so this is something that is just a huge struggle all the way around.


3 Marloes September 16, 2013 at 9:06 am

Of course, I HAD to read this one! Strangely, here in France I seem to be the parent most protecting! The French really let their kids go free!! I don’t know if in France it would be ‘even worse’ for you, but to be honest; is it a bad thing to be more around than others? I feel comfort in the fact that if my kids need me they find me without having to look for me. Keep it going as you feel best!


4 farrah September 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I don’t know. I really don’t know. On the one hand, being too overly-involved has got to have consequences, and I don’t want to make them too freaked out to do things. BUT- I have noticed that when they see kids doing risky things (climbing on something unsafe, etc) they will say ‘Mom, what’s that kid doing?!’ I just want them to be cautious. But still have fun and explore. You know?


5 Olga @The EuropeanMama September 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

I am always amazed how relaxed the Dutch are… but of course, they have it easier- they have a support system, mostly have family around, can work part-time, have good quality daycares. Expats do not have all these things (even though expat support in the NL has been fantastic so far), and they also a re faced with cultural differences and they are more unsure! And it depends on the child as well- I am more relaxed with my second because she is a very calm child. My first one however wants to do more than she is actually able to and can- and did- hurs herself sometimes.As for the canals- my first aid teacher saud that actually many children fall in and die, so I am rather careful around them. I often think that the Dutch are sometimes not careful enough…


6 farrah September 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I do agree with you- on all counts. And when we moved here I clearly remember someone at school telling me that they get kids swimming so early because of the canals. Makes sense! And I too wonder if they aren’t careful enough… but I am also the outsider looking in. It all makes for very interesting pondering πŸ™‚


7 Becca September 16, 2013 at 11:09 am

I can understand wanting to have the ability to let go a little, because you and I seem to be kindred spirits in the kid supervision department. However, those bounce houses really scare me. Besides the obvious you wrote about, I personally know a little girl who was severely injured in one. The bounce house lost electricity and collapsed. She was trapped for a bit without air. She survived, but due to lack of oxygen, she has all the symptoms a stroke victim would have.

So I get you. I am terrified that if I let go when I know better, something will happen. I just don’t want something to happen to my daughter because I was lax in supervision. Ah, the dilemmas we face as parents.


8 farrah September 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Oh my gosh. You know- that’s all it takes. One close call on a personal level and your perception is even more influenced.

And you bet- we let up, and then something happens? So who wins? NO ONE. My twins at 3 are still working on the coordination and I notice that they DO need me to help them out every once in a while. I think that the big win that I have here is that a) if they’re judging me I have no idea and b) I don’t really get the feeling that the Dutch sit around and judge each other like US parents. Isn’t that funny?


9 Theresa September 17, 2013 at 5:26 am

Hi Farrah,

I’m a fellow North American expat here in NL (saw your post on Rotterdam Moms page) and just wanted to chime in.

My little guy is just two and I’m having the same conflict regarding helicopter parenting. I also spend far too much time wondering if people are judging me and my parenting “skills”. However, since my inlaw’s are Dutch I’ve gained some perspective. They’re really not (for the most part) judging us. In fact, we’re probably not on their radar. They just seem so busy living life and not really thinking too much about it. I mean obviously they think (I’m not a total asshole) but I don’t think they jump to worst case scenarios as often as “we” do.

Like any of us they want the best for their kids but it just seems to somehow come easier to them. I don’t know about you, but being so far from home/comforts has left me a bit too google/Internet dependent. My Dutch mom friends/in laws just don’t do that. If they have a question they ask their family members or a doctor.

I think in my case google has turned me into a paranoid mess. Who has it right? I’m not sure yet but I hope for all of us that we can find a middle ground that just feels…right!


10 farrah September 17, 2013 at 7:39 am

Hi! You’ve pretty much confirmed my suspicions, too. I agree- I’m not even on the radar! And not really in a bad way- I just don’t think that they care. I find that I am more critical of my own hovering ways- I double think myself, over analyze, etc. etc. What a waste of time.

I learned long ago that google is not my friend when it comes to my kids. That is my LAST resort when it comes to any kind of question related to my kids- especially weird symptoms πŸ™‚ I try to avoid that at all costs! And yes, a middle ground sure would be nice. I’m really hoping that by the time we’re ready to leave I’ve learned a thing or two and can take that back with me.


11 Brittany September 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I hear you. I am pretty good with letting go except around bounce houses, trampolines of ANY sort and water. I think these are places where children as young as ours need supervision as they don’t always recognize the danger. Spinal injuries can happen very quickly on a trampoline and so I am the 1 kid at a tine parent. For bounce houses, I am a little looser but I make sure that I am watching and that big kids are being careful of the smaller ones. Around water, I am like a hawk around Violet (3) and slightly less so with Sophia and Miles (5 and 6) who can swim fairly well. However, I do not take my eyes of them, I just give them a little more space.

In other areas, like playing in the neighborhood, I am a little more lax for sure. It is all about what you are comfortable with and I think there are plenty of situations where they have a lot of freedom so I don;t worry as much about the times when I might hover a little.


12 farrah September 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

One thing that I have noticed- like you mention playing in the neighborhood- is that I’m MUCH more easygoing with letting B go on a playdate with someone I don’t even know. The last time I don’t even think I had their contact info or knew where they lived! So in that regard, I have let up a little and relaxed.

But yeah- those bounce things just don’t sit well with me. And with the big kids in there…. it’s just a cocktail for disaster.Maybe the Dutch aren’t as sue- happy as we are here so they don’t monitor it?


13 Elizabeth September 16, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I can offer perspective on what happens at the upper end of the childhood spectrum in terms of parents not being as present in their children’s lives. For us, the example is sports. When kids have sporting events, parents go, right? Some even sit through practices. Not in Germany! For the most part, kids get themselves to and from practice be it by bike, foot, or bus. For games, kids get themselves to their home fields and then their coaches drive them to the games. Parents aren’t ever there for games or practices. Ever. As in, we are the only ones who go to our kids’ events. I tried to be the German parent in this regard for Madison’s track meet that was in Stuttgart. I had her get herself to the school by bus and train and then she went with the team to the meet. About an hour after she left, I couldn’t stand it. So, we got in the car and drove two hours to the meet. She was rather surprised to see us, but I could tell she was really glad we were there. With Anna Katherine, away soccer games were not even a question. There was no way I was sending her with people I didn’t know who didn’t speak English. She would have been miserable, but just as importantly, what would I have missed? This past weekend, Madison had her cross country event. Charlie did not want to go at all and felt like we needed to let her go on her own. She totally could have and would have been 100% fine and had a great time. But, that was totally not the point. If I am going to be honest, I’d say that there are times when I know how many days, hours, and minutes there are until I drop her off at college and drive away smiling. I can hear you gasping with shock from here. But, most of the time I am realizing a sense that these days I thought would last forever are coming to a close. When your kid only has three years left with you, you start to realize that things like these sporting events are finite and these times really are like sand through the hour glass. So, we went…and of course were the only parents. But, when we caught site of Madison coming around the bend to the finish, getting ready to set a PR by a significant amount, it was worth all of the effort and sticking out like a sore thumb. There are some things you just don’t know the greatness of until you experience them. In this regard, I actually feel badly for the German and other European parents. I don’t think this attendance at sporting events makes my child any or less dependent on me. I think it sends a message to my children that their events are important to me, yet it doesn’t take away from all of the lessons they are learning on the field. America-1; Germany-0.


14 farrah September 17, 2013 at 7:42 am

What a fantastic perspective Elizabeth! I love the way you see this. It helps to realize that for the most part- this super-hovering thing (while it is exhausting) is also going to end, eventually. I think sometimes it’s really hard for me to see past the weeds of 3&4 year old life.

A and I both came from a strong background of family and school sports. His dad has been a coach going on 40 years now- and my dad always helped out a games. I can’t imagine it any other way with the boys. I’m so glad that you feel the way that you do- and are able to catch those moments with the girls.


15 Julie September 17, 2013 at 2:39 am

I’m so jealous of all of the restaurants with play spaces you get to visit! We are thrilled to have a restaurant nearby with a small play area and servers who refill our coffee without asking…

My twins are almost five (so great- they play for hours together without needing me!) and I definitely don’t hover anymore but I do fear what could happen while I am not nearby. We live very close to a bouncy house play space which is great and while I’m not terrified that the inflatables will collapse any more, I do get nervous when they are way out of view or older kids are playing as well as they tend to jump from the top, potentially landing on a child below…

Scrapes are fine but a broken neck would be hard to get over! There is a balance between allowing your child to learn to climb up the jungle gym on their own and risking real injury…


16 farrah September 17, 2013 at 7:44 am

Well, the one perk you have on us is no one is usually offering a refill πŸ™‚ But for the most part- I can’t get over all of the attached playgrounds/play areas at restaurants and cafes. And I agree with you- an injury is all about balance. On the one hand you want them to realize that certain risky behavior can be dangerous (thus a lesson learned) but on the other- hello! No one wants to end up in the ER.


17 JMAC September 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm

I’m with you on toning down the hovering instinct but my pediatrician, who has five kids, has only warned me off of two things- offering puffs or similar first snack crackers and bounce houses. He has a no bounce house rule until kids are in first grade and even then he thinks they are awful for injuries and germs. He is otherwise extraordinarily laid back so I have listened to him on both counts.


18 farrah September 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I think it sounds like you have a pretty wise pediatrician. I like someone with simple rules like that!


19 Leighann September 18, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I can understand your feelings. I find that I hover when we are at parks because I worry that someone will take my daughter or that she won’t be able to see me. I really need to work on being less of a worrier and give her more independence.


20 Gayla September 19, 2013 at 7:57 am

I’m not a parent, but I’ve noticed some of the things you mention here about Dutch parenting. It really is a totally different environment than in the US, most of Europe seems to be on the same page in a different book. LOL! I hope you find peace within yourself about your methods. Don’t stress too much, I think you’re doing fine πŸ™‚


21 Meghan Fenn March 11, 2015 at 2:03 pm

To be honest, even if you do watch very carefully, they might still get hurt. Things can happen in a split second and even if you’re right beside them, you might not be able to prevent it from happening! The Dutch parenting style sounds good to me πŸ™‚ However, it’s hard to change over night, it takes time and practice πŸ™‚ #ExpatLifeLinky


22 Phoebe @ Lou Messugo March 11, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Following on from what Meghan says above , it also gets easier as the kids get older (though I don’t suppose it ever goes away!) If you come from a country with over strict health and safety regulations and it’s always being drummed into you how dangerous life is then you can’t just change and relax. But realistically the percentage of kids getting really hurt in bouncy castles and the like is very small so if you’re from a country that doesn’t regulate everything then I guess it’s easier to relax and let go a bit. Imagine, Scandinavian parents leave their babies sleeping in prams outside cafΓ©s while they are inside! This seems a step too far for me but I’m sure if I’d been brought up in Iceland then I’d be able to do this. Try and take the best things you see from Dutch culture but believe in yourself and don’t change completely. #expatlifelinky


23 Ersatz Expat March 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm

I grew up with a Dutch mother and spent a lot of time living with Oma en Opa. My husband is English and really we just use a mix of methods that seem right to us. I can’t understand the English habit of ‘child-free’ or being over vested in early bedtimes if school is not an issue. Equally I think some Dutch children can be too out of control at times. We let ours make mistakes but insist on manners at all times.

We parent like its still 1980 or even earlier! It works for our family but one of the things I have learned as a parent is that most people do what is right for them so our way probably seems really odd others! As long as kids are happy and healthy it is all good.


24 Amanda @Expat Life with a Double Buggy April 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

I cannot tell you how much I relate to this. I watch the Dutch in action and think why can’t I be so chilled? I’m working on it……


25 Linda April 7, 2015 at 11:59 pm

I still am a bit of a “helicopter” momma to our adult bachelor son, but we never let him “run wild” like my Dutch in-laws did with their two sons. Now my SIL and both of her sons have nervous disorders. It makes me wonder what their lives would have been like if all three of them had been calmer and more cautious.
Linda@Wetcreek Blog


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