Parenting in the NL: Straddling The Line

by farrah on May 25, 2015 · 9 comments

I find that I want my cake and to eat it too. I straddle this weird line being an American parent in Europe- where if you listen to some mom/parenting blogs these days- being an American mom is filled with crazy. I don’t want to be crazy. But I also can’t be this inherently laid back parent either. I *want* to be that person, but I just… can’t. And I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t sit back here on my throne away from the American-ness and say that many of y’all sound like you’re a bit too into helicoptering, free-ranging or whatever the new buzz word of the moment might be. I do. I judge and think I’m not like that. But….

twThis feels like a lifetime ago.

Perfect example: I’ve spoken many times about birthday parties here, playdates and the like. They’re definitely less structured, child-led and by no means Pinteresty or something to brag about. A child get-together is a simple act like it’s supposed to be, and up until now I’ve had no qualms with any of it- until I had a birthday party situation that to anyone else here was no big deal, but to me with my ‘Americanness‘ it ended up a bit sticky (mostly due to my own creation).

My three boys are all in the same class at the neighborhood school. My oldest is 6 moving on the next group in the fall, and the twins who turned 4 joined in October. My three are definitely a three and not a ‘twin +’ regardless of my blog’s tagline. So when two of my boys were invited to a mutual friend’s birthday party (one four and my 6),  I immediately felt uneasy about it.

The one who wasn’t invited is so much like me. Overly sensitive to friendship triangles, a little unsure where he fits, but still wants to be friends with everyone. So it hurt me to think of how he would react when he realized he wasn’t invited. At first I thought it was a mistake- as maybe we were missing an invitation. Inviting one of the boys- or maybe just the twins made more sense to me than the older and a younger. But this- this again is Europe and it’s not an ‘everyone’s a winner!‘ state. It’s what the child wants and that’s fine.

Unlike our first school in the U.S, you don’t have to invite the whole class to the party. I get that, and I’ve embraced this philosophy and loved it until this moment. In this situation I didn’t want to be the one that had to explain to one of my 4s that no, he wasn’t invited to the party and see his feelings hurt (gasp!). Instead what I’ve done is (I think) something very inherently American: I made a big deal about the special day he and I (and my husband) would have together. I took them all to a special lunch, then after I dropped off two I fussed over our ‘just you and me’ time. I padded it with a movie, a long nap (not my choice I swear! but I didn’t complain) and asked my husband to rearrange his schedule to be able to do something with him too while they were gone.

That might not seem like something over the top or excessive to you- American readers. But I’m embarrassed to tell anyone here what I did as I know they’d look at me like I was a little but crazy for going to all of that trouble. Why did I feel I had to do those things? He took my cues and reacted based on how I was reacting, so wasn’t it me who made the whole situation messy in the first place? Was I doing enough? Or maybe too much? There I go again, trying to be like the Dutch and failing miserably.

I am still here trying to balance life as I knew it and life as I know it. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel that I am more experienced raising kids in Europe than I was in the States- considering the time that we’ve been here vs. their ages. But I can’t ignore all of the noise that I read and hear about coming from ‘back home’. It really makes me wonder about what life will be like when we return. I know they’ll be a bit older- and I thank my lucky stars for not living somewhere now at these ages where I feel I have to compete with other moms or feel inadequate because what I don’t do (or do). What scares me is that I am going to drop down out of the sky and just shatter from the stress of it all. I don’t want to go back to a life where it’s all about making a big ado about nothing.

I hope that those rumors are just rumors I read. I want to come home to a place I feel welcomed and accepted and my kids are part of the whole thing. I’m the least fun helicopter I know, and no one wants to see that side of me. So let’s find a middle ground please. Something like, ‘I’ll raise my kids, you raise yours, and we can help each other.‘ That sounds great.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gayla May 25, 2015 at 8:37 am

This was a very insightful post. I don’t have kids, so my expat experience is different, yet I can relate to some of the feelings you have about adjustment and the balancing of two worlds. I want to be mindful of, and try to understand, the struggles others endure, so thanks for this. My hat goes off to you and the other Moms and Dads living life in a foreign land. Chapeau!


2 farrah May 25, 2015 at 9:08 am

It’s really a universal thing whether you have kids or not. And it’s easy to sit back and look at the way things ‘are’ or what we think they are like back home- while we’re away. There’s also that adage of we leave and think everything stays the same- but it doesn’t. I don’t know- it will be telling when we return to see how much I have changed and if people think I’m from Mars 🙂


3 Ann May 25, 2015 at 12:46 pm

If it makes you feel better – I think it’s mostly rumors. With some really crazy examples that are true – but few. One of my American friends here told me that no one really cares what you do here. But, I think that’s more in terms of ipad usage and giving treats (both of which are judged no-nos in Germany.)

I spend way more time internalizing and comparing now than I would have if I was never in Europe… which leads me to having conversations with parents here that, I’m sure, makes me sound like a freak. Or a martian. 🙂

I will say that one big difference is that people label their parenting much more here than in Germany. In Germany, parents just parent. Last week I actually described myself as a social helicopter parent. I trust my kids at the playground and on the street and in “dangerous” situations, but I worry about their peer relationships. Ugh.


4 farrah May 27, 2015 at 5:57 am

I (hopefully) agree with you. I wonder if I’m going to do that. Here, I see parents and their behaviors and say ‘I want to emulate that’ because it works and because it’s something I aspire to be. Not in anything more than good parenting. Does that make sense?
Just yesterday I talked to the boys’ teacher about how to best go about disciplining them since I need help in that department. She doesn’t make me feel bad or inadequate- but I know after 30plus years teaching kids of this age she’s an expert. THOSE are the kinds of experts I care about.


5 Michelle P May 25, 2015 at 2:54 pm

As a mom who lives in an American metro area where parents are judged based on how many languages their kids speak and how fancy their preschools are, I totally hear you. It can be exhausting. Parents in a suburb of DC are facing legal issues and CPS because they let their 10 and 6 year old children walk home from the park alone (half a mile from their house!) and some nimrod neighbor called the cops. At some point, the pendulum has to swing back to a more laissez-faire style… doesn’t it??


6 farrah May 27, 2015 at 5:59 am

Do you think that it has become less about parenting but more about the parent and their lifestyle? That’s almost what I gather. The children and their prestige are an extension of the person- which is a pretty sick way society is going if we’re not using our kids as representatives of that. You know?

So yeah, here’s hoping things can go back to laissez-faire, since things can only get so bad before they get better, right?


7 Ace CB May 26, 2015 at 7:51 pm

This a thousand times. If I had been in your shoes, I would have done he same in that party situation. It’s a strangle thing to have your foot in each culture, and I don’t have any insight, but I’m of the same mind.


8 farrah May 27, 2015 at 6:00 am

Thanks Ace! Isn’t is funny how aware we can be of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and yet we do it anyway?


9 JMAC May 27, 2015 at 9:16 pm

I tend to agree with the above post, that the stories you may be reading make the headlines or the facebook posts because they are the exceptions or extreme examples. I do have a tendency to obsess on certain decisions related to the kids (parties and whether to have them and entering or engaging in sports, etc.) and it would nice if that was more low key like it sounds like is the case in the NL. Maybe I would obsess less if these were not regular parenting topics here? But in the every day, the parents I interact with and see typically are trying to enjoy their kids and make the best decisions for their own family and don’t really care, for example, if I do have a party for my kid, if it’s in my backyard with a lemonade and ice cream sundaes or at some kidcentric venue. And I don’t get the sense that they are paying too much attention to what my kids wear, what I do or what I drive, etc. but perhaps we are lucky with the parents at my kids’ school and the community we are in. The nice thing for you, is that you will have your NL parenting experience when you do return, and can keep things in perspective.


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