Is there such a thing as over-parenting? Take comfort in these lessons from a traditionally Dutch mode of parenting, where less is more.
Culture is Relative
Culture has a big impact on how we raise our children and no culture gets everything right. I used to think that my Dutch upbringing was not that different from growing up in the rest of the world. Then I became a nanny and a child care professional, which exposed me to many different cultures. The things we feed our kids, how we discipline them, and how we take care of them: there are vast differences!
The cultural differences in raising children became even clearer to me once I became a mother myself. I married a Bosnian man, my sisters married men from Suriname, and I have family all over the world. Exposure to all those different cultures has altered the way I view my own culture, upbringing and parenting.
One thing that struck me is that I seem to be so much more relaxed (or lazy) with my children compared to my multicultural family members. And when I look at social media or read international parenting blogs, I reach the same conclusion.
I believe the reason that many parents in the Netherlands are considered to be relaxed is because of all the things they don’t do rather than they do. So, if you’re exhausting yourself with doing too much, here are seven things you can learn from the Dutch.
1. Don’t worry about planning all-day-long entertainment for your child
Most parents here send their children to after-school clubs on one or two days a week max. Therefore, most days are left open for free play. That doesn’t mean Dutch parents run around making sure the children are entertained, though. They feel children need to entertain themselves most of the time - playing outside or bringing a friend over from school. The role of the parents is to arrange some lemonade and cookies, while the children are playing. In our household, we occasionally take our daughters to special playgrounds and petting zoos and that’s pretty much it as far as organized activities are concerned.
2. Home cooking needn’t be Michelin starred
Many families in the countryside - and some in the cities - eat the traditional cooked potatoes, vegetables and meat practically every day. Although certainly not adventurous, it’s easy and quick. No fresh herbs, no fancy cooking techniques: just simple, cooked food. At lunch time, kids get sandwiches - first a savory one, with cheese or ham, followed by a sweet one. And yes, a lot of kids eat chocolate sprinkles every day!
3. Don’t bother trying to create little Einsteins
Parents in the Netherlands don’t usually spend much energy persuading their kids to study hard and learn a lot at a young age. They believe that kids will learn what they need to learn at school. And if they do want to learn more about a particular area, they will show interest themselves, instead of their parents pushing them to do it. Having fun at school and enjoying their childhood is probably considered the most important goal during this period.
4. Birthday parties needn’t be professional
Each birthday, Dutch children get birthday garlands, cake (baked or bought) and the pleasure of friends and family coming over. No huge birthday themes, no baking three days beforehand, and most of the party planning is done last minute. This doesn’t mean the birthday boy or girl is not celebrated and doesn’t feel special – on the contrary! We sing songs, give gifts and make sure we spoil the little star of the day. But none of our birthday pictures are Pinterest-proof and we certainly will not win any awards.
5. You don’t need to buy everything new
I love getting second hand clothing and toys for my daughters. I use my sister’s old stroller, I bought my crib from marktplaats.nl (the Dutch e-bay) and I regularly get clothing that my niece has outgrown. In the Netherlands, there’s no taboo in getting or buying second hand clothing or toys for your children, and it can save you a lot of money and time.
6. You are the one in charge of the kids’ schedule - not them
Many parents in the Netherlands believe in routines and early bedtimes for their children. The schedule is holy. This means that Dutch parents may leave early at parties, may not meet with you during naptime, and may have extremely early dinners. But there are several advantages to a tight schedule as well: the children are very well rested, there is less room for discussion about bed time (it’s always the same), and the parents have time for themselves in the evening.
7. Worry less
I let my kids walk barefoot in the house all the time, which shocks my mother-in-law every time she sees it. If my daughter doesn’t want to wear her jacket, I let her experience the cold for herself and most of the time she’ll put her jacket on within five minutes. And if my children fall, I don’t come running to pick them up immediately. First, I observe if they are hurt and need me. Many times, they’ll just get up and play on.
When they get older, I’ll let them play outside by themselves and let them walk to school alone when the time feels right. The reason for this less protective way of parenting is that I want my daughters to grow into responsible, resilient and independent adults. As they grow up, I want them to learn as many life lessons as they can. If needed, I’ll intervene – but otherwise, I won’t stand in the way. It’s a parenting philosophy that is shared by many parents here.
If you interact long enough with Dutch parents, you are bound to recognize some of the parenting characteristics described above. They seem to be relaxed and leave their kids a lot of space for exploring the world. In the end, there is no fixed right or wrong way to raise a child. But one thing I know for sure: being a mom is not an easy task, so if being a bit Dutch every now and then helps you cope, it can’t be such a bad thing.
Kittie Ansems is a former child care professional, a mom of two, and a parenting books fanatic. Her website www.happydutchhome.com is all about helping moms survive their kids’ toddler years, using Dutch parenting principles.