Learning from the World’s Most Relaxed Moms
Last week the Washington Post parenting section published an article “Are they the world’s most relaxed moms? What we can learn from the Dutch.” My Facebook feed and e-mail exploded with people asking if the article’s premise was true.
Yes. Dutch moms are incredibly relaxed.
Just like the author of this article, I’m living in the Netherlands with two toddlers. My mom friends are a mix of expats and English speaking Dutch women. In the few short months I’ve lived here though, I’ve been lulled into being a more relaxed parent.
Here are my observations:
- Playtime is plentiful. Homework is limited to encouraging some reading, leaving plenty of time for the older kids to just play. Many Dutch children come home for lunch and enjoy a half-day on Wednesdays and/or Fridays. Playgrounds are tucked everywhere and children are encouraged to play on the less busy streets.
- The gift of time. Many of the moms work part-time taking at least one day per week off to be home with the kids. Many dads also work part-time. (You can read this article from the Economist on why so many Dutch people work part time. This article from the New York Times talks about the shorter, more flexible work schedules for men and women.) This gives moms (and dads) plenty of time to spend with their kids. I’m still amazed (but I shouldn’t be) at how many dads I see walking prams around the neighborhood or waiting to pick the kids up for lunch.
- Kids can be kids. The Dutch truly let their children play, interact and resolve conflict on their own. Most of my “play dates” occur at playgrounds with cafes. The kids play happily on the playground with limited parental interaction. The moms enjoy their coffee while the kids play. Sure, if someone falls or if the parents see someone doing something really dangerous the parents hop up to intervene. In general though the kids are allowed to run, climb, fall and get up all without parental intervention. A Dutch child having a tantrum is largely ignored, as it is not a reflection of poor parenting, but of the child being a child.
- Daily exercise. Most Dutch moms are on their bike every day. We all know exercise helps you stay relaxed, but it also provides some great bonding time with the kids. Dutch moms point out the world to their children while it goes by on the bike. This time on the bike is an amazing bonding time. Every bike ride is filled with animals, shops, different vehicles and fresh air for us all to enjoy. When the kids want to see what a swan is going to do, we stop and watch it. I cannot turn up the radio or drown the kids out, we are all on this bike watching the world together. When Dutch moms are not biking around they are pushing the little ones around in the pram, going for a run or finding other outdoor adventures. Even in the rain they just wrap the littles up or pop a rain cover on and continue on their way.
- Honesty. The Dutch are often chastised for being brutally honest. The flip side is that they accept their children for who they are and as separate individuals from themselves. I have yet to hear a Dutch mom brag on her child. They will matter of factly state what their child can and can not do well. This vein runs so deep that even Santa tells the children their faults and not just how good they have been.
Given these habits it is no wonder Dutch children are perhaps the happiest children in the world. (See this Huffington Post article.)
A quick search of “American parenting” brings up articles like “American Parenting is Killing Marriage,” “American Parenting and the Culture of Worry” or “American Parenting Misguided for Decades.” It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
I still have a lot of American parent left in me. My Dutch mom friends laugh at my activity bins filled with games to help the boys learn to read earlier or nail down math skills faster. I fill the time on long train rides with activity books and writing practice. I worry about the kids getting hurt, getting lost or falling behind in school. I’m also still not comfortable leaving a child sleeping at home while I run to school (just up the street) to get another one, something my Dutch mom friends are always encouraging me to do so as not to ruin the little one’s nap while I juggle the lunchtime school break.
I am however learning to slow down and step back. It is quite an easy transition when the framework is changed. My Dutch friends ask how the boys are fitting in at school and not about the school’s credentials. They want to discuss world events, travel plans and other adult topics, not our kids’ milestones. (Not to say they won’t celebrate the great ones, like potty training, with you.) I’m encouraged to take a collective breath, slow down and enjoy life.
Regardless of how you feel about parenting, one thing is clear: happy moms lead to happy kids. That is a truth we can all get behind.
Oh and just in case I gave the wrong impression. . .my kids are not always happy.
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