Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do Europeans parent better than Americans?

I have a lot of thoughts on cross cultural parenting and what kind of parenting cultures are better.  But in order to talk about parenting I have to go into the cultural context first.  I apologize in advance if this post is somewhat muddled because these ideas are wrapped up in other ideas I have about European culture as a whole.

First, to clear up any confusion lets first define the deference between parenting styles and parenting cultural.  Parenting styles are the way in which individuals approach child rearing.  You can read about them more here.  Parenting culture is the environment in which children are raised and can vary from place to place within a country.  French children are raised to be French but their parenting culture might be quiet different if they are raised in Paris or the country around Parentis-en-Born.  All French children are raised in French culture.  This is true for people everywhere.  Individual parents have different parenting styles and countries in Europe have different cultures but there are some across the board similarities between European parents. 

There are in existence a lot of parenting books.  Some of which might suggest that the French (or Europeans in general) parent better than Americans.  This is an idea that's been floating around on the Internet for years. Almost every blogger whose blog I read has touched on this once.  They almost always universally agree with it.  Even the American parents insist that they were raised as children or are raising their kids 'European'.  This makes the wannabe sociologist in me give a sad little sigh.  I think the idea that Europeans parent better comes from this idea Americans have that Europe is culturally superior to America.   While I understand the romanticized concept of Europe I don't always think that plays out in reality.

I haven't raised children in America.  I only vaguely know about American parenting culture from my own upbringing and the few people I know that have children in the US.  The American kids I know are great.  They are polite, well behaved, healthy and really well dressed.  They have set mealtimes, don't constantly interrupt their parents or ruin their lives.  I have never met the mythical American child tyrant who demands to be fed chicken nuggets and throws so many tantrums that the parents can never go anywhere without a babysitter.  I'm sure bratty children exists in the US but in my experience they are not the typical child.  Out of the ten or so children I babysat for back in the 1990s I only remember one family that had children who misbehaved. 

Bratty, misbehaving children can be found in Germany as well.  Like the US they are the exception and not the majority.  People are going to pay attention to the one child throwing a tantrum much more than the ten that aren't.  As an English teacher I worked in kindergartens, taught private lessons and groups lessons.  Most of the children were really sweet and a pleasure to work with.  The kids I had problems with were nightmares that I attributed solely to the parenting choices of their primary caregivers, not their German culture.

If you don't have children it might blow your mind to find out that all kids throw tantrums, push boundaries, wake during the night and all babies cry!   All of them!  Even the French!  Buried deep in the article on why French parenting is better is their secret for getting babies to sleep through the night-

'It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep.'

I'm not quiet sure how to convey my disappointment through the written word but REALLY!!!??? That is it?  That's the trick?  We have that in the US but instead of 'teaching babies patience' we call it 'controled comforting'.  It's a well known sleep training method that isn't particularly French at all.  In Germany most babies sleep in a crib in their parent's room for the first year.  Sophie's pediatrician would have been mortified if I'd refused to get up in the middle of the night and feed a crying two month old.  Pediatricians in the US don't recommend sleep training until babies are six months old.  The general consensus being that young babies needs to eat every two-four hours.   Ignoring a two month old that is hungry or thirsty in the middle of the night isn't going to kill them but it doesn't sound like a very nice thing to do. 

As an American living in a European country I probably parent differently than Americans living in America.  Germany gives parents incentives that take the financial stress out of having a baby.  They also provide states subsidized kindergarten starting at 18 months.  It's possible we enjoy parenting more because of the child friendly German culture.   That doesn't mean I'd want to raise Sophie as a German.

I feel like our shared American culture is important for developing creativity, individuality and flexibility.  These are qualities that I admire in Americans but have found to be somewhat lacking in Germans.  On the other hand it would be nice if Americans didn't feel so divorced from society, cared more about soical issues and the environment. 

While I can't say if Europeans parent better, I think all cultures have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to parenting.  I don't believe you can set one culture, like say the French, above Americans or Germans and say 'ahhh, yes, these people have figured it out.  They are the perfect parents.'  Of course not.  American parenting produces American children and French parenting produces French children and the world is a better place with both in it.  We can learn from each other but it's probably not a good idea to say that one is better than the other.


What do you think?

5 comments:

  1. I'm an American, married to an American, raising a child in America, but it is so important to me that my baby is multicultural. I speak two languages and my husband speaks four, so we are able to read to the baby in foreign languages and my husband speaks to him in Russian about 50% of the time. As we've introduced solids, I'm careful to make sure my baby eats "exotic" foods too. (He had nori for dinner tonight.)

    We live in an increasingly globally interconnected world and I want my son to appreciate and be prepared to participate in all of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I realized rereading this now that the last paragraph came off a bit like kids raised between two cultures are better but of course that isn't right. I suppose what I mean to say is that I don't think any culture is going to turn out better children and I think American kids are just as good as kids anywhere. It's entirely possible to raise kids bi or trilingual in America but it's a lot of work for the parents or costs a lot if you hire tutors.

      While you can expose your kids to lots of different experiences I think the idea of multicultural is misunderstood. They are going to be raised in the culture of the country they live in. This is because American parents interact differently with their children. Culture is a lot more than just food, language and religion. It's an entirely different set of values and way of thinking. If we stay in Germany for her entire childhood then Sophie is going to end up being more German than American. This is one of the reasons why I want to move back to the States before she turns 18.

      As a mom it's easier for me because Sophie is probably going to learn most of her German at kindergarten so I don't have to teach her German. Sometimes I wish we lived in Spain or France because while learning German is great I think she's only going to use it if she goes to university in Germany or chooses to live here when she's an adult. As a dual citizen that's going to be her choice and she may very well decide to live in America.

      Delete
  2. I read Bringing Up Bebe and liked a lot of the ideas I read in there about eating and sweets and saying no, etc., but I wholeheartedly disagreed with other aspects like scoffing at drug-free childbirth and only breastfeeding for a couple of days or weeks. Anyway, all this to say that I agree with you, there are well behaved children all over the world and there are naughty children all over the world. We can develop our "custom-made" parenting styles by taking ideas we like from other cultures as well as our own.

    Also, as much as I hope to expose my child to different cultures and raise him speaking Spanish (my husband is the English language model), the truth is Spanish is not my native tongue (it's English) so he is not going to be as truly bilingual as he would be if I were married to a Mexican and living in Mexico. My American cousin raised her 3 kids speaking Spanish, French and English. They are now preteens, and are they trilingual? No, because my cousin's native tongue is English. Anybody can incorporate "multicultural" ideas into their lifestyle, but it's very difficult to be truly multilingual. When it comes to languages, I think Sophie has a huge advantage for learning both languages, but I think she will still have a dominant language and identify more with one culture than the other (as you stated), the one she lives in the most. Unless you split your time equally between the US and Germany, I don't think there's any way around it. My American friend married a Swiss and they live in Switzerland. Her 2 kids speak English very well, but they are Swiss through and through. There are just some nuances of American culture that they don't get from visiting the US for a month every 2 years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am sorry to say this, but all of you are talking about how many languages your kids speak and what accomplishments you did as parents. On top of it, there is national pride. Of American Heritage.
      What about the kids?
      What about when they are 18 or 19 and tell you you know nothing because American culture of parenting enforces children never to hear word NO.
      Let's be realistic. It's not about how many countries they visited. Or how many languages they speak. It's about our children respecting parents and family. And family rules.
      All of you with 3 4 or 7 yr Olds are boasting about how many languages they speak. Let me tell you. Once they turn 18 or even 16, you will be surprised HOW MANY LANGUAGES THEY SPEAK!
      So. As a mom of 3, with oldest 26 and youngest 18. The only advice I can give is this: You never know. They can and will cause grey hairs. Each one of them is different. And each will cause grey hair for different reason. And eventually they will be OK. With Gods help and parents hard work and prayer.
      So. PLEASE stop with this upitty 3 4 16 languages speaking kids. Obviously you are still giving them baths, feeding them, and putting them to bed at 9 or earlier.
      Let's just get serious.
      Stop with patriotism and get real about raising real, accountable, responsible adults. It gets tougher after 16.
      It's not about how many languages they speak. It's about who they are as adults.
      Capish?

      Delete
    2. I am sorry to say this, but all of you are talking about how many languages your kids speak and what accomplishments you did as parents. On top of it, there is national pride. Of American Heritage.
      What about the kids?
      What about when they are 18 or 19 and tell you you know nothing because American culture of parenting enforces children never to hear word NO.
      Let's be realistic. It's not about how many countries they visited. Or how many languages they speak. It's about our children respecting parents and family. And family rules.
      All of you with 3 4 or 7 yr Olds are boasting about how many languages they speak. Let me tell you. Once they turn 18 or even 16, you will be surprised HOW MANY LANGUAGES THEY SPEAK!
      So. As a mom of 3, with oldest 26 and youngest 18. The only advice I can give is this: You never know. They can and will cause grey hairs. Each one of them is different. And each will cause grey hair for different reason. And eventually they will be OK. With Gods help and parents hard work and prayer.
      So. PLEASE stop with this upitty 3 4 16 languages speaking kids. Obviously you are still giving them baths, feeding them, and putting them to bed at 9 or earlier.
      Let's just get serious.
      Stop with patriotism and get real about raising real, accountable, responsible adults. It gets tougher after 16.
      It's not about how many languages they speak. It's about who they are as adults.
      Capish?

      Delete