When I stumbled upon an article on NPR titled “Global Parenting Habits That Haven’t Caught On In the U.S.“, I got excited. I had not-so-secretly hoped that Dutch parents would be mentioned. I nodded (perhaps too enthusiastically) as my eyes read down the lines, mentally compartmentalizing each habit as a “Yes, what a great idea!”, or “Interesting, but no thank-you.” Like an impatient toddler on a road-trip pleading “Are we there yet?”, I wondered if the next one would finally mention Dutch parents.
My heart sank at the end of the article. There was not a single mention of Dutch parents. Once again, this small North Western European country remains obscure compared to her European contemporaries – oh-so glamorous France and the hipster-approved Norway and Denmark. Yet ironically, for two consecutive times, UNICEF declared Dutch kids as leading the way in well-being. In a comprehensive study that encompassed 29 of the world’s most advanced economies, Dutch kids ranked the highest among the five dimensions studied: material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment. If Dutch kids are the happiest kids in the world, surely Dutch parents are doing something right. And since happiness is a cultural obsession in America, one would assume that they would look towards the Netherlands for some inspiration.
Logically, I knew I was being irrational. Of course there could only be a limited number of cultures highlighted. Yet I couldn’t shake off the feeling of being ignored. What is it about Tiger mothering, or bringing up Bébé that attracts the intrigue of Americans but not common sense Dutch parenting?
Upon closer examination, is it because Dutch parents are following and living the advice that American parenting experts, medical professionals and psychologists have been emphasizing for years? Does it hit too close to home?
Please don’t misunderstand me as only promoting Dutch parenting. My son is growing up in a multicultural household with a Filipino-American mom (me) and a Dutch dad. We strictly follow the one parent, one language philosophy so our son grows up to achieve native fluency of Dutch and American English. We’ve opened our hearts to our dearest friends from all over the world -Singapore, Italy, South Africa, Australia, Philippines – with all sorts of religious (and non-religious) affiliations – Muslims, Christians, Jews, agnostics, and atheists. Because the truth is, our reality really does resemble a United Colors of Benetton advertisement of multiculturalism. Acceptance, open-mindedness and love begins at home after all.
I don’t want to be another insufferable mom doling out unsolicited, asinine advice on the “right way” to raise other people’s children. But there really is something genuinely wonderful going on in the Netherlands. I’ve experienced so many eye-opening, “wow” moments that really have made a difference in how I parent my own child. Before giving me the near automatic proverbial eye roll, please consider taking a moment to read these five Dutch parenting habits (many more to come in future blog posts):
1. Living an active lifestyle (biking, outdoor play, walking).
Regular “exercise” is an integral component of Dutch culture. Dutch parents can be seen everywhere walking around their babies in strollers, or baby-carriers. Before Dutch toddlers can even properly walk or run, they are given a loopfiets (walking bicycle). And Dutch childhood wouldn’t be complete without lots and lots of unstructured play while Dutch parents relax, drink coffee or read.
2. Eating regular meals together to allow time for discussions and openness.
Family quality time happens every day at the dining room table where everyone gathers to eat breakfast and dinner. Young school kids often also go home for lunch too. Healthy, open conversations are much more valued and nurtured around the dinner table than what’s actually being served.
3. Dutch Moms doing less household chores and Dutch dads doing more.
In fact, the current trend in the Netherlands is that women are doing less household chores and men are taking on more. Not only will you’ll have happier moms, but recent research suggests that there daughters of dads who do household chores grow up with more ambition.
4. Implementing household chores and responsibilities early on.
For the community-minded Dutch, the polder model that everyone pulls their own weight begins at the cradle. Okay, maybe not exactly. But as soon as they start school (usually at the age of four), Dutch kids are expected to make their own lunch. Dutch parents usually spread out all the necessary ingredients – breads, cheeses, meats, and fruits – and leave it up to the child to assemble their lunch.
5. Strict schedules, including early bedtimes.
The Dutch cultural obsession with having an agenda for everything is implemented the moment a child is born. “Free, unstructured” play time is penciled in as well as strict early bedtimes to ensure plenty of rest for both the child and the parents.