I read an incredibly depressing article about parenting yesterday, called “The Non-Joie of Parenting.” Its bleak picture of American parenting almost made me want to stay in Europe to have kids. (Not that having kids is anywhere on the near horizon, mind you.)
The article is written from the perspective of a mother who raised her kids first in Paris, where she would sip Pouilly-Fumé and Stella Artois with other “half-watching parents” while her children played nearby. Then she moved to the U.S., where she became a full-time chaffeur for her kids’ activities.
Based on the models of American parenting in mainstream media these days, you’d think America was full of tiger mothers, seven-year-olds on forced diets and waiting lists just to get into pre-school. The modern archetype of motherhood is that of the Upper East Side, OCD, yoga-practicing, pearl-wearing, Laura Linney in The Nanny Diaries raising a spoiled monster-brat. The author of the NYT article supports that view, claiming her Parisian-bred “tidy, tantrum-free toddlers” were an amazement to American parents.
It certainly makes the European approach to parenting and parental involvement in education seem more attractive. In my education class this year, I’ve been learning about European countries’ approaches to education from early childhood to higher education, and many elements of the system here seem quite attractive. No system is perfect, of course, and it’s hard to generalize across the board. But there is far better provision of early childhood care, and in general there seems to be a more child-centered approach to learning. Importantly too, there isn’t that obsessive-compulsive mania that exists in the U.S. or South Korea, the two countries I’m most familiar with, around gaining entry to the higher echelons of education institutions.
But these are all extreme examples, swinging the pendulum from the bests and worsts of one country to the other, wishing for greener grass.
And that’s why this short film gives me so much hope. This, my friends, is what childhood should be like. Don’t ferry those kids off to math camp and soccer camp and band camp and everything else. Let their imaginations run free and see what happens!