Childhood, European vs. American Style

NYC Chinatown. A hot summer day. He brazenly swigs the whole bottle.

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!

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9 thoughts on “Childhood, European vs. American Style

  1. I’ve always kind of wondered about that and seriously considrered raising my kids in Europe as well. It’s not just parenting styles I’ve been curious about, but the education systems as well. Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. I’ve thought about it too! I think the way of life / quality of life, economic troubles aside, here is better. Also exposure to other languages, cultures—amazing. America needs more of that. And educational approaches I think are at least better in theory, though it’s always hard to account for what actually happens in practice.

  2. The child in the video is beautiful. When you have children you will bring them up how you want them to be. You are the parent and at the end of the day, positive parenting is the most important influence on the child. The fact that you are wondering where to bring them up already demonstrates that you are on the road to being a good parent, even if they are not on the horizon yet.

      1. It’s true.You will be a great parent. Enjoy all your experiences now and then you can eventually pass them on to your own children. No words can ever tell you how fantastic being a parent is. So you truly have something to look forward to.

  3. I’ve read this interesting article, thank you for providing the link. While it’s easy for childless me to say so, it remains a matter of the choices one makes. The writer cancels the vacation because of children’s preseason sports events – its not a matter of divine order, but her own choice. It is all about being able to say “no” to whatever you consider less important. And children need their vacations too!

    Perhaps part of the hassle is avoided in Europe due to the availability of public transport and small distances? The kids don’t need a ride to the musical but can take the bus or cycle.

    1. Definitely possible re: geographic considerations! Suburban sprawl makes life a hassle in some ways, though in others it’s supposed to be all about modern convenience. I think there’s also something to be said for getting sucked into what everyone else is doing. It’s harder to make those choices when making them means going against the current and wondering if it puts your kids at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

      1. Going against the current is sure tough. On the other hand, its a chance to teach your children a valuable long-term lesson – that you can avoid submitting to peer pressure and that its OK to do your thing.

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