The complex cloth of parenting is a very personal piece, woven from life experiences, research on the web, observations from others, as everyone's different cultures. While some parents choose to replicate their own upbringing, others do the exact opposite of everything their parents did, while many more combine the two experiences to create their own parenting style.
The world around us has an unavoidable influence on our choices. For example, evolving technology means we have decisions to make about our children and how we raise them, that our parents did not. Despite the fact that we can go online and discover almost anything it is unusual for us to seek out the parenting styles of other cultures.
Perhaps it is the assumption that everyone the world over does much of the same thing, maybe it is a case of “we don’t know what we don’t know,” or it is possible we just have never given it any thought. Whatever the reason we have stuck with what we know, it is never too late to delve into the wonderful world of parenting across the globe.
We went exploring and found plenty of parenting practices that are well worth stealing right now.
In Spain, you would be met with shocked faces if you suggested bundling your toddler off to bed during the early evening. Here, and in many South American countries with a strong Spanish cultural influence, it is more usual to allow children to stay up until 10:00 pm or later. The theory is that by spending plenty of time in the company of adults, in a relaxed social setting instead of a structured child-centric setting such as school, the kiddos are given the chance to learn about adult behaviors and social norms.
You might recoil in horror at the thought of your little one under your feet until your bedtime, but the Spanish attitude is that the kids hang out among the adults and “absorb the adultness” instead of the grown-ups having to entertain the kids.
Sara Harkness, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut said that when she spoke to Spanish parents about their kids going to be early "They were horrified at the concept.” She went on to say "Their kids were going to bed at 10 pm so they could participate in family life in the evenings.”
Mimamoru basically translates as “to watch over,” and it is the technique Japanese parents use to let their children sort things out for themselves.
If you have more than one child, you will undoubtedly have been a referee in their disagreements at some point or another. “Mom, tell her” or “Mom, it’s not fair” are frequent refrains in western homes that require us to get involved and mediate a solution or merely break things up before someone breaks a limb.
Japanese parents do not do this. They stand back and leave their littles to it. At home with siblings or in the playground with friends, it is believed to be essential to let the kids find ways to settle the conflict themselves, teaching them early how to resolve their issues with other people.
There are no moo-cows or baa-lambs in the nurseries of France, and you will not hear a French parent choochy cooing at their little one in the stroller because in France they just don’t do baby talk.
In the land of fine wines and cheeses, it is thought to be detrimental to your child's cognitive and language development to speak to them in anything other than adult language. That doesn’t mean they sit around discussing complicated politics or world affairs with their children, although some might, it means they use “proper” words at all times and not the baby versions when speaking with their kiddos.
A severe lack of sleep is an issue most parents encounter at some time or another. You can find advice online, read books and listen to other people share their stories and techniques but when it comes down to it, in the wee dark hours of the nighttime, you are on your own.
Unless, of course, you are in Australia.
In the land down under, you can contact a free 24-hour telephone and online service to give you immediate support and advice. If you have a significant problem, you can be referred to a residential program where trained nurses will help you to break the cycle you are currently in and establish another in which your child sleeps. Rooms have an adjoined annex for your baby or child; all meals are provided, medical investigations and social support are all on tap. Both parents and younger siblings are free to stay as well and best of all - it is government funded, so you do not pay a dime.
In the US it is usual to prepare adolescents for the time when they will fly the nest by giving them progressively more freedom. The theory is that we want them to become more independent and that they should enjoy the freedom of their youth.
In China, it is the norm to do the opposite.
Teens in China are regularly reminded that they have a responsibility to their family and that achieving good grades and being successful at school and beyond is one way of repaying their parents for all they have received. Even more surprising, Pomerantz found that the same holds true for students here in U.S. Adolescents who feel responsible to their families tend to get better grades in school.
Eva Pomerantz of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign studied the culture of teen parenting in China and discovered that by not loosening the reins Chinese parents were actually helping their child's motivation and levels of achievement. Most surprisingly she also found that US teens who were raised in the same way also had much higher standards of achievement.
The detail of this next one may not be for everyone, but the principle behind it is definitely worth considering.
In Mexico, parents teach their children, from as soon as they are old enough to understand, the importance of greeting an adult properly. The core of this practice is all about the fact that taking the time to welcome another person “properly” is part of being polite. The practice says “I am going to take the time to say hello to you and give my full attention to that moment because you are important to me.”
In Mexico, the practice is to kiss an adult on the cheek but this could easily be replaced by a simple moment of eye contact and a smile, or even a handshake if puckering up is a step too far for you.
As soon as a child on the Polynesian Islands is old enough to walk and talk, they are old enough to go out and explore their community with the other children. Every child is raised with the expectation that they will look out for each other and ensure the other children around them are safe and well cared for.
Parents are still there for the important things like feeding and dealing with actual problems or emergencies, but other than that children look after each other.
Not only does it foster a sense of community but it teaches children responsibility and how to build relationships, relationships that are carried over into their adulthood.
There is a traditional saying in Sweden that goes - “There’s no such thing as bad weather; just the wrong clothes” and this is the center of the philosophy behind I ur och skur (rain or shine) nurseries.
As you might have guessed from the name, children are routinely outside in all weathers, and they happily spend extensive amounts of time out in the rain or snow, no matter how cold it gets.
Babies are bundled up in thick snowsuits and layers of blankets before being put into their strollers for a nap outside in the garden, often in subzero temperatures.
Japanese parents find it hard to understand how people in other cultures can put their children down to sleep in another room. In Japan, parents share their beds with their children and believe that doing so instills independence and confidence in their child.
They also respond to their crying baby immediately, which is usually not too tricky as babies are held almost constantly.
Many western cultures feel this kind of immediate response encourages a child to demand attention and expect their needs to be met instantly, but the Japanese believe that by providing a quick response to their child, the little one will grow up to feel loved and cared for, resulting in happier, more independent children.
In Italy, parents do not constantly try to get their children to hurry up so they can jump in the car and rush off to an activity which they will rush to leave to go somewhere else. Instead, the Italians subscribe to a much more sedate pace of parenting where they frequently slow down to acquaint themselves with the speed of childhood.
A stroll to the store is an entirely different experience when you dawdle along and stop to inspect caterpillars and weeds instead of pounding the pavement to get it done quickly and rush onto the next thing.
In Korea, eating isn’t something children just pick up as they go, it is a skill they are specifically taught to ensure they are well equipped in later life, to eat well.
Children learn that meals are best enjoyed as an experience shared with others, be it friends or family and adults in Korea do not believe it is healthy to nibble during the day. As a consequence, Korean children are not drip fed with snacks to see them through until their dinner. Instead, they learn that it is ok to be hungry and to wait it out until the family meal is ready, for everyone to share.
The birthplace of Lego is consistently voted as having one of the highest standards of living in the world and one of the reasons for this, is their high level of self-reported happiness.
One of the reasons for this contentment is most likely Hygge, pronounced “hooga.”
There is no direct translation to English, but you can think of it as “We Time.” Every Dane makes space to spend time with their loved ones in a drama-free setting where everyone is equal, and the focus is on the experience and not the details. It is all about pausing and appreciating each other.
For example, a Danish family movie night would be all about snuggling up on the sofa, under a family sized blanket with bowls of snacks that had been prepared together and nobody would mind what the movie was. No one person does everything, and no one person takes center stage, and there are certainly no discussions about anything negative.
In Germany, parents are focused on providing plenty of unstructured opportunities for their children to play and learn, in ways that might send American moms and dads into full-on helicopter parenting mode. In the country that invented the Kindergarten, play is considered a learning activity in and of itself and children are encouraged to explore it freely.
Go to a German playground, and you will find little kids dangling upside down from tall wooden structures while others tunnel in the sand covered play surfaces below. Parents will be watching over their kids, but, unless they really hurt themselves, the littles are left to play how they like. This is thought to encourage independence and self-reliance.
And there’s not a safety warning, a liability notice, or a personal injury claim lawyer to be seen anywhere. Oh, unless the lawyers a mom, in which case she’ll be off-duty, sitting drinking coffee with the other moms, not sizing up prospects.
This technique may not be for everyone, and indeed, plenty of people might actually find it offensive but there is no doubt that it is effective and doesn’t seem to be detrimental to the kids involved at all.
In Vietnam, when a parent notices their baby is starting to pee, mom or dad will either make a whistling sound or gently blow a soft whistle. As the baby grows, they begin to associate the sound of a whistle with peeing and start to empty their bladders in response to the sound.
This might appear to be treating your child like a pet dog, but researchers have concluded that it is not harmful and that most babies in Vietnam are out of diapers by the age of nine months.
This is not, as it might sound, an annual Father's Day celebration but it is instead a regular time each father sets aside every week to connect with and be 100% responsible for their children. We are not talking dad taking the kids to the park for an hour either; this is far more hardcore. On a papadag, Dad does everything, from getting the kids out of bed in the morning to tucking them in at night, not just the fun stuff.
In the meantime moms have no parental responsibilities to see too at all, although the flip-side of that is they have no say in what dad and the kids do, nor does she get to comment on that outfit dad allowed their little one to buy.
Parents in Norway, who have paid employment outside of the home, have the option of the barnehage which translates literally as the lovely sounding “children’s garden.” These high-quality child care facilities are controlled by government legislation and are run by both the public and private sectors.
The reason we think that it’s about time barnehage made their way across the Atlantic is the cost. A parent in Norway will pay a maximum of $3450 per year compared to an average of $9589 a year for American parents - and that average is wildly variable.
Child Care Aware of America reported in 2012 that the annual cost of infant care ranged from about $4,600 in Mississippi to $15,000 in Massachusetts while the cost of care for a four-year-old ranged between $3,900 a year in Mississippi to almost $11,700 a year in Massachusetts.
You may already have your mom coming over to your place, babysitting the kiddos while you go out for the evening and you and your sister-in-law might have a great hand me downs system going for the kid's clothes but none of that is a patch on what the Brazilians have got going.
In Brazil, it is the norm to have multiple generations living either in adjoining houses or on different levels of the same building. This makes it easy for the kids and adults to move from home to home sharing domestic and child-rearing duties.
You might do the laundry for your brothers family while you are doing yours and in the meantime, your kids will be fed by another family member and your grocery shopping is done by another.
While starting our children in school at the age of four or five cuts out a massive chunk of a working parents childcare costs, there is evidence that starting school when they are older could be much better for them.
In Finland, their children do not start school until they are seven years old. Not only that but the primary children do not get homework and nor do they have any exams or standardized testing.
A study conducted by John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, the “World’s Most Literate Nations” says it ranks nations on their “literate behaviors and their supporting resources.” In this study, Finland was ranked #1 in the world for literacy, so the light touch educationally doesn’t appear to be doing them any harm.
Another controversial practice for Americans which is common in Italy and many other European countries is letting your child have a taste of wine, or other alcoholic beverages the adults are drinking, with dinner.
The legal age limit for drinking on most of the continent is 18 but a taste of, or even in some cases a small glass of, wine in the privacy of the home, with the parents, is not seen as a problem.
A study by the University of NSW showed that kids who were allowed sips were more likely to be drinking “full portions” of alcohol in their teens but were less likely to be binge drinking and drank alcohol less frequently.
Sometimes, it feels that when you become a mother, you are also blessed with a giant bucket of guilt which you must carry around with you at all times. Every choice you make, from feeding to diapering, to whether or not you are going to return to work is examined through a lens of whether or not you are a good mother and there will always be someone there to judge and make you feel guilty.
French mothers are relatively free from this. Both on a personal and a societal level, as long as a mom makes a well-informed decision, with the best for her family at the forefront, she is rarely judged.
References: mother.ly, reddit.com, npr.org, verywellfamily.com, thenextfamily.com, essentialbaby.com.au, greatergood.berkeley.edu, theguardian.com,