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
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?