In UNICEF's most recent table of well-being the Netherlands came out on top out of 29 industrialized counties. The USA ranked towards the bottom of the list at #26. So what do Dutch parents know that we don't?
The Dutch parenting style hits that elusive balance between parental involvement and benign neglect. It is authoritative, not authoritarian. The Dutch believe in good old-fashioned family values, coupled with a modern appreciation of a child's intrinsic worth and a respect for women's lives outside of motherhood. The norm in the Netherlands is simplicity: families tend to choose simple, low-cost activities and take a down-to-earth approach. As moms married to Dutchmen and raising our kids in the Netherlands, we set out to reveal in our book, The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less, the secrets of the world's happiest children. Here are five lessons you can take away:
The Dutch have a realistic perspective on parenthood and understand that they (and their children) are far from perfect. They are parents who live in the real world. That's not to say that they don't struggle with the daily realities and messiness of life. But because they are more forgiving of their own imperfections and short-falls, they are able to enjoy parenthood.
It's become common American practice to measure ourselves against other parents. We view the perceived successes and failures of other people's children and ours as a direct reflection of our parenting styles. What initially started as a sincere drive—wanting the best for our children—morphed into a hungry desire: wanting our children to be the best. Let them be themselves instead, and allow them to learn through self-discovery and failure.
Don't try to prove your excellence as a parent with an over the top birthday extravaganza. Forget the curated cake smash with the professional photographer, clowns, puppet shows, animal trainers, catering, and marquee tents. Hang streams of bunting in the trees in your garden or a local park, cordon off a cozy area and have a picnic. Sing happy birthday around a cake with candles. Invite as many children as the age of your child and don't make the party too long.
The Dutch have an excellent handle on that elusive life-work balance. Work hard when you are in the office but stick to a nine to five routine and don't do any unpaid overtime. There's no badge of honor for being the one to switch off the lights in the office. Less time at work means more time to spend with your kids and more time for yourself.
Teaching children independence is crucial to enable them to develop into self-sufficient young people. It also lightens the load: if you don't have to ferry your children to and from school and to all their various clubs and activities, you are less likely to become a time-poor, overwhelmed parent. Give them responsibilities that are age-appropriate. Lengthen the leash gradually, giving children slightly more freedom each time they demonstrate their capabilities. Teach them how to keep themselves safe and give them the chance to prove they can.