Move over French moms: Dutch moms are the new parents du jour. Or, at least, they should be, say the authors of a new book that extols the virtues of going Dutch.
They make a persuasive case: Kids in the Netherlands are the happiest in the world. Babies in the Netherlands are happier than their American counterparts, too—and sleep more, to boot. Parents are also happier, thanks in large part to the country’s laid-back approach to child-rearing. What’s more, that laissez-faire attitude leads to better outcomes: Research shows that the country’s “joyful illiterate preschoolers” become some of the most educated and best-behaved kids in the world, too.
Sound too good to be true? No, Dutch kids don’t skip through tulip fields all day and sing under windmills—but they do ride bikes everywhere and frolic in public parks, say Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison, the authors of The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (And Themselves) by Doing Less. British ex-pat Hutchison and American ex-pat Acosta, both married to Dutchmen, were inspired to write the book after noticing some pretty big differences between their fellow parents in Holland and their mom friends back home: Namely, parents in the Netherlands are happier, and so are their kids.
Even the French are convinced: Pamela Druckerman, the author of Bringing Up Bébé—the book that had us all affecting a Gallic shoulder shrug around our kids (“Baby crying? C’est la vie.”)—calls the new release “an eye-opening and badly needed dose of perspective” and says, “In my next life, I want to be Dutch.”
Hey, Pamela, no need to wait for the afterlife! I decided to put some of the Dutch philosophies Acosta and Hutchison discuss into practice right away with my 19-month-old son. Here’s what I discovered:
The Dutch don’t push their toddlers to read.
The Dutch take a play-based approach to early learning. One mom in the book nonchalantly reports that her children didn’t begin reading until they were almost 7. Now, they’re advanced readers. Manners and cooperative play are more important to Dutch parents. On the day I shared this information with my husband, he told me he’d ordered three more books on Amazon. Oops. My nanny, meanwhile, brought home five books from the library. She tricks my son into sitting still by reading to him while he’s snacking in his high chair. Is this a bad idea, I wondered? What would a Dutch mom do? So the next evening we went to the playground instead of doing our daily reading time. All I needed was a pair of clogs, and we’d be right at home in Amsterdam! Then, a friend reminded me that the schools in my son’s district are terrible and he’ll need to test into a gifted program for sure. I pulled out my phone and ordered four more puzzles on Amazon—jigsaw puzzles. For a 19-month-old. Dutch mom fail.
Dutch parents take a noncompetitive approach to schooling.
Maybe it’s because I live in New York City, where the preschool application process seems like a cross between Gossip Girl and American Ninja Warrior, but I can’t even imagine what this feels like. Apparently most kids in the Netherlands don’t even have homework in primary school. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to start teaching my son calculus in pre-K. As for how well I fared following this dictum, please see those jigsaw puzzles I purchased above. Sigh.
Dutch children are notorious for “running around restaurants, shouting at the top of their voices and disturbing other diners.”
This is, ostensibly, because Dutch parents believe in letting kids be kids—and restaurants even encourage it, with play corners full of toys and books. At last, I’ve found one way in which I succeed at going Dutch! My son is all-too-happy to embrace this ethos and particularly likes flinging his sippy cup across the room and starting shouting contests with toddlers at neighboring tables. Now if I can only find a restaurant that embraces this philosophy …
Dutch parents let their kids play in public parks unsupervised.
In the Netherlands, it’s not uncommon to see kids as young as 4 or 5 playing in the park, with nary a parent in sight. In America, that gets you arrested. Look, I’d love to be a free-range parent—I fondly recall wandering for miles in the woods around my house as a child—but until that opinion doesn’t land me in jail, I’ll be sure to keep a close eye on my son.
Dutch women embrace work-life balance.
In a New York Times article “Why Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed,” psychologist Ellen de Bruin suggests it's because women in the Netherlands enjoy a good work-life balance. Interestingly enough, that doesn’t necessarily mean they work less—it means they parent less. Dutch women don’t feel the same social pressures to be a supermom. Making it easier is the fact that Dutch men pitch in more with childcare and chores. On this score, I’m incredibly lucky to have a super-supportive husband and to work here at Working Mother, where we understand a little something about the necessity of work-life balance. Maybe I’m ready to head to Holland, after all? Then again …
Dutch families eat breakfast and dinner together.
To say I failed would be an understatement. On the weekends we linger over brunch, but during the week? Ha! I count it as a victory if we’re all fed and clothed (and mom and dad are caffeinated) by 9 a.m. Dinner together is more doable, but I have a shameful secret: My husband and I have fallen into the terrible American habit of watching TV while we eat, which means our son watches Trevor Noah right along with us. Hey, he’s learning about world events, right?
After a week of trying to quash my American tiger-mom tendencies and embrace a more practical and playful parenting style, one thing is clear: I better break out my bicycle and buy some tulips, because that’s probably as close as I’ll come to emulating my parenting peers in Holland.