What kind of parent are you: American or European? It all depends on how you approach playing with LEGO.
When my in-laws asked us what the children wanted for Christmas, we said: “LEGO bricks”. Our youngest is now finally out of that age when he was putting everything in his mouth and is actually very enthusiastic about the colorful little bricks.
What’s more we knew that my father-in-law keeps a huge collection of LEGO that my husband and his brother used to play with and as a LEGO fan myself, I was excited to get our own kids started.
LEGO culture shock
As it turns out, my father-in-law and I had diametrically different views on what playing with LEGO actually means. My husband and I asked for a box of simplest blocks but instead we got FABULAND, a series that features animal-like characters that you can use to tell stories.
His view was that children need to act out stories and that LEGO is the perfect toy to do it.
“But that totally defies the purpose of LEGO!”- I argued. I told him how me and my brother spent hours just building stuff together, while our parents were busy doing other things. That’s the beauty of LEGO: it’s open-ended and offers endless possibilities.
“But how can you see this in such a positive light? Children need structured play.”- said my father-in-law. Always the teacher, he then started talking about theories of child development, and this is where things turned ugly.
In which I feel unappreciated
I was frustrated because I felt everyone was trying to squeeze meaningless activities into my already busy days. My father-in-law only added to this feeling. Doesn’t he know how busy I am? I have chores to do, lunches to prepare, articles to write. And while he didn’t specify who would play with the children, it was clear that he meant me. And I loathe pretend play. If the children need stories, I’ll be more than happy to read a book to them. I was also getting the feeling he was implying that my parents were neglecting me which was certainly not the case.
Cultural Differences between Europe and the US
Interestingly, while I was searching for cultural differences between American and European parenting, I found a study that has shown that there are cultural differences in how parents in the US and Europe approach playing with LEGO.
LEGO’sFuture Lab leader Anne Flemmert-Jensen was quoted saying: “American parents don’t like play experiences where they have to step in and help their kids a lot. They want their kids to be able to play by themselves. European parents, on the other hand, thought it was “(…) okay to sit on the floor and spend time with the kids.” This may cause LEGO to market different toys for the European and American markets.
But what’t he point?
I am not sure how I feel about this. I was already annoyed when LEGO introduced LEGO Friends. While the bricks, although pink and purple-coloured fit well with other LEGO sets, the figurines do not: “They’re small dolls packaged in Lego sets”- says this post. And now they want to differentiate even more? And what if I only can get European-style LEGO here in the Netherlands, which would require me to play with the kids? And if American and European LEGO don’t fit each other? This forum explains some differences- and one of them is that apparently American LEGO sets are easier for children to assemble on their own.
The beauty of LEGO has always been its campatibility and sameness: you could build whatever you wanted, its form even inspiring humorous articles such as this one. In the LEGO movie, it was made clear that LEGO is not for fixed play. It’s for free, crazy, creative play that doesn’t follow a rule book. At the same time, I like the differentiation, which allows children of various ages to play with LEGO- and there are plenty of LEGO marketed to adults as well.
However, please remember to take this study with a grain of salt.
But where do these differences come from?
As someone with no first-hand experience of American parenting, I need to threat lightly when writing about it. From what I read, Americans spend more time with their children than Europeans. They’re also expected to be more intensively involved in their children’s lives.
At the same time, the LEGO study showed that Americans like their children to be independent, while “Europeans tend to have a longer transition into adulthood, with many young adults continuing to live with their parents until their late 20s“.
However, it’s important to find out in which European country the study (apparently if I’m not mistaken Germany was one of the countries analyzed) was performed because Europe is not a country and the differences in pretty much everything, including parenting philosophies between the different countries, are huge. And of course, let’s remember that it’s easier to play with your child when you don’t have to worry about health insurance, maternity leave or child support.
Interestingly, both American and European LEGO sets used to be targeted towards both children and their parents and both kinds of sets showed parents and children playing together.
Turns out, I am an American parent
I have a confession to make: I, The European Mama, am apparently an American-style parent. Yes, I like my kids to play independently. No, I do not enjoy getting down on the floor and playing, even if it’s with LEGO. The only thing I like to play with is words. I’m a thinker by nature, not a player. And of course, despite the fact that we do have good quality day care and other types of support in the Netherlands, like many expat mothers, I ‘m largely on my own.
My father-in-law, on the other hand, represents European-style parenting, where parents have fun with their kids and play with them. However, of course it’s easier for grandparents to enjoy their grandchildren- after all they don’t have to clean up messes or discipline the children and can hand them back to the parents at the very first sign of annoying behavior.
It’s much easier to enjoy one’s children with governmental and social support and knowing that there will be time to relax and breathe and have some me-time.
But most importantly, no matter whether you are an American or European parent, remember that, no matter what you do, “Everything is awesome!”