The French feed their children better and they’re so good at discipline. Do you want your children to be happy? Look at Dutch parents. Do maternity care right? Holland also delivers (pun intended) in this regard. Want your children to be educated, just move to Finland! Are you desperate to get your kid out of diapers ASAP? Chinese parents let their children run around butt-naked. Sometimes I think we’ve taken that obsession with parenting in other cultures way too far.
Of course, I do believe that there are lessons to learn from parents around the world. But there is one, very important lesson we really should be learning from parents around the world but we’re not. What is it?
We think that in order to understand why some cultures have better outcomes than others, we should focus on what individual parents are doing, (for example, how they behave around their children) rather than discuss the context in which they parent. But a recent study found that in countries where parents had a supportive system of so called family packages, the happiness gap between parents and non-parents was the smallest.
There is no one way to raise them all
Modern parents seem to have this idea that there is one way to raise a child, and we hope to find it in the next parenting book, or with the next parenting philosophy. We think somewhere someone has the secret to bringing up the perfect child. And if we can’t find the perfect parenting approach in our own country, we’ll have to look for it somewhere else. If that’s not possible, then we look to the past, to our paleo ancestors and think that if we’d just copy them, our kids would be better off. Didn’t babies evolve to be worn? And didn’t our ancestors knew instinctively and naturally what to do? Didn’t they respond immediately to their crying babies? Maybe we should be like them?
Maybe. But maybe not.
Because parenting – like any other human behaviour- depends on culture.
Context is everything
In his book “Baby Meets World”, Nicholas Day writes:
“(…) all of these variations evolved in their own cultural context. Outside of that context, they’re meaningless or dysfunctional or worse; at a minimum, they’re frustrating.”
Context is everything, but it’s also “the first thing that gets erased in the practicalities of parenting.” In short, we’re looking for answers in the wrong place.
We look at how parents in other countries raise their children because we wish we had the key to perfect parenting in our hands.
There has never been more confusing time to be a parent. Of course, for many reasons it has gotten easier but in many ways, it has gotten harder than it used to be. There is plenty of pressure for parents these days, and I believe this pressure to be the perfect parent is behind our drive (or should I say desperation?) to find the perfect parenting solution, no matter where it is.
And the secret is…
I think the one thing we don’t notice about parenting in other countries is this: there is no secret. No set of rules and behaviors that, if followed precisely and to the letter, would allow us to raise perfect children. This is not how parenting works. The grass is not greener on the other side.
Actually, if you ask me, the multitude of parenting books, from all sides of the parenting spectrum- and the diversity of parenting practices around the world proves that just parents in different parts of the world have different values, approaches and ideas about their children- according to their respective cultures. And none of that is better than any other.
A parent’s job is not to raise the perfect child. It is to raise children so they can become useful members of any particular society.
Don’t believe me? Try to transplant a !Kung mother (the exclamation mark at the beginning is a click-like sound) onto American soil and she won’t be able to parent the !Kung way because that would involve the extended family while Western parents are more isolated with their children.
Other cultures don’t parents better
But, again: context is everything. The truth is that French kids eat everything not because of individual parents’ decisions on what to serve for dinner and how to serve it. It’s because the system has made it possible. Finish children are not the best educated because the parents let them play but instead, the government has invested in high quality schools and the system allows for kids play freely. Dutch kids are not happy because of what their parents do but rather because of the context in which these children grow up.
I said it before, I’ll say it again: in parenting, context is everything.
Children’s happiness and well – being does not depend on what individual parents do, but on the culture, or system in which they parent. If culture supports parents, they will feel less burdened or stressed out. If it doesn’t, parental wellbeing will suffer- and in most cases, so will the children’s.
And there you have it. There secret we should learn from parents around the world is that there is no perfect way to raise a child. Parents all over the world are not better than you, wherever you may live.
And the final truth…
It’s just that some countries have made it easier to be a parent than other countries. If parenting feels hard or impossible, it’s not because parents are doing something wrong. It’s not because they didn’t take the right parenting classes, or weren’t mindful or patient enough. Parents in child-friendly countries aren’t doing things right either. They’re not smarter, better, or more knowledgeable, or even genetically predisposed to being better parent. They simply live in a system that makes parenting easier for them. They simply have more support.
It feels ridiculous to blame parents for their children’s problems and it’s equally ridiculous to celebrate them for doing things right. There is no right and there is no wrong. Parents all over the world want the best for their children, even though there is little agreement on what “the best” actually means.
You may get tired of hearing how context is everything when it comes to parenting. But it is. It really is.