Are you parenting differently when living abroad?
I often think about my parenting style here in the US and yesterday my friend sent me this article about “How to parent like a German”. I already had read it last year and reading it again made me wonder: Would I be a different kind of mom now if I’d never have moved here? Or if we would have moved someplace else?
Child-rearing is a deeply cultural issue hence you could say that I mostly parent like a German, but I’m convinced that the place you live affects your behavior, your actions and therefore your parenting style as well. In Switzerland children are expected to walk themselves to and from preschool. Yes, you heard right – preschool, so we are talking about 4- and 5-year old children. I still remember my German friend who moved from here to rural Switzerland when her kids were about 1, 3 and 5 years old. She was terrified of letting her little girl walk alone through the village. Why was she that fearful? Because she wasn’t used to giving children this kind of freedom. She became a mom in the US and her kids spent their early childhood years in a completely different, very protected and regulated environment. Each society has developed its own, special parenting style.
Raising our children in the US has influenced our parenting on different levels. Many activities here are over-organized to protect children of challenging situations. On the playground you meet moms who apologize for completely acceptable child-like behavior, because Americans don’t like to offend anyone.
I’m sure you can find a lot of helicopter parents in Germany as well, but American parenting is influenced by way more restrictions in school, at extra curricular activities and while playing outside. When my daughter was in 1st grade she was sent to the principal because she didn’t use only two fingers to tag someone, but used her whole hand and someone could have gotten hurt! When it rains, which is generally a challenging time for Californians, the kids are not allowed to run on the blacktop, because they could slip and get hurt. I wanted my kids to learn by themselves that the ground gets slippery when it’s wet. Children have to be able to push their boundaries in order to learn and get strong, confident and independent adults. We have to let them roam free way more. But being a free-range parent in the US can be tough and it’s not always easy to swim against the tide. “Free-range parenting is the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently in proper accordance of their age of development with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.”
I’ve heard a story of neighbors calling social services because someone let their children play on the driveway unsupervised. In Illinois it is illegal to leave your children home alone under the age of 14, in Colorado and South Carolina they have to be 12 years old. And you probably know the story of parents in Maryland who got arrested because they let they children walk home from the park by themselves. That is just not right, every parent should have the right to decide if their children are responsible and capable enough to do things like that on their own.
Our children walk to and from school, which is not even half a mile away and luckily we live in a neighborhood where many kids walk around by themselves. But when I wanted my 12-year old to ride her bike home from Volleyball camp this summer, they told me that I have to sign her out in person, so no free roaming possible there. All these rules and restrictions originate in the American law and its liability rules. You will be held liable for damages if you took less care than you should have taken. That obviously led to taking more care than actually needed. And people do sue here. Everyone is afraid of that, because it could ruin your preschool, your gym or any kind of other business. Anywhere you take your child here where it could potentially get hurt, you have to sign a waiver. We went to a climbing forest in Germany this summer, I’d say this is considered a high risk activity, but no waiver to sign at all. The American society creates too much anxiety amongst parents that bad things are likely to happen. TV, social media, neighborhood groups and other institutions make you believe that there might be a child abductor around every other corner. All the tracking devices and apps make things worse in my eyes. They do not convey that you trust your kids or encourage them to be independent and free.
“German parents are concerned about safety, of course, but they usually focus on traffic, not abductions.”
I think our parenting style has changed over the years. We probably parented more like Germans in the first couple years here. We spent most of our time with Europeans and the girls were little and not in school yet. The longer you’re abroad and the more integrated you are in the community, the more you will be likely to follow the common rules. Our children were also unconsciously influenced by their friends and their parents. I remember that my daughter was driven home by the parents of her best friend in the first year of the middle school, because they thought it was not safe for her to walk home alone. My friend let her 7-year old walk to school by herself (less than 500m and with dozens of other kids) and she got the stink eye from some other moms. Our children receive the overprotection of some other parents by hearing and seeing what their friends can
Sometimes it’s hard to do things differently and I often feel there is a lack of opportunities to raise your children free and independent. We’re trying to create more opportunities for them, like sending them to the store on their scooters to get some groceries, letting them go to the local movie theatre by themselves and so one. I’d really love my kids ride the bus or the train to downtown, even though there is not really a reason for that, but I’m pretty sure they would be the only ones and that makes it feel weird, inappropriate, unsafe? See, they got in my head 😉 But I would let my kids ride the subway in Cologne, because there are lots of other kids doing the same thing every day. In Europe children are provided with much more space and freedom to behave as children and parents are empowered to raise their children with a more hands-off approach.
So yes, I definitely think that I parent differently living abroad, at least in some respects. What do you think? Do you raise your kids differently living abroad?
picture on top © Child Advocacy Program