Child(ish) Reads: The Type of Parent I Wanted to Be

If you read our first Childish Reads post on pregnancy books, you know that Bringing Up Bébé is one of my top recommendations for moms. I admit, I am a Francophile and having my daughters be prim and proper is a nice little fantasy. But, I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself into thinking that one book was going to perfectly change my entire outlook on parenting.

To tip the scales in a different direction, I decided to read two additional and arguably polar opposite parenting titles. What could I take from all three of these books, and what could be chalked up to just parenting clickbait?

For this edition of Childish Reads, I’m giving you my takeaways of:
The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison
Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Here are all three in the simplest terms:
The Happiest Kids in the World – You are a kid. Go play.
Bringing Up Bébé – You are a little adult. Play nice.
Battle Hymn – You are an extension of me. Play?

All three titles are personal parenting stories. None of the authors are trained in child development or sociology.

In The Happiest Kids, both authors are expats who have relocated to The Netherlands with their Dutch-born spouses. Fun Fact: Mary and I went to college and were on a cultural dance team with Rina Acosta’s husband, who is included in the book. We don’t personally know her, just a small world!

As Americans, we are generally not impressed with just being good enough. But, how does that philosophy affect our next generation? The Dutch believe in doing and being happy with “just enough”, and they are consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. This book brings in the benefits of simple parenting: lots of outdoor time, getting muddy, letting kids play independently and make friends. Music to an OTs ears! There is also considerably less pressure for kids to make perfect grades, or to be the first kid to learn to read, or to get into the most challenging schools. 

The book points out that American and British parents are so wrapped up in their kid’s success and in parenting competition that no one is having fun. When our family unit can just be happy with enough, then there is a better chance to create self-sufficient kids and build strong family bonds and experiences.

Other Pros
The Dutch have one of the lowest obesity rates in the world.
Homework is not given to children in primary school.
Grades are based on your child’s own development, not in competition with the rest of the class.
Outdoor play is a priority as well as travel.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”
Birthday parties are simple and small, to emphasize that it’s just close friends and family that really matter.
Seek to do good, instead of to do well.

Bringing Up Bébé is one of the most popular parenting books, but it does have a few distinctions that make it hard for American families to adopt. First, there is huge praise for Universal Daycare. As a working mom, I would personally love a quality, all-day neighborhood daycare. One that gets kids and toddlers socialized, feeds them amazing healthy food, and is completely government subsidized. If that’s not your bag, that’s cool, but this book puts up a solid argument.

The second big factor is that, according to the book, French women are more committed to their marriages. They take their duties to their spouses seriously, especially when it comes to dressing, staying in shape, and keeping the romance. That’s not to say that they are submissive or conservative, but it teaches the child that they are not the center of the universe.

The French traditionally don’t “parent”. Kids are part of a lifestyle, and each family runs in a way that best suits them as a whole. There are no hard rules, more like guidelines for keeping the peace, like: sleeping through the night, the importance of manners, and raising independent, non-clingy, no-tantrum kids.

The French way is that you are a model for your kids. You lead by example and let them find their own way. Of the French mother, “She is at her base the most simple expression of female liberty: happy in her role as a mother, avid and curious about new experiences, …and always attentive to her children, but not chained to the concept of perfect mother, which she assures us, ‘does not exist.’”

Other Pros
Kids really can eat everything.
The “Pause” – Similar to the Ferber Method, wait a minute or two before reaching out to your baby when they cry.
Genuinely listen to your kids, but don’t feel you need to bend to their will.
Équilibre – balance. Not letting any one part of life –including being a parent–overwhelm the other parts.

Growing up with an Asian mother, I can completely relate to this book. Your parent not only wants you to succeed, but they want you to be impressive. They want to be able to introduce you as their child “the straight-A student”, or even better, their child “the prodigy”.

In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, 90% of the book talks about the great lengths author Amy Chua went to get her daughters to be amazing musicians. We’re talking hours each day of piano and violin, commuting to get them to the most prestigious instructors, and traveling worldwide to play with international orchestras. That’s a huge investment, especially when I couldn’t tell if her daughters actually wanted to be professional musicians.

And, this time is not all sunshine and flowers. There are daily fights, screaming matches, shaming and guilting, all to push her daughters to work hard and strive for personal best. Literally, the exact opposite of The Happiest Kids.

I do appreciate that the main motivation behind all of the Tiger Momming is to show kids the amazingness that they are capable of if they prioritize and put in hard work. Chua admits that there are times when she should have put her daughters’ happiness above all of the work; and once she was able to let go, one of her daughters was able to try new hobbies and sports, and that has made their home much happier. But, they still enjoy being able to say that they were invited to play in Moscow, or that they had taken Juilliard-level solo lessons. Kids like feeling special.

Other Pros
Moms can let go every now and then. Your kids aren’t going to go off the rails if you’re not constantly policing them.
Parenting. Is. Not. A. Competition.

I sincerely don’t believe any one parenting style is right or wrong. All three of these cultural parenting styles have something to offer and can make even the most critical American moms reflect on how they can do things differently.

How can these help modern, millennial moms? They encourage us to keep learning and evolving, the same reason we read personal development or secrets-to-happiness titles. If any of these styles/philosophies/affirmations help you in your practice of being a good parent, take it. None of the kids in these books are underachievers or developmentally delayed, nor are they superhuman child prodigies. At the heart of all three are just moms who wanted to know more and actively do more for their families’ happiness.

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