If you’ve ever traveled to the Netherlands and spent some time there, you have most probably noticed how carefree and joyful Dutch parents are, along with their little ones. One visit at the playground or at a cafe (as they’re all children friendly) is sufficient to remark the happiness that characterises this nation so well. It comes as no surprise that Dutch women and mothers live a charming life and seem to manage to ‘have it all’.
So the question is – what is their secret, how do they ‘do it’?
After living here for one and a half years, I would say that the first and foremost reason for their absolute happiness and relaxation is their parenting style. Dutch kids will go outside on any kind of weather – yes, including rain, snow, and heavy wind, and they will wear Bergstein boots and will be just fine. They will jump in muddy puddles and ride bikes without any hats on even when there’s 2 degrees outside. They will play barefoot on the streets and at the sand pits during summer, and will have ice-cream all year round- because why not? Who the hell said ice cream is to be enjoyed during summers only?!
Dutch moms will push around twin strollers and follow around their 2-year old toddlers riding MicroBoard scooters, while being totally relaxed about feeding times or locations, whatsoever. They will very probably be joined by the father of the babies later on, and enjoy outdoor snacks (yes, the kids too, from sandwiches, to cheese with grapes, crackers, rice cakes, paprikas or …simply bread) while the kids go all muddy and wet at the playground.
One secret weapon Dutch moms have? Dutch dads! Oh, hell, yeah! Dutch daddies are some of the most involved nation of dads in all things parenting, and this equality is proven to make mothers so much happier than the rest. They operate on strict “papadag” (daddy day) rules- where dads get usually two full days of daddy-ing a week- Saturdays, and another weekday of choice. These days are all about bonding with the kid(s), taking care of schedules, feedings, changing, outdoor activities, bath time and everything in between. Moms get the Saturdays for themselves, to get a massage, a blow-dry, mani-pedi, or hang out with the girlfriends. No matter what they want to do, they know for sure that they have those two full days just for themselves. Over a third of Dutch men in the Netherlands have a reduced work week and 15% of fathers choose to work less (CBS). Ever wondered about all those daddies coming to pick up their kids from school at 3 pm in the middle of the day? Voila! Proof that once they become a dad, they voluntarily choose to take time off to care for their offsprings and reduce their working hours.
Most Dutch moms also work part time after giving birth- one in three Dutch women stop working or work less after post natal leave. The companies’ culture and acceptance of part-time schedules for moms allow them to not have to choose between being a “stay-at-home-mom” or a “working mom”. Why couldn’t you be both? Why wouldn’t you be both? Want to be with your kids two days a week or be able to pick them up from school every day at 3? Dutch moms can, and it’s freaking amazing!
Dutch moms take schedules seriously! Ever noticed how after 6 pm (except for summer months) there’s nobody left on the streets? That’s because by that time, Dutch kids are having dinner, and right after are being bathed and ready for bed. Night time here is around 7:30- 8 pm, so that they get a full 12h sleep until waking up for school the next day. This gives Dutch parents plenty of time left of the evening to enjoy each other’s company, have a glass of wine, watch a movie or… make more babies in fact. JK. The majority of Dutch parents follow a strict and predictable day and night-time routine which produces happy, healthy and well-rested children – AND parents.
Dutch moms let their children be children, and don’t act like control-freak helicopter momsters. Their parenting style is led by the principles of freedom and independence and is often linked to the saying that “to raise a child is to let a child go”. Dutch babies and kids are given space and time to cultivate their sense of independence, and are let to run free, get dirty, explore, climb, taste and then return to their parents. You will notice this when you see barely 1-year olds practicing their walking skills in restaurants or crawling around in airports.
This constructive freedom cultivates and helps produce the healthy, independent children we all wish to have.
You will actually have a hard time finding a “helicopter mom” (or dad) in the Netherlands. At every playground I have frequented the exact opposite tends to be true. Ridiculously high climbing structures? Check! Open waterways and canals? Check! Even with looming “danger”, the “helicopter-parent” trend has thankfully managed to not successfully cross the Atlantic – as we all know those kind of parents are no fun to be around (and more importantly, are sadly trapped in the realm of constant worry, stress, and over-protection).
Dutch parents own the art of separating their children’s talents (or lack thereof) from their own. Their children are not seem as a direct reflection of themselves, but instead, as autonomous beings with individual characters, strengths and weaknesses. It’s an utterly refreshing perspective which automatically removes competition, guilt, and self-praise from the core of the parenting equation.
And last but not least… Guess what? Dutch mothers sleep better than you. It’s not fair, but it’s true. We all know that actually the MOST important, critical, life-saving element of parenthood is actually just…. cold.hard.sleep! Dutch moms sleep better because their babies sleep better, and therefore their kids do too. They sleep outside (in strollers when they’re babies), and at max. 20 degrees when indoors, at home – please note, no beanies, or exaggerated clothing for either indoors or outdoors.
Jealous yet? Well, I happen to have found the most perfect and beautiful place to raise babies and kids and to be a mom. Here. It. Is. 90% of me is a Dutch mom now, all I’m missing is the accent.