Bringing up Bébé sparked an American infatuation with French parenting, while Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother ignited a heated conversation about whether Chinese mothers were better parents than their peers. Now a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics has set that global “who parents better” debate off again, stating that Danish, German, and Japanese babies cry the least, while British, Canadian, and Italian babies cried the most.
We have a fleet of parenting experts and authors stationed globally so we thought we’d ask them their opinion: how does parenting culture in their country differ from that of others, and what is one aspect of parenting unique to their culture that contributes to successful parenting there? Here’s what they had to say:
ITALY – Matteo Bussola, author of Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast
Italian parenting is different from parenting in most other countries primarily in the role of the mother. In my country, it’s all focused on her—she gives birth to the children, educates them, helps with homework, runs the household, expresses love and tenderness, is a constant presence. She’s always the role model. Fathers in Italy are still often exempted from these activities, since their role seems to be solely about bringing money home and enjoying their children in the few free moments left in the day. Things are slowly changing now, as new generations of fathers live their role with much more awareness and presence, trying to gain ground in that territory of affection, tenderness, presence, and attentiveness that had been assigned only to mothers. These changes encounter opposition, usually from mothers themselves, who also complain about fathers’ lack of participation in their children’s life. It’s a paradox that reveals Italians’ still small-minded approach to family structure.
One positive aspect of parenthood in Italy is that children tend to spend much more time with their families than children do in other countries. As a matter of fact, children often live with their parents until they’re in their thirties. Italians are often criticized for this because others think that our children don’t want to grow up. Putting aside unfortunate economic and social issues, like youth unemployment, the fact that children spend more time with their parents creates stronger and more resilient bonds within the family. Parents in Italy are always present in their children’s lives, even when those children are grown up, and children are always present in their parents’ life, especially when they age and need assistance. This mutual lifelong bond seems like a very good thing to me.
AUSTRALIA – Dr. Tim Hawkes, educator and author of Ten Conversations You Must Have with Your Son
Having lived in many different parts of the world over the last 60 years, there are two things I’ve noticed that Aussie parents do rather well. The first is the parental encouragement given to children to engage in sports or physical activity of some kind. Local sports clubs and options abound and the benefits of engagement in sport are not just physical and health promoting; sport reinforces belonging, fosters community, and brings families together over the sausage sizzle by the side-line and the hot chips in the stands.
The second thing seen with rather more frequency in Australian parents than in some other parts of the world is involvement with children’s schooling. Over 30% of parents choose to pay for their children’s education at non-government schools. The financial sacrifices parents make results in their being rather more assiduous in turning up to parent-teacher evenings and supporting the plethora of events at school. Nearly 50% of secondary school children in Australian cities attend private or Catholic schools. In many western countries, this figure is nearer 5%. For education to be effective, there needs to be a symbiotic partnership between home and school. Therefore, this greater interest by parents in their children’s schooling has to be seen as a positive.
GERMANY – Friederike Fabritius, M.S., co-author of The Leading Brain
The concept is internationally well-known nowadays, but “helicopter parenting” is pretty alien where I live. Instead, we place an emphasis on autonomy. Of course, all parents want their children to act responsibly and be safe. The difference lies in how this comes about. Giving children the power to make many of their own decisions strengthens a crucial part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for planning and decision-making. Keep in mind that in the famous marshmallow experiment, the children who resisted the sweet treat did so not because their parents scolded them but because they demonstrated their own developing capacity for self-control.
DENMARK – Iben Sandahl, co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting
Danes facilitate a lot of free unstructured play for our children, endless outdoor activities, and we cultivate atmospheric homes where children can flourish. Spontaneous play is more likely to take place if children feel safe and in an accepting atmosphere characterized by; “it is okay”. The Danes have known the value of free play since the dawn of the educational pedagogy and it is tempting to argue that free play is one of the main reasons Danish kids grow up to be among the happiest in the world 40 years in a row.
DENMARK – Jessica Alexander, co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting
The one Danish parenting tip that resonates with parents across the globe whenever I give talks is the concept of “hygge”(pronounced hooga). Hygge is about consciously creating a safe psychological space together in families. It is agreeing that for certain periods of time you leave your stresses, complaining, bragging, negativity, controversy, and anything else that could potentially put others on guard outside of hygge’s door. There are plenty of other times to talk about negativity, but hygge time is sacred. Technology is turned off, candles are lit, games are played, songs are sung and nice memories are shared and created. A lot of parents tell me they put “the hygge oath” on their refrigerator and it has completely changed their family dynamics for the better.
UNITED KINGDOM – Sarah Turner, blogger and author of The Unmumsy Mum
Every family is different, of course, but I think in general we are quite conservative as a parenting nation. I got chatting to an American mom in the park recently, and she said she couldn’t believe how little we celebrate our ‘parenting wins’ over here. We are much less likely to talk about things that are working well or the amazing achievements of our children. She also noted that it seemed strange to her (compared with what she was used to) that at children’s parties, birthday presents are not unwrapped in front of everyone – generally, they are bagged up and taken home. Things are done with less fuss and seem more modest somehow.
One thing that gives us a parenting head start here in England is that we are entitled to a basic level of maternity pay for up to 39 weeks and all our employee rights are safeguarded during this time. Since 2014, we have also been able to opt in to Shared Parental Leave which means parents can split the paid leave and both spend some of the baby’s first year at home.