Ask Our Experts: What’s so great about the American Way of Parenting?

Last month we shared insights from parents around the world – Italy, Germany, Denmark, the UK, and Australia – on how their parenting style differed from other countries, and what unique aspect of parenting contributes to parenting success in their culture. This month, we’ve asked American parents for their thoughts about parenting in the United States – what is the American way of parenting and how is it different from other cultures?

Chris Pegula, author of Diaper Dude

When I compare my parenting to those of my European friends, I find that I am much more uptight and controlling. Take for instance a day at the park:  first off, watching one too many Lifetime movies influenced my behavior when I used to take my toddlers to the local playground.  All eyes glued to them for the entire playtime was my goal to ensure they wouldn’t be injured from a fall off the swing-set or a misstep off the ladder while climbing the slide.  Compare that to parenting in, say Denmark, where parents huddle, coffees in hand, sharing the latest parenting or adult topic of the day while their children play freely without a care in the world.  At first I judged this parental behavior as neglectful and worrisome.  But upon reflection I realized they have full faith in allowing their children to explore and learn on their own accord.  Granted they are not totally on their own without any parental guidance, but the approach seemed to be much more carefree and enjoyable.

I still struggle with my control as my kids enter their teenage years.  For God’s sake, my oldest is the same age I was when I met his mother. It’s great to compare and reflect on different parenting styles to gain some perspective.  While I’m not sure I would be able to adopt that carefree parenting style my European friends possess, if given the chance to do it all over again, I may just force myself to work harder at letting go.

Erica Komisar, LCSW, author of Being There

The best part of American parenting is considered in the rest of the world our worst trait – our openness and directness.  When we encourage our children to be open with their feelings, especially their anger and their aggression when they feel it, we are helping them by accepting all of their feelings. Depression and anxiety are inverted anger and sadness, and we don’t want to suppress or discourage our children from expressing all of their feelings. So, as Americans, when we are true to our best and worst trait of directness, we help our children to learn to communicate emotionally, honestly, and openly.

Jane Scott, M.D., author of The Confident Parent

In the United States, parents are extremely involved with their children’s education and their achievements. American parents frequently volunteer in their children’s classroom, they enjoy participating on field trips, and even offer to fundraise for their schools. Admittedly US parents have more choices on how their children are educated; public, private, or home school. Interestingly, the trend is toward more parent involvement with home schooling and online education programs in recent years. Parents are also actively involved in most, if not all, of their children’s extracurricular activities, which they try to balance between their jobs, home, and other family commitments. American children are celebrated for graduating from preschool, elementary school, and high school with all the pomp and ceremony at a level I have not seen in many of the other countries. This commitment from parents may be for the reason why more children in the U.S. attend higher levels of education. I believe this has encouraged their children’s success in a wide variety of other interests.

Ylonda Gault, author of Child, Please

I recently got a potent reminder that parents from other cultures are not like us. They are not their kids’ cheerleaders. They are results oriented. When I go to my son’s soccer games, I make the best of it—shouting a loud rah-rah here and there, like a good mom should (or at least that’s what I think). My son’s teammates hail from all over—families from Peru, Nigeria, Brazil, and other places around the globe who put the “foot” in football. And they are all business. I am entertained by their intensity and passion.  This Saturday, when my son’s teammate scored I gave his mom a high five. “He’s on fire,” I said. “You must be proud.”

She gave me a look that—loosely translated—said, “Child, please.” And in clipped English she offered a matter-of-fact explanation: “It’s the least he can do! I am very busy. I tell him, if I’m coming to watch you play you had better make it worth my while.” Talk about badass! When the game ended, she gave her son a half smile and they walked to the car. What did I do? I opened my arms wide, hugged my boy tight, and squealed, “Great game! You’re were awesome!” And I meant it.

Heather Shumaker, author of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide

U.S. parents are lucky because they have a mix of so many family cultures to draw on and share ideas with. In a circle of parents, you’re bound to run into families who parent extremely differently than you do. This can be great. A source of new ideas and real-life modeling. If you keep an open mind you can borrow parenting styles from many cultures and use the ones that fits you best.