There are some varied and strong opinions out there in regards to parenting, and the specific topic I am about to broach. In this post I would like talk about what I find to be the most striking difference between parenting in the Netherlands versus parenting elsewhere: Parental Supervision.
A touchy subject I know. We all have questions such as, Should all children be supervised at all times? How old should your child be before you consider allowing them to walk or bike to the playground/shop/school etc. alone? Is it ever ok to leave your child at home alone, and if so, from what age? I’m not going to sit here and give you the answers to these questions, as they would only be my opinions. All of these questions have multiple answers, as every parent makes a decision that they believe is best for their own child(ren).
Young children are generally incapable of looking after themselves and are incompetent in making informed decisions for their own well-being. We all know this, there is no argument there. However, older children should be given a certain amount of freedom and trust. Of course, every child is different and parents should be able to see if their child is at the point of being responsible enough to take the trash out, pop down to the store for some milk,.. or stay at home on their own while you do it.
I recently read an interesting article called “How Young is Too Young to be Left at Home Alone?”. In Australia, you would never leave any child below the teenaged years unsupervised at home. However, in the Netherlands it is actually encouraged to give your children more independence from an early age.
Dutch parents begin by giving their children small responsibilities or house hold chores, see how they handle it, then move on to other more significant tasks. For example, from about the age of four, children are expected to be able to make their own sandwiches. The bread, butter and all toppings are placed on the table, and the children assemble their own lunch.
Dutch parents let their children begin biking to school or football practice etc. on their own typically from the age of 7-10 years old, depending on the child and the route; Taking into consideration that the distance from home to anywhere here in the Netherlands is quite short and that the typical Dutch child has biked daily from the age of 4. Usually school is located within an easy 5-10 minute bike ride from home. Dutch parents will purposely choose a school close to their home for this very reason; so that they can eventually give their children the freedom to travel on their own as soon as they are ready to take on that responsibility.
Many Dutch parents also let their children play outside in local playgrounds with friends from the neighbourhood without supervision (usually from around the age of 6-8). It took me a good 5 years of living in the Netherlands, whilst observing others and noticing the benefits, before I even felt comfortable with the idea of ever letting my kids go to the playground on their own. Recently, I too began letting my children go down to the playground on our street together, without me (they are almost 7 and 9). The first time, I wanted to go spy on them through the bushes, but resisted. They came home at the time I has asked them to, with giant smiles on their faces. They are good kids and I am confident that they will be careful and make smart choices. I also live in a safe neighbourhood where we all know each other and look out for each other’s children, which helps.
Coming from a society where this is never done, where you are frowned upon if you would even consider doing it, it has taken me some time to adjust my way of thinking and get past the motherly pangs of guilt. On multiple occasions over the years I have been heard saying, “It’s not the kids I don’t trust, it’s everyone else”. There are so many bad people out there. Its good to be cautious, but you can’t live in constant fear of something bad happening. You also can’t watch your children for every second until the day they move out of home. There comes a time when you just have to let go a little and give them some independence when you believe they can handle it.
There is a fine line between the right amount of supervision and poor parental supervision. I am aware of this line and am careful not to cross it. Still, those I know back in Australia would still not approve. But after living here for several years, I have done a complete 180 in my way of thinking in regards to parental supervision and completely understand and respect the attitude that the Dutch have towards it. Giving your children some freedom to do things on their own shows them that you trust them to do the right thing, obey the rules, and put everything you have taught them into practise. It teaches children responsibility and gives them much needed independence, shaping them into well-rounded independent adults.
There are many things the Dutch got right with parenting. This post entitled “16 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Netherlands” is well worth the read! From being down to earth, to food, to gender equality.
In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children as the happiest in the world. So the parents must be doing something right. The Dutch have a reputation for being liberal, yet they are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals. The Dutch have managed to minimize the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves. But it is still important to remember that our kids still need guidance, rules and routine!
Finally, I would like to stress that us mums need to stick together and support one another. Try not to judge those with different parenting styles to yourself. I almost didn’t publish this post, in fear of being judged. I hope that by reading this post that you will be more open to pushing your comfort boundaries just a little, and try different parenting techniques that positively impact your child(ren) whilst you battle one of the toughest jobs on earth, being a parent.