American Parenting vs German Parenting: 5 Shocking Issues I Realized as an Expat


After practically 4 years as an American expat father or mother in Germany, listed below are my takeaways.

When my husband and I moved to Germany for his post-doctoral diploma, our plans admittedly didn’t embrace getting pregnant, having a child, after which elevating our new little one into toddlerhood in a brand new nation. We envisioned ourselves catching low-cost flights on the weekends to neighboring international locations, savoring new tastes, and taking in new sights and cultures.

Nonetheless—*document scratch*—I grew to become pregnant inside a month of our arrival.

It was a contented shock, to make certain. But we questioned how this transformation would have an effect on our expertise in a brand new nation.

However this flip of occasions started a much more intimate and wealthy cultural expertise of our new residence than we may have imagined, main us to be taught and embrace a brand new parenting philosophy that has formed how we’re elevating our daughter.

The German parenting philosophy

First, a caveat: This text outlines my expertise and impression, which was doubtless influenced by the place I lived, my very own cultural background, and so on. I’ll say “German parenting philosophy” in broad phrases, however after all, there are exceptions in every single place, and my expertise won’t essentially mirror what one other expat father or mother may expertise, or what Germans themselves may describe as their parenting philosophy.

That mentioned, to me, the “German parenting philosophy” appeared to permeate the complete tradition. Youngsters, the aged, younger grownup professionals with out children, even the intimidating German authorities itself—everybody appears to respect this philosophy, and its implicit guidelines.

The impact for me as a pregnant girl, after which as a younger mom, was profoundly comforting, and challenged and altered some views I had held about elevating kids from my private expertise with American parenting tradition.

Earlier than my daughter was even born, I started observing parenting variations. Early on in my being pregnant, I met a fellow American expat mother at a espresso store, to pepper her with questions on what it’s like to provide start in a German hospital. Close to us, a mom with a younger toddler was assembly one in all her lady buddies, and I watched because the little boy started to climb his stroller, which was parked subsequent to their desk.

photo split screen of a baby wearing american and german colors

I anticipated a panicked warning from his mom, and for him to be admonished for his makes an attempt, however as an alternative, his mom merely mentioned, “Oh! You’re climbing!” and steadied the stroller. Her buddy wordlessly assisted with holding the stroller upright, they usually stopped their dialog whereas they watched him rigorously climb.

As soon as he reached the highest, they each cheered his success as he beamed with pleasure. They continued to carry the stroller as he rigorously climbed again down, after which merely resumed their dialog whereas he quietly moved on to a different playful exploration.

It was at that second that I knew parenting in Germany could be completely different, and I used to be able to be taught. Reflecting again on my expertise, I seen 5 key classes about what makes parenting completely different in Germany, and necessary distinctions between American and German parenting tradition.

Taking large dangers is wholesome, and necessary

From the stroller instance above, you might need already guessed this: Germans are comfy, even encouraging, of babies taking large—probably harmful—dangers.

One of many playgrounds we cherished to go to with our toddler had this rope construction, which might be two tales tall, and accessible to any little one decided sufficient to achieve it.

If a toddler fell by way of any of the sizable holes within the web, solely a skinny layer of sand under would cushion their fall. Mother and father sometimes sat distant in garden chairs on the grass, chatting, whereas periodically waving or smiling at their little one’s climbing efforts, with minimal to no “hovering.”

The German mind-set on permitting kids to do harmful issues is that kids know and perceive that they’re pushing the restrict, in order that they’re extra targeted and cautious in the course of the exercise, and due to this fact extra secure.

In truth, a rising variety of German educators and city planners are literally demanding that playgrounds be constructed with extra threat and hazard concerned, believing that it’s necessary for kids to expertise real-world repercussions, in what remains to be a comparatively managed surroundings.

I at all times aimed to permit our daughter to take extra dangers, however German dad and mom confirmed me that kids have been able to taking even larger dangers that I had assumed is perhaps potential. Our daughter has unimaginable climbing and balancing expertise, and larger confidence generally, due to many hours on German playgrounds that inspired large, daring varieties of play.

Let little kids be little kids

A boy climbing a tall tree

Earlier than the ages of about 7 or 8, little children are given masses of leeway for taking part in, or just practising their social and bodily expertise, in public areas.

When my daughter was studying to stroll, I’d set her down on the sidewalk and encourage her to toddle. As soon as, she started to weave on her unsteady little legs from left to proper throughout the complete sidewalk, unintentionally (and repeatedly) stopping a pair from passing her.

I shortly scurried over and guided her to 1 facet so they may go, and apologized for the inconvenience.

They checked out me with confused smiles. “Aber das ist in Ordnung?” (Mainly, “However that is regular/to be anticipated?”) They couldn’t perceive why I used to be apologizing.

This angle of giving a lot of grace and understanding towards little learners was widespread. Except a toddler was being harmful or deliberately obnoxious, Germans have been both prepared to completely overlook, and even cease and smilingly admire, as kids performed and showcased new expertise, from toddling and cooing, to amassing new “treasures” and conducting little “experiments”—even in public areas.

For fogeys, it’s reassuring to make sure that your little one’s efforts to be taught are seen positively and with understanding, even by strangers. Now, I make larger efforts to indicate different dad and mom that I’m not bothered by their little one’s makes an attempt to be taught and develop, even when I’m briefly inconvenienced. Additionally, I verify myself earlier than I rush to reduce my daughter’s regular, age-appropriate studying behaviors once we’re in a public area.

German dads get to be extra concerned within the elevating and care of their kids

First, let me give an enormous shout-out to Millennial dads within the US, who’re more-involved fathers than maybe any earlier technology.

In truth, Millennial American fathers are additionally extra more likely to say they need to be extra concerned with their kids’s lives, however cite work obligations as the first impediment.

Nonetheless, German fathers are granted beneficiant parental depart allowances (as much as three years), which I seen had a major and constructive impact on the bonds between fathers and their kids, fathers’ confidence in caring for all elements of caring for their kids, and tremendously diminished stress ranges and strain on German moms to “do all of it,” as a result of their companions have been in a position to be a big a part of caring for the kid.

I noticed dads pushing child strollers on their solution to an errand, child luggage strapped to their backs, and even a bunch of man buddies consuming at a Biergarten in the course of the afternoon, joking and entertaining the newborn one of many fathers had introduced alongside for bonding time.

It highlighted to me the significance of not solely preventing for maternal depart for brand new moms within the US, however additionally preventing for paternal depart for brand new fathers.

father laughing with baby

I walked away from my expertise in Germany feeling that I had seen clear advantages from insurance policies that encourage household bonding and parental connection to new child kids, and the significance of not forgetting fathers within the combat for parental depart allowance.

“No such factor as dangerous climate, solely unsuitable clothes.”

This quote, attributed to the late British naturalist Alfred Wainwright, has been embraced by outdoorsy dad and mom throughout the UK and Europe, and Germans have been no exception.

Barring a lightning storm, German kids gave the impression to be inspired to play outdoors on daily basis, in nearly any climate. They’ve an in depth wardrobe for various climate situations: Matschhose (softshell coveralls), Gummistiefel (rain boots), Regenjacke (rain jacket), Mütze (beanie), and extra.

This mindset and accompanying wardrobe creates extra alternatives for out of doors play, and fewer excuses like, “It’s raining outdoors at present, so we are able to’t go wherever.” Even on scorching summer season days, Germans discover methods to beat the warmth outdoors, as their houses sometimes don’t have A/C.

Water playgrounds (Wasserspielplatz), swimming in swimming pools and rivers, and sipping cool drinks underneath the shady bushes of a Biergarten whereas children performed close by—getting outdoor was straightforward and anticipated, so Germans have been cautious to domesticate weather-appropriate venues and actions.

In winter, after layering your garments and carrying correct cold-weather equipment, you might take pleasure in ice skating, sledding, and Christmas markets, relying on the month.

Rising up in rural Texas, I performed outdoors for a lot of hours most days, however had ignored or uncared for my pure want to be outdoor for a few years after graduating faculty and coming into the workforce.

Decided to assist my daughter take pleasure in an identical nature-filled childhood, she and I took up the 1,000 Hours Exterior Problem final yr, which inspires dad and mom and caregivers to spend no less than 1,000 hours outdoors with their kids over the course of a yr, in all seasons.

We didn’t attain our objective, however that wasn’t the purpose: We made recollections whereas exploring the outside, and I watched my daughter blossom with confidence as she mastered climbing expertise, realized the thrill of dropping rocks in rivers, splashed in puddles, and picked flowers. And I realized higher expertise about dressing for any climate.

a child playing outdoors by a lake
Princess Elsa loved carrying her dinosaur hat and fox backpack on this fair-weathered day.

Whereas many locations within the US excel at offering alternatives for households and communities to be outdoor, I’m grateful that the primary early life of my daughter’s life have been in Germany, the place having a group of like-minded dad and mom helped me recenter my objectives of giving our daughter a nature-based childhood, irrespective of the climate.

Regardless of having a fame as being unfriendly, Germans are typically very form, and I used to be deeply touched by the variety of strangers who went out of their means to assist me, a younger mom, and my child daughter.

Throughout these inevitable moments after I was operating errands whereas my daughter was maybe too drained and wished to be residence, she would (understandably) burst into tears, and my efforts to consolation her could be fruitless.

Many instances an aged German would seem by her facet, gently take her hand, and start talking mushy phrases of encouragement and luxury, assuring her that she would go residence quickly, mommy and daddy could be there, she may sleep, and every thing could be OK.

To my amazement, my daughter would quiet down, sniffling again little tears, clearly feeling higher. I used to be at all times grateful for the kindness, gentleness, and endurance proven to my daughter, and the compassion these strangers confirmed to me, an inexperienced younger mom removed from her family, to step in and assist out.

And sure, I even felt grateful for the nosy little German Omas who appeared to materialize out of skinny air if I dared to stroll outdoors into the chilly climate with out first placing a hat on my daughter’s poor little head.

Even their stern “Das Wetter ist kalt! Wo ist ihr Mütze?” (“The climate is chilly! The place is her hat?”) admonitions jogged my memory that I had a whole German grandparent military behind me—one of many many options of German parenting tradition that was surprisingly comforting, and a welcome cultural expertise in my new residence, to this Ausländer.


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