I Parented Like The Dutch For A Week, & This Is What I Learned
My kid's name, Anouk, is actually Dutch, though I didn't know that until after she was born. It's a French name, too (my family is French Canadian), so that's why I chose it. But it's actually way more popular in the Netherlands, where it's been a top 20 name for years. When I found out my kid had a Dutch name, I started looking into what it's like to be a parent in the Netherlands.
Turns out, Dutch kids are the happiest in the world. Work-life balance is a huge deal in the Netherlands. Mothers and fathers are eligible for parental leave, and mothers get a minimum 16-week maternity leave with 100 percent of their regular pay. Both parents frequently work part time, which leaves lots of opportunities for family bonding. Dutch parents don't hover; they're "hands-off." Also, who wouldn't be happy eating lots of bread, cheese, and pancakes?
For one week, I tried implementing Dutch parenting strategies into my day-to-day life with my daughter. I was curious to find out if the Dutch really do know best when it comes to raising a child. What about their customs and their traditions would work for us? What wouldn't work? What would I learn about my own parenting ideologies in the process? Would I even like it? Since my daughter is still so young, and I'm still relatively new at this whole mom thing, I was interested to see if there was anything from the Dutch way of life that we'd adopt into our own day-to-day routine.
Bonus points for already having a Dutch name, even if it was accidental!
Sprinkles On Toast?
Full disclosure: I used to date a Dutch guy, so I was already familiar with some popular Dutch cuisine, like stroopwafels and kroketten. But I had never heard of the magical hagelslag (translation: hailstorm), which are sprinkles, usually chocolate flavor, served with butter on bread or toast.
Kids in the Netherlands love hagelslag, and I can see why! It's basically Nutella taken up several notches. I couldn't find chocolate sprinkles anywhere, so we went with regular rainbow sprinkles. I tasted it for myself before offering it to Anouk. It was ... interesting. More of a textural experience than anything else. The sprinkles added a little sweetness to the butter toast, and a lot of crunch.
She was so into it, although I was slightly horrified when the dye from the sprinkles turned her mouth blue. My kid is a pretty adventurous eater, and she likes new sensations in her food, so I think that's why the crunchy sprinkles went over so well. She usually has steel cut oats with cinnamon for breakfast, so this was a big change. It was way easier for me to prepare, though, which I liked. However I don't think I'll continue to feed her sprinkles on toast. Maybe as a treat every once in a while.
For lunch, Dutch kids and adults alike often eat a simple cheese sandwich on brown bread called a broodje. It's quite similar to what I'd usually feed Anouk for lunch. She loves cheese, and I had some homemade brown bread on hand. I had to cut the sandwiches into very tiny bits so she wouldn't choke on them. She hasn't quite figured out how to take bites yet, so she tends to just shove everything into her mouth at once.
She really enjoyed her little sandwiches, as you can tell. Again, they were super easy for me to prepare, and I could make one for myself too. It didn't feel like quite enough, nutrition-wise, so I would usually gave her a squeeze pack of fruit or veggies to go along with the sandwich. Dutch families usually eat every meal together, which isn't something I typically did before this experiment. It's easier for me to get stuff done while she's in her high chair eating. This week though, I really enjoyed taking the time to sit with her and enjoy our meal together. She'd pretend to feed me little bites of her food and giggle. So cute!
When it comes to dinner, the Dutch eat early: usually 5 or 6 p.m. This worked great for us, because Anouk is in bed by 6, and my whole family has always been prone to eating early. Winter is coming in my part of the world, and the days are very short, with the sun going completely down by 4 in the afternoon. Some days, we're done dinner with the kitchen clean by 5. Soups and stews are very popular in the Netherlands, especially pea soup, or snert. It's a bit time consuming to make, and it's meant to contain ham or bacon, which we don't eat. I added some paprika to try to mimic the smokiness of bacon, and it worked out pretty well. It's much thicker than regular soup, and it kind of has the consistency of baby food, which I'm not super into. But Anouk loved it.
Plenty Of Outdoor Fun
Parents in the Netherlands know the value of playing outside with their kids. From the time they're born, children in many Nordic countries nap outside, regardless of the temperature. Parents believe that being exposed to fresh air in the winter actually keeps kids healthier. My kid has passed the stage where she can nap anywhere but her crib, and it's way too cold here in Canada in the winter (think 30 below) to have ever really left her outside for long. She was born in January, and I did take her for walks all winter long, bundled up under a huge pile of blankets in the stroller. We've had an unseasonably warm autumn in my neck of the woods, so we've had lots of opportunities to get outside and play. Anouk is extremely active; she started crawling at 5 months old and walked at 8 months, and from the time she gets up in the morning to the time she goes to bed at night, it's go, go, go.
She loves running around at the park with the dog. She also loves playing in the backyard, going for walks, and climbing on absolutely everything. We always play a lot, but making the effort to get outside every day, regardless of the weather, showed me that the amount of running around she does in a day has a huge impact on how well she sleeps at night. I guess that shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did, but I was under the impression that she was still too little for exercise to have an impact on her energy levels. But getting outside really helped her sleep, which I was extremely grateful for!
The Dutch are also known for riding their bikes absolutely everywhere, and Dutch children start cycling as soon as they're out of the womb. Dutch adults don't typically wear helmets, and their children don't often wear helmets, either. I don't think I would ever feel comfortable cycling with my kid unless she had a helmet on. This summer, when I looked into my options for bike riding with my baby, I learned that in North America, you can't really buy a bike helmet for a kid under the age of one. Most baby bike trailers/carriers aren't recommended for kids under 1, either. So as much as I would have liked to try riding my bike with Anouk, it seems like it just won't be possible until next summer.
In addition to playing outside, we also go to baby group once a week at our local library, and we take swimming lessons on Wednesday mornings. Keeping up with friends is a Dutch parenting habit it turns out we were already implementing in our daily lives.
Work Part-Time (Like It's That Easy, Right?)
Working part-time is another trait I already had in common with Dutch parents. I'm lucky enough to be able to make ends meet this way, but it's not really by choice; if a full-time job came around, I'd definitely jump at the chance. I'm single, and I only have one income to count on, so full-time work would be a big help. In the Netherlands, it's common for both parents to work part-time, and share all the parenting and household duties equally. During my week being a Dutch mom, I tried to really take advantage of all my free time with Anouk. I let the chores go (our room currently looks like a bomb exploded in there), I didn't do laundry or tidy up much. I also tried not to look at my phone at all while she was awake.
She's at such a fun age right now where she's constantly learning so much and she's really starting to communicate. When I put aside everything else and focused on her, everything was so much more enjoyable. I had an excuse not to worry about anything else, and she really enjoyed having all of my attention. The Dutch are on to something with this one. The experience made me wonder if it would be better for both of us if I tried to make it work with my part-time income, at least until she's in school. If I'm lucky enough to be able to do that, then why not?
Early To Bed, Early To Rise
Dutch parents reportedly keep their kids on a strict napping schedule, and they send them to bed early. They believe in the three Rs: rust, regelmaat, reinheid, or: rest, regularity, and cleanliness. I must have a natural affinity for the Netherlands, because this was yet another Dutch parenting habit I was already on top of (I'm starting to think I should move there!). Anouk has always gone to bed early, and she sleeps long. She's still breastfeeding, and she doesn't sleep through the night yet. But she goes to bed promptly at 6 every night, sleeps through until around 2 a.m., nurses, and then goes back to sleep until 6, or sometimes even 7, in the morning.
She goes down for her first nap at 8 a.m. and her second nap at 1 p.m., and each nap is an hour to an hour and a half long. It took a long time for her nap schedule to regulate; really, as recently as two months ago. But she has always gone to bed at 6, which is great for me because it gives me plenty of time to myself in the evening, which is something that I very much need.
I've never known a kid that didn't function best with structure and routine, and my kid is no exception. She's happiest when she knows what to expect on any given day, and so am I!
There's a Dutch proverb: doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg, which translates to:
Just be normal, that's already crazy enough.
In the Netherlands, being "normal" means not bragging or showing off, not discussing money, not being pretentious, and not doing anything that could be perceived as "weird." Everyone thinks their kid is special; you can't help it. I'm assuming that celebrating the normal comes into parenting by making sure your kids understand that they're not any better or more important than anyone else. During my week as a Dutch parent, it wasn't too hard for me to avoid discussing money, and Anouk is too little still to have any idea if she's acting "weird" or not.
This is one Dutch philosophy I'm not sure I agree with. I was a very weird kid, and I think that's a good thing. My parents let me wear whatever I wanted, and I was very creative with my outfits. They were always open to letting me express myself, even if that meant I sometimes wore a head-to-toe neon pink dance costume to school. I got teased at the time, but I wouldn't trade that experience. Anouk is already such a ham; she loves showing off and making people laugh, and even though I totally get that too much precociousness can be nauseating, I wouldn't want to discourage her from being creative for the sake of being "normal."
Am I Hopping The Next Plane To Amsterdam?
The most interesting thing about my week as a Dutch mom was how much of Dutch parenting philosophy I was already implementing without knowing it. Similar food choices (aside from sprinkles on bread); similar ideas about work/life balance and the importance of being active. I'm pretty attached to Canada, though, so I'll probably be here for the foreseeable future. If this experiment taught me anything, it's that the Dutch have figured out that a happy parent/parents equals a happy child. After all, the Dutch are some of the happiest people in the world, adults and children alike.
Keeping your working life and your family life in balance, not focusing too much on work, celebrating the normal things in life, are all bound to bring happiness and contentment, regardless of your ages. Chocolate sprinkles for breakfast every morning doesn't hurt, either. I didn't agree with everything Dutch parents had to say, but for the most part, I think they've got the right idea. We won't be moving to the Netherlands anytime soon, but we'll definitely be visiting the second we get the chance.