Relaxed mums – especially those with little ones – are a rarity. The neverending litany of tantrums, butt-wiping, toilet-training, more butt-wiping, mealtime meltdowns, years’ worth of spirit-crushing sleep deprivation…it’s no wonder that learning to not let the daily stresses drive you postal is a lost art amongst most parents.
So it can be hard to believe that there is, in fact, an entire nation of mothers who know just how to keep zen: when it comes to chilled-out childrearing, the Dutch have it down to a tee.
Studies have found that Dutch children are the happiest kids in the world and that their mothers are pretty happy, too. According to Australian writer Mihal Greener, who has spent seven years living in the Netherlands and getting to grips with the cultural idiosyncrasies, there are a few important things we can learn from this part of the world.
“It’s pretty hard to ignore your neighbours”, says Mihal – given that the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe; yet there is very little sense of competition between families. “Kids’ parties are simple and, most importantly, gezellig (cozy). They are usually celebrated at home with a small circle of friends and spending around 10 euros ($11) on a gift is perfectly acceptable.”
Unlike our own educational institutions’ slavish fixation to being desk-bound around the clock, homework is hardly heard of in Dutch primary schools. What’s more, students have one afternoon a week off school, which means kids actually get the chance to experience the fleeting freedom of childhood. Mihal goes on to explain that parents also “aren’t burdened with the expectation that their child has to be the best in order to succeed.”
And then there is the Holy Grail of sanity-preservation; part-time work. More than 70 percent of Dutch women work part-time, and are keen to do so. “By removing the worry of losing your identity to motherhood, or the stress of not being able to remember the last time you were home before 10 p.m., working part-time makes it that much easier to enjoy the time you have with your kids”, says Mihal.
The Dutch social welfare state also relieves pressure on mums and dads on the financial front. Schools are free, or close to it, compulsory health insurance covers an extensive list of medical and hospital expenses and Dutch parents even get a quarterly stipend from the government to help cover the costs of raising a child.
Of course, a good part of the uber uncomplicated Dutch approach to parenting is simply about DNA. As if not genetically-gifted enough, the long-legged, flaxen race is naturally very emotionally regulated – a stark contrast to their passionately expressive Southern European cousins. An excellent tool in effecting tantrum diplomacy, and keeping cool during the umpteenth poopy-pants disaster, but totally unhelpful to those of us without a drop of biological claim to Nederlandse heritage…