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8 Parenting Lessons From the Dutch on Raising Happy and Resilient Kids

Each culture has its own unique strengths and beautiful ways of living life, and parenting is no exception. The internet is full of memoirs, stories, advice, and even some criticism on the nuances of parenting in different cultures.


I have always enjoyed learning from these varied experiences, finding what’s in common and keeping an open mind towards what’s different. This has greatly enriched my parenting and increased my appreciation for all the unique ways to raise a child.

I recently read “The Happiest Kids in the World”, a fascinating book written by two wise mothers – one American and the other British, who are now in the Netherlands with their husbands raising two kids each. It’s a how-to book loaded with personal stories and a very honest narration of the struggles they both faced fitting into the Dutch world of parenting.

They both love it now, and after reading the whole book, I am not surprised. The book forced me to take a deeper look at my own parenting beliefs and behaviors. I didn’t agree with everything, nor did I think every approach would work for my family, but I loved their perspective and wisdom and now feel a bit more empathetic, intentional, and “relaxed” in my parenting approach.

Here are eight lessons I took away from the book:

1 | Let kids bike through the rain

Yes, the Dutch let their kids “literally” bike in the rain (with the right gear) to foster independence, resilience, and grit in their children. I wish I had the courage to do this, but I know we will be out in the rain a lot more than we have in the previous years.

We live sheltered, privileged lives. Biking in the rain is a simple yet powerful lesson in how to prepare for adversity, continue in the face of all odds, and find the magic in nature even when it’s not perfect 70-degree California weather.

2 | Be comfortable in your own skin

I was struck by the strong sense of confidence Dutch mothers have. They don’t measure their worth by what they accomplish at work as much as we do here in the U.S. Working fewer hours, taking time to nourish themselves, and building strong communities seem to be more the norm than the exception.

While I am reasonably good at taking care of myself, learning to accept myself with my flaws and imperfections is a work in progress.

3 | Make rules with the kids

The Dutch are big on engaging and empowering children to make rules together. It doesn’t mean that children can have whatever they want. It means they have a voice in the family rules, which leads to fewer power struggles and discipline challenges.

I have personally seen this work well, even with a three-year-old. We struggled a lot with our kiddo wanting the phone to watch “Peppa Pig”. I was unsure how to draw firm boundaries, so one day, we discussed it. I asked him to pick a set time every day during which he could enjoy limited screen time. My son picked his five-minute ride to school. Our screen time struggles have diminished greatly.

4 | Focus on simplicity

There were several examples of how the Dutch brought simplicity to their lives. For one, camping and the outdoors was a key part of the average family lifestyle, and three-day camping weekends are the norm. Birthday parties also seem to be simple, often with much more focus on children getting together to play.

I was also inspired by how Dutch families are frugal. They consider the real joy and value an additional expense brings versus an autopilot purchase. Secondhand children’s goods are quite the norm in the Netherlands.

5 | Your children are not an extension of you

This is my favorite lesson from the book. The Dutch believe that their children are their own independent people, not an extension of mom and dad. Children do not carry the responsibility of fulfilling mom and dad’s dreams.

This reminded me of a quote from Carl Jung: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

6 | Model the behavior you want your kids to emulate

All parents across the world know this, but a disconnect prevails in the U.S. (I often catch myself forgetting this one.) Dutch mothers highly value attending to their needs and investing in themselves with almost no guilt. They understand that if they want to raise creative, resilient, happy kids, they must practice what they preach.

7 | Family meals

The Dutch truly value family meals. These are not elaborate meals that inspire battles over getting your children to eat vegetables. Dutch are not health freaks. They don’t constantly watch their calories or carbs. Meal times are meant for connection and joy as a family.

Interestingly, the Dutch will meet friends in the evening, but dinnertime is sacred family time. While I do enjoy having dinner with friends, I am an introvert who greatly values the opportunity to connect with my husband and kids. The Dutch approach reinforced my own belief in the importance of rituals and structure to create time and space for family.

8 | Start the sex-education conversation early

The Dutch have a much more liberal approach when it comes to sex education and sexual activity. Co-ed sleepovers are the norm. Despite some eye rolls here, the data on overall positive outcomes with teenage pregnancies is fascinating.

Coming from a South Asian culture myself, I was struck by the open and trustworthy relationship that parents and children share on this topic. I am not sure how I will handle this 10 years from now, but I know I have some work to do.

I agree that starting the conversation early by answering kids’ questions creates a positive and open atmosphere. Educating our children about their body parts in preschool, for example, can help break the ice and make both parents and children more comfortable having the hard conversations when the time comes.

“The Happiest Kids in the World” reminded me of the many things I aspire to as a parent, but often forget in the noise of the moment. I am learning to integrate the simplicity of Dutch parenting with the richness of my Silicon Valley lifestyle.

If you want to learn about different cultures, take a deeper look at your own parenting, and especially find more joy in it, this book will not disappoint.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44

BUY

7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)

BUY HERE

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