Living in The Netherlands has been an eye opening experience for me. Not only does our family get to enjoy the beautiful flowers, rich history, and charming small towns throughout this small country, but we are getting to experience the Dutch lifestyle first-hand.
There are so many great things to mention about the Dutch way of life, but one has especially stood out to me in particular as a mother to two young children. Most of the Dutch mothers I have met are just not as stressed out as so many of my friends feel in the United Sates.
The children here in The Netherlands still have school, sports, after school activities just like the children do in the US, but the mothers of these children don’t seem to have a permanent tension line in between their eyebrows like I often felt like I had in the US.
I have thought about why this is the case here and not with so many stressed out mothers in the US. I am not an expert, but I have observed a few things here, which seem to be key in creating a less stressed out mother. One aspect of life here that I have noticed is the way that being outside and getting exercise is a way of life here. Not only do the Dutch people ride bikes most places, but also the children here are encouraged to go outside and play…without constant supervision of parents. I feel less stressed about wondering if I am exercising enough because I am biking most days, and I am embracing the Dutch philosophy of not helicopter parenting my children all the time. I let my 11-year son walk to the toy store near my friend’s house with his two other friends (about a mile walk there), which I would never have done in the US. I would have been worried that something would happen and he would be unsafe. But here, I know there is a risk of something happening if I let him go with his friends without an adult, but somehow, I find myself relaxing and trusting my son just a bit more that he has listened to things I have taught him about staying safe with his friends. At school, the children here have an outdoor classroom where they are learning to garden and plant seeds to harvest in the fall from their school garden. They literally have time to stop and smell the roses! They also only go to school for half a day on Wednesdays in the elementary school which builds in more time for unstructured playtime (outside) with friends. This in turn leads to my children being happy that they have this time for themselves. Being outdoors more and not always hovering over my children, and more free time for my children has also let me shed a few more layers of stress I had felt before we moved here.
One of the things I noticed immediately here is that school is important, but it is not such a pressure cooker of tests and performance grades. I wrote a post a few months ago talking about the difference in testing between The Netherlands and the US. It is a huge difference in the stress level not only of the children, but also in their parents. If one of my Dutch friends’ children comes home and says he or she didn’t do so well on an assignment at school, my friends don’t immediately rush to check their email to see what grade their child got and then look at their average for the class to make sure they are not falling behind depending on if it is a major or a daily grade. As a matter of fact, the parents here can’t do that at all because there aren’t any grades given at the children’s school here until the equivalent of sixth grade. If there is something a child doesn’t do so well on, the parents talk to their child about it to see what they could do to do better the next time. And, the teachers will go over the material again to make sure the students really understand it. The teachers teach in a way that seems tailored to each child’s needs and there doesn’t seem to be so much comparison between the students about who did better on an assignment. There is not stress about moving on and losing a day of instruction because another topic has to be covered so quickly. The kids really understand what is being taught. And, the teachers here have an open door policy with the parents. We can go in in the morning and see what the children are up to in the classroom and then if we have a question, we can stop by and actually talk to the teacher in the afternoon. That never happened at the school in the US. Once my children are in the school, I could only enter through the main office once I have picked up a badge. And, if I wanted to ask the teacher a question I would only be able to communicate through email.
As a former teacher, those safeguards need to be in place to protect the teachers and the students in the wake of the terrible things we all heard that have happened in US schools. No one here is worried about someone coming into a school to harm children here because it just doesn’t usually happen. As an American entering the school for the first time with my kids, I was immediately alarmed about the doors being open and welcoming all the parents into the building. However, after just a few days, I felt the sense of community and the sense that we truly are welcome in our children’s education. That in itself was when I felt a weight lift away.
Please don’t mistake my praise of the Dutch lifestyle for thinking the US lifestyle is in some way bad. I just know that moms don’t have to be stressed out all the time, and moving here has proven that fact to me. As much as I really do love the US, there are a few things we could learn from The Netherlands. I feel as if I can just breathe here…and if I am lucky enough when I take that deep breath, I may even get to actually look around and smell the beautiful flowers here.
This is an original post for World Moms Network written by Meredith. You can read more about her life as an expat in Nigeria and transition back to the US on her blog We Found Happiness and her current life as an expat living in the Netherlands on her blog Getting On The bicycle .
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons