Is This a Dream?

Childhood in The Netherlands, NOW, as observed and written up by Kate Darnton in The Boston Globe:

The Dutch loosen up early. My husband and I were thrilled when we arrived in Amsterdam to find that many playgrounds have cafes. On sunny afternoons, parents meet after work to sip Aperol spritzes while their kids scale a climbing structure. No mother stands beneath it yelling, “Be careful, honey!” No father hovers by the sandbox. They just let it be.

Their approach is not the same as neglect. Dutch parents are there — or, to use the current lingo, “present” — when it matters: primary school drop-off and pickup, family dinner, athletic competitions….

The freedom is two-way (as is always the case with letting go, I think):

Ah, freedom — for the kids, to be sure, but for us parents, too. Freedom from that particularly American brand of stressed-out parenting: making a big show when it comes to the small stuff but often missing the important parts entirely.

My childhood in New Jersey in the early ’80s might not have been as sophisticated as Sophie’s, but it incorporated the same kind of personal freedom. I biked to school every day. Got myself to after-school sports practice, too. Just be home by 6.

Where did that freedom for American kids — and their parents — go? Last summer, when we were home for our monthlong break in Massachusetts, our 9-year-old attended a craft class at the local public school, two blocks from our house. Town population: 4,907. Everybody knows everybody else. And yet one mom insisted on walking our daughter home every day. Even after I explained to her (tight smile) that Charlotte could manage fine by herself, thank you very much.

Were there grave dangers lurking behind those white picket fences? I don’t think so. But I perceived a deep underlying anxiety in that mother. It’s what guides a lot of American parenting choices and forms the backbone of our pernicious helicopter parenting.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam (population 800,000 or so), kids do the family shopping.

The subtitle of this Globe piece is, “Free-Range Kids are a Reality in the Netherlands.” They can be a reality here, too. It’s not like free health care, or day care — it costs no money and does not require a vote or taxes. It just requires enough of us deciding we want to give our kids back their childhoods. (And get some free time in return.) – L

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When I jump off, let me land in Holland!

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24 Responses to Is This a Dream?

  1. Theresa Hall June 22, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    Yeah but the worrywarts have power to cause trouble if you let go of the kids.

  2. Workshop June 22, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    Summon sarcasm!

    But free health care is overseen by people who are obviously smarter than you or I. Free day care is similarly overseen by highly intelligent people.

    But free children, why would we just leave it up to parents? We all know parents aren’t that smart. If they were smart, they’d be overseeing health care and day care like us, so they’re not like us and therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to let their children be free.

    End of summoning.

  3. JTW June 22, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    yes, children have a lot more freedom to play outside and roam here in the Netherlands without constantly having adults micro managing every second of every minute.

    That doesn’t mean their lives aren’t choreographed to a large degree. My 8 year old cousin has a busier calendar being just a child doing all the organised activities prepared for children than I do working a fulltime job with daily meetings and schedules.

  4. Denise June 22, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

    True story. Last week, I was driving home when my 5 year old needed to go to the bathroom. Her sister was asleep in the backseat and I didn’t want to wake her up. I pulled up to the door, gave her money to buy me a coke and snicker bar and let her go in. I stood with my door open so it was clear that I was at least visable as the older lady at the cash register was a gossip. A few minutes later, she came out, nearly skipping with the candy she bought.

    Yesterday, she turned to me. “Mommy, remember when you let me go to the bathroom alone? That was the nicest thing you’ve ever done for me.”

    She got an award for being responsible from her kindergarten teacher, with the remark that the teacher can count on her to be calm, self-directed and self-relant

  5. lollipoplover June 22, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    “Where did that freedom for American kids — and their parents — go?”

    I don’t think it’s gone. There are a lot of underground free range parents out there who value freedom and responsibility for young kids.

    As parents today, it’s easy to think that the “new normal” is to have summer camps and organized activities scheduled out the wazoo for your kids, as if kids getting bored is a parenting no-no. I strongly disagree but also don’t see a problem with kids doing activities, listening to kids and finding out what they really want to do is key. The walking to and from should be what the family decides as their mode of transportation- walking should always be encouraged! Less traffic at pick up times too.

    My youngest (10) bikes herself to swim team early every morning with a friend. She stayed late this morning to volunteer as a timer for some of the younger kids for time trials when the coaches asked for volunteers. I wasn’t worried a bit when she was late coming back, but I was honestly busy working and got a text from her friend (who has a phone) letting me know they were staying longer. I appreciate the responsibility for the heads up and the change in plans.

    She needs me still to go back to the swim club later (her sister or brother usually go over together) which I look forward to because i want to swim some laps with her and practice her strokes. I love the she has some independence but also respect our pool rules that require she come with someone over 14. She will have her time soon enough.

    It’s when these rules (like not walking 2 blocks!) become absurd and put burdens on parents where common sense and actually listening to kids is so much better for everyone. There has to be a middle place between the stressed-out, anxiety parents who worry about walking 2 blocks and what our children need from their childhood…to walk those 2 blocks.

  6. marie June 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    Yesterday, she turned to me. “Mommy, remember when you let me go to the bathroom alone? That was the nicest thing you’ve ever done for me.”

    My college-age kids, who see other kinds of parents among their friends’ families, have thanked me for my hands-off approach, too. I wonder if the helicoptered kids ever thank their parents for never letting them slip on the monkey bars.

  7. AmyP June 22, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

    I think the first step to bringing it back is to quit (on a personal level) worrying about busybodies. If people have anxieties, then they do. I have my own and I work on them, and I can’t worry about the anxiety level of other people. Therefore, I can’t do anything about busybodies and when/if they report me for letting my kids do something they feel is too dangerous. So far it hasn’t happened and hopefully it won’t but if it does then I will deal with it at that time. Hopefully if the message is spread and if enough of us set a good example then it will become more common. Until then, I can do my part by not making parenting decisions based on whether I might be reported and writing my representatives if there are anti free range laws that I don’t support.

  8. Theresa Hall June 22, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    Amyp what the worrywarts think isn’t the problem it’s the trouble they can give you and your family. Cps cops courts lawyers if you’re lucky you’ll come out more or less intact . I suggest if cps gets its eye on you pray and get a shark of a lawyer. Cps and cops word are treated like gold

  9. Donald June 22, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

    Denise

    That is one of the best reasons for giving your child freedom that I heard!
    Thank you for sharing!

    Everybody likes compliments and especially children. When you give them responsibility, you’re telling them that you acknowledge that they’re smart enough to cope with that task.

    “Mommy, remember when you let me go to the bathroom alone? That was the nicest thing you’ve ever done for me.”

  10. Donald June 22, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    I think that AmyP has highlighted one of the primary reasons for helicopter parenting. It isn’t just fear of the dangers. It’s the fear of the judgment from others. Condemning others has become a popular ‘sport’. When people feel insecure, they can get temporary relief by putting others down! It matters not what they did. Even if they did nothing wrong at all, it still doesn’t matter. An insecure person can still fabricate something (anything) no matter how ridiculous!

    CPS and police are used as a tool for condemning. They’re also used to make the insecure person reassure themselves of their superiority. However, this victory is hollow. That’s because CPS and police are required to respond.

  11. James Pollock June 23, 2017 at 1:50 am #

    Sure. Let’s just ignore the fact that Nederlanders think nothing of using children to plug holes in the dikes. They’re famous for it, but we can just…

  12. Jessica June 23, 2017 at 7:18 am #

    AmyP
    Amen and amen.

    You do hear rare, occasional stories of people who have actually been arrested for giving their kids freedom. They get blog posts here, because that is one of the purposes of this site. But almost all of the actual stories (the ones in the comments here, and the ones I hear from people I know) are “Someone judged me for giving my child freedom!” People really, really have to let go of the idea that everyone is going to approve of their parenting.

  13. Emily June 23, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    >>AmyP
    Amen and amen.

    You do hear rare, occasional stories of people who have actually been arrested for giving their kids freedom. They get blog posts here, because that is one of the purposes of this site. But almost all of the actual stories (the ones in the comments here, and the ones I hear from people I know) are “Someone judged me for giving my child freedom!” People really, really have to let go of the idea that everyone is going to approve of their parenting.<<

    People also need to let go of the idea that other people's parenting decisions are to be made by a "jury of their peers," as it were……and when I say "people," I mean the powers-that be, like the police, and people who work in child protection, as well as the busybodies who call these people every time they see an unsupervised child. The powers-that-be need to be able to respond to an "emergency" call about a school-aged child playing outside, or traversing the neighbourhood, with "that's not an emergency; mind your own business." Now, of course, there are variables, like, it'd be different if the child was injured, or visibly upset, or blatantly not dressed for the weather, or obviously too young to be out alone (so, I'm talking like, seeing a toddler walking along the side of the road in nothing but a T-shirt and a diaper, in the dead of winter), but barring extreme circumstances like that, butt out. There's some grey area there too–I mean, it's possible for something to go wrong even if nobody's been negligent. For example, suppose you're at the park, or going past the park, and you see a child of say, ten years old, who's fallen off the monkey bars and broken an arm (or whatever). In that case, you call their parents, but don't involve the authorities, because nobody has done anything wrong. Ten is old enough to go to the park alone, and accidents happen, to people of ANY age. You wouldn't call the police if you saw an adult out running, who'd twisted an ankle or something, so this isn't much different.

  14. Theresa Hall June 23, 2017 at 8:33 am #

    If it wasn’t for the cops and cps it would be a lot easier to ingore them. The cops you have half a chance getting out but cps the odds aren’t great. Cps needs stock and their stock is kids and if they use the kid as a guinea pig well more money for them. I agree that kid just going to the park should be left alone if they seem fine but it never that easy.

  15. James Pollock June 23, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    “Cps needs stock and their stock is kids and if they use the kid as a guinea pig well more money for them.”

    In this scenario, what is the magical source of money that produces it out of thin air?
    Because here, there is money budgeted for family services, and if they have more cases, then they have less money for each case because the same amount of money is divided more ways.
    CPS is driven by recent news coverage as perceived by whichever politician(s) are running the show. If the news has recently had a story about a kid who came under supervision, or who should have, with a bad result for the child, CPS will be hyper-vigilant and will jump on a hair-trigger. If the news recently had a story about a family that was hassled and it turned out there was no reason to bother them, then CPS will be gun-shy about removing children for a while. They swing back and forth between these two, while facing the fact that they will be chronically under-budgeted, routinely lied to even by people who have nothing to hide, and the fact is that most of their problems come from poverty and substance abuse, neither of which shows any sign of suddenly disappearing from American society any time soon.

  16. JTW June 23, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    “In this scenario, what is the magical source of money that produces it out of thin air?”

    taxes. More cases -> more political attention -> more budget

    So it’s all in their interest to have as many cases as possible, it means more money for them.

  17. Lisa June 23, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    I raised my children in the 80’s and 90’s. Helo parenting was already a thing and although I resisted, it wasn’t always easy. The hardest part was that my children’s friends’ parents would occasionally chastise me in front of my kids (“You let them ride their bikes [two blocks away] alone!?! My son and his friend were 11) or were hesitant to let their kids play with mine. Mind you, I was “present” and aware of what my kids were doing; I just refused to cage them. This was in Orange County Calif, which probably along with MA, invented helicopter parenting. It’s fine to tell today’s parents not to worry about other parents’ judging but what to do when the parents of the children your kids choose as friends are worried about you and your parenting philosophy? (Not to mention CPS, as others have mentioned.) It’s complicated.

  18. Neil M June 23, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    I’m no parent, but if someone *insisted* upon walking my kid home from someplace safe, THAT would make me feel a bit weird.

  19. Donna June 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm #

    “taxes. More cases -> more political attention -> more budget

    So it’s all in their interest to have as many cases as possible, it means more money for them.”

    Ummm, no. Taxes and government budgets just don’t work that way anymore than your personal budget works in a way that allows you to get a raise simply by collecting more bills to pay.

    And what benefit exactly would a larger budget have for CPS if there are more families to service with that money in an industry where the needs already far outweigh the available money?

  20. James Pollock June 23, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    “taxes. More cases -> more political attention -> more budget
    So it’s all in their interest to have as many cases as possible, it means more money for them.”

    How nice it must be to live where tax money magically appears just because bureaucrats want to spend it.
    The thing is, ALL the bureaucrats think their bureaucracy should have more money to spend, and there’s only so much tax money to go around. The schools think “if we only had more money, we could do a better job educating the children”. The public health division thinks “if we only had more money, we could do a better job of preventing communicable diseases”. The transportation department thinks “if only we had more money, we could have roads that link people to where they want to go, without potholes”. The arts commission thinks “if we had more money, we could make the world a much lovelier place”.
    None of them gets more money by spending money they don’t have.
    So, once again… what is this magical source of funds that only CPS can draw upon, that replenishes itself without ever running out?

  21. Miriam Drukker June 23, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    I think that it’s a global phenomenon. Helicoptering. Or just parenting. Even this blog, of making decisions to NOT interfere comes from a place of deliberately making life style decisions to make our kids’ life better, and believing that this is the right thing to do, and not just because, or life, or circumstances. I don’t live in the States (I live in Canada, I believe it’s similar to the States, maybe slightly less anxious), but I visited Holland, and it’s not the same as it was when I was younger. There, too, parents are watching the kids. They might not be constantly warning, but they do watch over them, and take them to organised activities and drive them everywhere. Luckily everyone uses the bikes, so there’s more opportunity for freedom, and physical activity, but kids do wear helmets on bikes EVEN in the Netherlands (I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to wear a helmet, I’m just saying that it was unheard of in the past).
    Europe might be a bit more old fashioned, but slowly gaining on the trends in the US, who are setting the tone. In movies, social media etc. It’s easy to romanticise our childhood or other places, but it’s not always as accurate as we think it is.
    In Canada I put my daughter in an Adlerian daycare, where they emphasise the importance of belonging. Each child belongs to a community and has a responsibility and a voice and independence is encouraged. Parents are not allowed inside because they interfere with the kids’ world. When parents came to pick up their kids – and the weather was nice – parents stayed to chat while the kids were playing in the yard. Often the parents would drive to the nearby park or splash-pad and, again, chat and let the kids play. The parents were watching all the kids collectively. If my daughter wanted help to climb a tree or get off a tree – the child would ask the nearby parent. He didn’t ask me if she’s allowed. Nobody was doing a big deal out of it. So those things do exist everywhere. This daycare was very special in seeing itself as a builder of a community of people with similar beliefs, and the one who established it is encouraging this atmosphere not only by words but by actions. For example she allows alumni to come on PA days to participate and ‘help’ the younger kids, for free.
    What I’m saying is that it’s within us and we cannot blame location or give up. If you choose your activities and communities – you’ll find people who believe in similar values.

  22. Garfield Pennington June 23, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    Fantastic! We need to share these positive stories to assuage the fears of today’s parents. I suggest you also have a look at the good things our Finnish neighbors are doing with young people.

    Garfield Pennington, Roberts Creek, BC, Canada

  23. sexhysteria June 23, 2017 at 11:41 pm #

    Even some Dutch tourists visiting foreign countries give their kids the responisibilty to keep up with their parents rather than holding the kid’s hand constantly. Helicopter parenting is pathetic in comparison.

  24. Papilio June 24, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    Whenever an article like this comes along, I think, ‘Uh-oh’, and hope it’ll be accurate and not too overly unrealistic (you know, tourists’ impressions…). This seemed not too weird though, as long as she didn’t want to imply that this is a 100% thing (as in, ALL kids do the family shopping, NONE of the parents hover, etc) 🙂

    “There, too, parents are watching the kids. They might not be constantly warning, but they do watch over them, and take them to organised activities and drive them everywhere. Luckily everyone uses the bikes, so there’s more opportunity for freedom, and physical activity, but kids do wear helmets on bikes EVEN in the Netherlands”

    Lots of 100% claims here… For what it’s worth, I only ever see helmets on children of about 5, you know, that age when they’re just old enough to cycle in the street next to mom without training wheels. I’m afraid I don’t cycle by playgrounds enough to say much about parent behavior there, though the last time I did and looked, there was a whole bunch of loud kids playing, plus one father with a toddler. I do regularly see and hear children playing outside on the sidewalks and in the streets around here, and they also get themselves to the grocery store to beg for whatever collectible toy stuff you can get now for every 5 euros you spend there… 😉

    “Europe might be a bit more old fashioned, but slowly gaining on the trends in the US, who are setting the tone. In movies, social media etc.”
    Based on what I see around me, read in the paper and read around the internet, I’d say it depends. There’s definitely a lot of cultural influences going on through TV and movies and what not, but in other respects the US serve as an excellent example of what not to do and we’re just drawing our conclusions and either continue doing our own thing (e.g. land use) or turn things around before it gets that bad (car culture).
    But I realize it’s difficult to notice such things from just one perspective. We’re all frogs in different pots and it’s easier to see the frog in the other pot is boiling than to estimate the temperature of the water we’re in outselves…