How American Parenting Looks to the Rest of the World

Readers, here are some tidbits from “24 eirrkebiay
Surprising Things about Parenting in the United States
,” a project on the blog A Cup of Jo by New York mom Joanna Goddard. The author interviewed nine moms who grew up abroad and are raising their kids here. Boldface mine:

On safety:

I was surprised by how supervised children are here. In Japan, kids go to school by themselves. As soon as children start first grade, they walk and ride trains and buses by themselves—even in Tokyo! I was surprised that in New York, my friend walks her 12-year-old son to school everyday. My son is five and in first grade, which is a ten-minute walk from here. If I let him go alone, I would be put in jail! So I walk with him to school every day.
—Reika Yo Alexander, who moved from Japan to New York

Here in the U.S., there is a huge “baby industry,” which does not exist in Romania. There’s special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for “brain development from months 3-6.” Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I’m constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.
—Arabella Hester, who moved from Romania to California

And —

On community:

People here are scared to touch each other! What’s that about? When I first moved here I was hugely pregnant with a two-year-old daughter in tow. She was still getting used to the Brooklyn block system—stopping for traffic lights at every block. She’d sometimes run down the pavement without a care in the world and my heart would stop as I screamed behind her to stop. Sometimes I’d yell at people walking towards us to please stop my child. They wanted to help, but I got the impression they were all too scared to actually just grab and stop her. In the Netherlands, people would have gotten involved. I’m guessing it’s more of a liability here. Another parent suggested maybe they were worried the child would be scared (the whole stranger danger thing). But seriously? I’d rather grab a child and stop them from running onto a road than worry about behaving appropriately! We all appreciate getting help.
—Sandra Ajanaku, who moved from the Netherlands to New York

Read all the revelations here! – L


What seems like "common sense" and "just normal safety" here in the U.S. stuns moms from other places.

What seems like “common sense” and “just a normal precaution” in the U.S. stuns moms from other places.


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34 Responses to How American Parenting Looks to the Rest of the World

  1. Nadine October 22, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    A shoutout to she is american rearing her son in the Netherlands.

  2. Anna October 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Actually, a certain (sane!) amount of baby-proofing allows a baby to be more free-range at home. It’s great for a baby to be able to explore the whole house with a much lower risk of serious injury or death and without the parents having to pay constant attention to them, being always at their side, or yelling “no!” all the time. While it’s good for young children to learn of certain dangers first-hand through minor bumps and bruises, I’m sure we want to shield them from more serious physical harm. I know of too many infants and toddlers who have had to get stitches on their face.

  3. Jen Connelly October 22, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Heck, I grew up in the US and I think parenting is completely nuts, lol.

    We never babyproofed and all 5 of my kids have survived. In fact we’ve never had a serious injury that resulted in an ER trip–no stitches or broken bones in the 14 years I’ve had kids.

    Anything that looked like babyproofing was for my convenience, not safety really.

    I’ve also stopped kids from running out somewhere dangerous. As a mother, I couldn’t just stand by and let a toddler get hurt. We were at a diner, waiting to be seated and this woman was trying to gather her toddler (maybe 13-14 months) twins together. She was chasing one while the other just started wandering out the front door so I grabbed her. The kid freaked, but I just said softly that she needed to wait for her mommy. At first the woman gave me the evil eye, but then I explained the kid tried to escape and she thanked me. *shrug*

  4. Anna October 22, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    Also, I give myself a smug self-hi-five for instilling a healthy respect for the road in my young child. I explained to him early on that cars can be dangerous, and the message really sank in after I pointed out some roadkill to him to illustrate my point. After that, he always stayed right by my side at parking lots and when crossing a street, reaching out for my hand without me even mentioning it. That was all when he was around 15-18 months or so. I also favored getting around with him on foot instead of using a stroller shortly after he learned to walk and he had developed a habit of dawdling, which was fine if we were just out exploring, but would be problematic when we actually had a goal of getting somewhere. So I made up a game where he had to run ahead of me to the next stop sign and wait for me there. That way, he was always ahead of me, always getting plenty of exercise, and constantly re-enforcing good traffic habits. People would look at me funny, seeing my toddler run right toward the road, but I was always completely confident that he would stop at the curb and wait. Now that he is almost four, I’m teaching him to look both ways and cross the road at my side, but without holding my hand.

    Of course, every child is different, and mine has always been rather cautious by nature, so I in no way mean this little anecdote as a criticism of other people’s parenting if their children are less reliable when it comes to traffic safety. I expect to need to handle things differently with my baby daughter, who is showing all the signs of being a daredevil.

  5. Vicki Bradley October 22, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    I realized how differently other cultures raise their kids when I was visiting Paris, France a couple of years ago. My husband and I were travelling with another couple, and were sitting outside having a drink at a pub. There was a lady sitting at the next table, and she had a baby sleeping in a stroller. After about 1/2 an hour, she came over to us and asked if we would mind watching the baby while she went inside the pub. Although somewhat surprised by the request, we promptly said yes, and she left for close to 10 minutes. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen here in Canada or the States. I was quite pleased by the whole situation, as I found that it showed a sense of community and trust. Plus, we were travelling without our kids and the last thing we wanted was to have a baby in tow on our vacation! 🙂

  6. Jill October 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    It’s all about selling products, here in the US. Advertising has taught us that the more stuff we have, the happier we’ll be.
    Also, fear is a great motivator in getting people to part with their money. If we’re afraid our kids are in danger all the time, we’ll buy more things that are supposed to protect them. I recently saw a baby’s sleep suit that had a heart monitor built in, and a microphone so parents could continually listen to see if the baby’s heart was still beating. This wasn’t a medical device, it was for perfectly healthy babies, the thinking being that it’s best to be prepared “just in case.”

  7. Papilio October 22, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    I read the whole thing – fun to see all those different perspectives (I often find myself agreeing with the non US view…), and quite timely, as I’ve wondered before how immigrants view parenting in the US. Seems to me those people especially should like this blog…

    ‘Stopping for traffic light at every block’ – heh heh, I can very well imagine it takes time to get used to that…
    As one of the comments under the original piece pointed out, not touching each other also has to do with different ideas about personal space (saying ‘excuse me’ and wait for them to move versus just passing behind someone partially blocking an isle in the grocery store).

    @Anna: She talks about a 2-year-old who could well have been used to the very quiet 18.6mph neighborhood streets (completely devoid of traffic lights & signs) that you’d find in any Dutch neighborhood outside the city centers…

  8. John October 22, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    Are you kidding me Vicki? If that happened in the USA, the mother would have been arrested for child endangerment and her child would have then been placed into a foster home. To make matters worse for the mother, she would have found herself in an article on the Fox News home page (probably CNN too) telling the whole world that a mother abandoned her child so she could go drinking in a bar. The article would then be accompanied by a deluge of hateful posts calling the mother a sleaze bag and that she should be thrown in jail and never see her kid again and that the moral fabric of our society is deteriorating because we just don’t care enough about kids, yada, yada, yada.

  9. John October 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Not only that Vicki, but the torch bearing lynch mob we have here in the United States, and probably Canada too, would demand that YOU and your husband be arrested too for not calling the police on this mom for “abandoning” her child!

  10. Hillary J October 22, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    I did research (looking at effects of parenting culture) in France. Their entire culture is far less child-centric than in the United States. This leads to less egocentric children and happier parents. In fact, French mothers are happier about playing with their children than American mothers because American mothers tend to see playing with their children as a chore, where French mothers do it because they want to.

  11. sloan44 (@sloan4444) October 22, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    In my opinion, of what I have read, those that have moved to America with children would be better off raising their children in the countries they came from. Let them grow up with their countries traditions and lifestyle instead of being bubble wrapped here and the parents being arrested for allowing their child to be at the playground alone etc.
    This is not a time when I would want to raise a child in America.

  12. Jessica October 22, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    My children’s new school in Canada was gently mocking of me when I stopped by the office before dropping off a forgotten lunch directly to the classroom for my third grader (preschooler in tow). “What,” asked the office administrator, “Did you think we needed to check your ID first? The little one does look kind of dangerous.” I explained that in fact our New York school required visiting parents to surrender their drivers license to be scanned before even entering the building, and dropping by the classroom was not allowed.

    Kids at our new school play outside with minimal supervision, and as soon as parents think the kids are able to walk or bike themselves (after kindergarten) they do. My kids are relishing the more relaxed environment. They can’t believe how many fewer rules and regulations they have to comply with, just basic rules regarding not hurting others or school property. The community looks out for the kids in a more collective way.

  13. John October 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Quote: “The most surprising thing for me was the lunchbox. In Japan, we take it quite seriously. Growing up, our typical lunch box would be eggs, fried chicken, vegetables—a proper meal. When I first saw my husband prepare a lunchbox for our son, it was bread, peanut butter, chips…and that was all. He assured me it was normal”

    In articles I’ve seen featured in Western newspapers about a certain kid or kids who LOVE exercising and bodybuilding (Yes there are young kids in this world who are consientious of their health and body image) and because of that, they eat a healthy diet BY CHOICE. In the blogs below these articles, many of the bloggers (I’m sure mostly Westerners) actually called their parents abusive for feeding their kids milk and vegetables instead of chips and soda like ALL kids are supposed to eat, no kidding!!

  14. oncefallendotcom October 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    It is funny how even when I was a child, we always did school fundraisers because schools always need the funds, yet, you never, EVER, see prisons and national defense programs having to do fundraisers because our prison coffers and foreign war chests are empty.

    That should be a future rant of yours, Lenore. So much for no price being too high to save “just one child.”

  15. Jenny Islander October 22, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Huh. I always thought babyproofing made life easier for the parents. Don’t worry about whether your child is investigating the interesting green powder under the sink while you’re getting dinner ready–just put it up or put a latch on the cupboard. Put the expensive breakable stuff up or away while the grabby age is upon you. Put the kitchen things you don’t mind the toddler getting into down low and the sharps in a drawer with a safety latch, just for now. The sewing kit goes in something little fingers can’t open, and the driveway salt in the garage. Presto: No need to have eyeballs on the baby/toddler at all times.

  16. Joan October 23, 2014 at 12:43 am #

    I find it interesting that this blog encourages throwing eg all safety precautions out the window. Sure, go ahead and leave bleach out for the baby. I mean, how is the baby going to learn not to drink bleach unless he tries some, right? And cars don’t really go THAT fast. They’ll stop if a kid runs out in front of them. And in Japan, young teen girls sell their underwear right off of their bodies to businessmen for extra cash.

    I find it interesting that this blog encourages parents to ignore their children completely. But I did find this blog because it was linked from the blog of a wife of a pedophile, so I mean, I’m not really that surprised.

  17. Jenny Islander October 23, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    Please show me the entries in this blog that recommend leaving bleach out where babies can drink it, letting children run into the street, or allowing underage girls to make financial deals with perverts.

    Or, you know, LURK MOAR.

  18. Thomas Arbs October 23, 2014 at 2:03 am #

    Well yes, perhaps Romania is a bit of an extreme example. Let’s not give the impression that America is the only country where baby proofinga house is common. An entire generation ago my parents came home to find me having removed the plastic cap from the electrical outlet with its proper key the location of whichi had observed and about to enter a pair of scissors into the current. So all this, a latch over the stove door or bolting shelves to the wall, is not news outside Romania, and any dad who had ever been with his toddler to an aunt whose house is not proofed knows how it feels having to watch every second because children do that sort of things, it isn’t made up.

  19. Uly October 23, 2014 at 4:39 am #

    I’ve read her whole series by now (though not the comments). It’s useful to note that many of those parents also mention things they find in American parenting that they consider an improvement over things back home.

    Life. It’s a mixture. How about that?

  20. Michelle October 23, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    I like articles like this, and I have a tendency to think, “Oh, I want to live THERE!” But then I remember that other countries have problems, too. For example, homeschooling is illegal in Germany. In Norway, being a SAHM is actively discouraged by the government. The French are super uptight about clothes (at least, in my experience). In many countries – like Brazil, which has a very high rate of c-sections – women are given less information and fewer options in birth. To steal from Churchill a bit, America is the worst country in the world, except for all the others.

  21. Michelle October 23, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    I tried to post this before, but I kept getting an error:

    I like articles like this, and I have a tendency to think, “Oh, I want to live THERE!” But then I remember that other countries have problems, too. For example, homeschooling is illegal in Germany. In Norway, being a SAHM is actively discouraged by the government. The French are super uptight about clothes (at least, in my experience). In many countries – like Brazil, which has a very high rate of c-sections – women are given less information and fewer options in birth. To steal from Churchill a bit, America is the worst country in the world, except for all the others.

  22. Lola October 23, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    The “holding a kid still so they don’t run into the traffic” thing is also expected here (Spain). And thankfully, strangers still tend to give the kid a lecture, instead of scolding the mum.

  23. Joan October 23, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    “Jenny Islander” well, come on, only wussy scaredy cats lock up chemicals, I mean, they’re so paranoid and all! Kids never drink chemicals, that’s all just made up by the media to scare us.


    And dear, I’m a commenter, not a lurker. Lurkers don’t comment.

  24. Tim October 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Many people within the same countries have parenting styles that vary widely. I enjoy reading about the different perspectives, and it’s great food for thought, but we should’t make too broad of generalizations based on what a few people say.

  25. Jenny Islander October 23, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    @Joan: Citation please. Show me where on this site this assertion has been made. Links or it didn’t happen.

    You are not a lurker but apparently you should be.

  26. kate October 23, 2014 at 2:19 pm #


    This site does not condone “throwing all safety precautions out the window.” Rather, it is about teaching kids to be safe by allowing them to explore their environments. No one is in favor of leaving bleach bottles open where an infant or toddler might find it. But anyone over the age of four should know not to drink out of said bottle.
    Cars are a real danger and kids need to be taught not to step in front of a moving car.

    Free range is not about ignoring your children, but teaching them to be self reliant in an age appropriate manner. It is also about recognizing and preparing for real risks,like being hit by a car.

  27. JP Merzetti October 23, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Well, in Iowa it looked just fine, up close and personal. Downright sensible.
    But in the media parade it looks downright insane.
    (And that media is something America still exports to the rest of the world.)
    Being Canadian, I recognize the familiar. Change the mailboxes, license plates and flags….and we’re an instant Hollywood movie set.
    So dispensing with foreign strangeness – it gets right down to a good old socio-economic culture wrap (and we’ve been imitating America so long we’re actually quite good at it by now.)
    But apple pie and the family compact never quite resonates the same way north of the border.

    I’d say the one thing we inherited from mutual respect, most important – is the concept of freedom. Which is the most disturbing thing now. Kids running free.
    And to see that….and automatically think that the parents of said children are somehow negligent….is to not be able to see and disconnect those children from their elders.
    Kids within their own existence.
    No puppet strings.

    (Just imagine trying to film a modern version of Spanky and Our Gang, now….)
    Or Huck Finn.
    Or To Kill a Mockingbird….
    Or Stand By Me.

    Yet these are all the legacies we inherited.
    Then threw away for corporate malpractice. (and other misadventures.)
    But people still need to breathe in sane moments.
    Aids and abets relaxed digestion.

  28. Joan October 23, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    If this site is about teaching kids “in an age appropriate manner” then you wouldn’t mock childproofing. You childproof for babies and young toddlers, not for 10 year olds. Childprooing prevents kids from falling out of windows and having access to bleach and paint thinner. So many commenters here so smugly stating that “MY kid learned no!” is the height of ignorance. You think children who fell out of windows did so because mom never said no? Or children who drank chemicals only did so because no one ever told them not to? It’s negligent to brag about how you did so little and Look! My kid was just fine! You got lucky. Some of us use common sense and hope for the best, not just hope for the best.

    It’s funny, I brought up the way I originally discovered this site (Notes from the Handbasket blog, by wife of pedophile, links here) and the fact that young japanese girls sell their underwear to businessmen for cash, yet I’m being mocked for pointing out that childprooing keeps babies from bleach. No one has anything to add about the rampant child abuse and sexual assault which happens every day.

    You know who’s free range? Lucky people who havent been abused, hurt, or had a loved one die due to something preventative when a parent wasn’t doing their job. The people you call overprotective are the ones who have. Most of us understand that kids need room to learn and grow. We don’t have to blatantly ignore common efforts to do so.

    From someone who was poisoned, molested, raped, abused, because mom and dad were “free range” or as I call them, negligent.

  29. Jenny Islander October 23, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    Joan. I am sorry that you too are part of the Crappy Childhood Army (we’re here, we’re everywhere, we’re closer than a lot of people think, we didn’t even get a damn T-shirt). But you really need to read more of this blog. Read carefully and read for comprehension.

    For example, are you aware that the entry you are commenting on is a link to a roundup of what people in other countries say about the U.S.? And that they pick out our focus on childproofing as unusual? And that people here, including the blog’s owner, are fully aware of the difference between putting away the bleach and helicopter parenting? Here is a small sample of what you will find in the archives:

    *A school district in Texas forbidding students to use sunscreen because district upper-ups are afraid that a neurotypical primary-aged child will drink some. 5 minutes’ research reveals that the documented usual result of drinking sunscreen is tummy upset and the documented frequent result of contracting skin cancer is death. But it doesn’t matter, because somebody has a wild hair about what might happen.

    *A police department circulating a memo advising parents to remove all children and babies from cars and make them stand/lie next to the gas pump at the gas station because a thief might decide to steal the car while it is being fueled and, having done so, might decide to do horrible things to the children in the back seat.

    *Over and over, things that were not even blinked at thirty years ago when rates of violent crime were higher getting people fired, arrested, and/or separated from their children now, when rates of violent crime are lower. People getting the cops called on them for letting their children play in their own yard! People treating every childless adult on a park bench as a potential child snatcher! People being told that they have to drive their children to a school that is visible from their front step, because snatchers!

    *Meanwhile, actual causes of harm to children are ignored. Things that Lenore Skenazy has pointed out include widespread failure to correctly install car safety seats, widespread ignorance of the actual incidence of stranger danger vs. people known to the parents harming children (i.e., flinch at every strange man but ignore the skeevy behavior of Uncle Frank because he’s family and family would never), and, most chillingly, complete ignorance of what drowning actually looks like.

  30. Gina October 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Read slowly and carefully:






    In fact, FreeRange parenting is a SPECIFIC SET OF BELIEFS and a way of teaching children and supervising them to make them self-sufficient adults.

    Get it?

    If you still don’t understand, then either you are just not listening or you don’t want to understand.

  31. Jennifer Powell October 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    There is an obvious difference in parenting among the countries. It varies country to country and you will see some of the country’s parents are so tensed about their children, they leave them to their universities too. Leave aside schools. 🙂

  32. Joan October 24, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Sorry, I can’t hear you over the YELLING and condescending tone. I’ve read this blog for years now. All I see are articles mocking people. So not helpful to anyone.

  33. Gina October 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I was neither yelling nor being condescending. I think you mistook my caps for that, but it was really just to emphasize the points that you seem to be missing.
    Interesting how you didn’t respond to those points, only to my typeface.
    Why would you “read for years” a site with which you so strongly disagree?


  1. Maggie's Farm - October 27, 2014

    Monday morning links

    You Don’t Have to Feel Your Breasts – Breast self-exams haven’t been shown to save lives. Instead, here’s how to actually tell if you might have breast cancer. The Stigma Around Baby Formula How American Parenting Looks to the Rest of the World M