Every so often, a story highlighting how happy kids are in some part of the world (usually some Nordic country) will appear on my feed. The article will point to the numerous things families over there do better than us Americans. Almost gloating, the author will profess the profound advantages of being a child over there versus being a child in the U.S.
And, yeah, from this side of the U.S., it does look a lot better. Supportive government policies that enable parents to spend more than a few months (or often less) with their new children, school systems that encourage free and outdoor play, and a culture that values families are just few examples of how other countries are touted for their superiority.
In many ways, these articles go as far as implying or directly saying American parents do it all wrong.
One country cited often for its superior parenting style is Denmark. There’s a book and countless articles praising the Danish way of raising children. To be fair, there is a lot to admire about Danish culture and how that permeates all aspects of life. The idea of hygge, or spending time together as a family doing “cozy” activities like reading, playing games, or just chatting around fire is something my non-Danish family does often. But, in order to be in a good place to have those moments, other needs must be met, and that is something articles praising foreign parenting styles often fail to acknowledge.
Denmark’s family leave policies support family togetherness. Between the four weeks of paid leave given to mothers BEFORE childbirth, to the 14 weeks afterward AND the additional 32 weeks where both the birthing and non-birthing parent can be on leave, Danish moms and dads get lots of time to bond with their new family. Compare that to this country, where there is no paid leave and even our 12-week unpaid option isn’t available to many women.
Kinda hard to get hygge with it when you gotta be back at your desk when your vaginal tears have barely healed.
The other aspect worth noting is places like Denmark are homogeneous societies where the vast majority of people share the same ethnic and religious backgrounds. Countries like this are not dealing with the tension and reckoning that comes from being in a diverse society. To be clear, I have no doubt racism and other forms of discrimination against minorities exist in Denmark, but, by nature of Danish demographics, it is not something they have to contend with as much as we do hear in the U.S.
Dealing with microagressions as well as intergenerational trauma impacts how a person functions in society and in how one cares for their families. Worries about how their children will be treated and even if they will come home alive is a real and justified fear for many marginalized Americans.
Yes, we can still look to other countries for guidance in how to raise our children. I think there is much to glean from embracing parenting styles not just from other countries, but from the diverse cultures right here in the U.S. I also think it is worth noting American parents are doing the best we can.
I would love for a comprehensive, paid family leave policy to be well established by the time my kids (if they want to) become parents. I would love for people of all backgrounds to feel truly at peace and safe in this country.
Who knows, maybe in 30 years we will celebrating the “American” style of parenting.
This post originally appeared in my Substack, Parenting, Politics and Pop Culture.