Happy Parents, Happy Kids

Perhaps one of the fastest ways to pick a fight with a stranger is to comment on their parenting style. Around the country, let alone around the world, each culture or region is convinced only their way is right. Yet, American education has been in decline for years, currently ranking 27th in the world.  On the world happiness index, the US only ranks 18th. How do we, as parents, raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive children? Let’s take a look at a few approaches to child-rearing from beyond our shores…

Strict Helicopter

Parenting books number nearly as high as the number of parents, but several have made headlines. At one end is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua.  China, with more than a billion people vying for jobs, education, and housing, is perhaps the most cut-throat parenting system of all: children seen with potential are removed from homes as young as three, and raised by the state to become champion athletes, mathematicians, scientists. Parents are relentless in ensuring their child’s excellence, demanding study or practice eighteen or more hours a day in a method most Americans would label sheer abuse. Imagine the pressure on an entire class where being #2 is not an option. Chua has no qualms about pushing her daughters into being virtuosos and Ivy League scholars.

Don’t Bug Me, Kid

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman focuses on the ways the French raise their 

children. “The result of raising children French style, Druckerman writes, is “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents.””  French parents have a me-first attitude – if the baby won’t sleep through the night by four months, let him cry. They don’t like to breastfeed, because it interferes with intimacy. They don’t speak to their infants in baby talk, treat patience and waiting as the highest virtue after social manners, and feed their infants table food, resulting in children who like to eat normal food. Are French children perfect? Bien sȗr, non, but they seem to have far fewer struggles than Americans.

One Big Happy

The Danish Way of Parenting, by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl may just have a little more power behind it. The Danes often score #1 on the list of Happiest Country in the World. They have high taxes, but they get free education, healthcare, paid maternity leave, and more – those things that are crushing us. To discuss Denmark (and many of the Scandinavian countries), one has to first understand the concept of Hygge, which rules everything the Danish do: Hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-guh) is that warm, huggy feeling of comfort you get when you’re doing something with your family: sitting by the fire drinking cocoa, playing a board game, or maybe decorating cookies together, in one of those commercial-like scenarios where everyone is happy and the kids aren’t fighting and the dog isn’t chewing the game pieces – except, in Denmark, this is actually reality. It’s the land where Norman Rockwell must have taken notes.

The Danes rear their children with this mindset, which transforms them into happy adults. In (very) short:

  1. Don’t overpraise. Find something specific and praise that one thing instead. “What a nice, straight line!” Encourage growth; don’t let your child think s/he’s perfect.
  2. Let your child play. Play. With sticks, rocks, toys, not electronics. Play builds thinking skills, motor skills, social skills, and spatial relations a child needs for education.
  3. Promote togetherness. Family game nights, dinner, movies, puzzles, walks or sports or just playing in the park. Do it together, or with friends. This promotes strong social ties and models appropriate behavior. 40% of American families eat dinner together less than three times a week – 10% never do.
  4. Reframe negative thinking. Dwell on good things, not bad. If your child says they hate school, remind them of the things they do like.
  5. Practice empathy and compassion. Talk about emotions, and help your child learn to recognize them in themselves and others. Compassion for people and animals makes for a caring society.
  6. Let children figure things out for themselves. Don’t hover. Let preschoolers settle their own squabbles (within reason. If Agatha is beating Bjorn with a shovel, you might want to step in). 

There are no absolutes to child rearing. Some children are just darling; others seem to come out of the womb looking for trouble. But in a time when Americans are fracturing at the seams from stress, when schools are failing, children are parenting themselves, and society itself seems to be tearing apart, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere for advice. Considering the Danes were terrorized by two World Wars and are still the happiest people on Earth, maybe we should listen.

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Linda reads : The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Wiggs has written more than 40 novels and she has another winner with The Apple OrchardThis is the first book in a new series.

The reader is introduced to the world of an auction house provenance specialist.  This is a person who finds lost heirlooms – jewelry, china, pottery, artwork – authenticates it, and returns it to its rightful owner or auctions it for the owner.  It is a fascinating line of work and the character of Tess Delaney adds her own family history to this intriguing novel.

Tess knows nothing about her father, and her mother was pretty much absent in her life.  She was raised by a grandmother who died when Tess was in her teens.  She enjoys the process of researching a family’s history in order to track down the heirlooms because she has no family history of her own.   Her life in San Francisco is going well, with a big promotion in the works and lots of friends.  But things turn upside down when banker Domenic Rossi comes calling to tell her a grandfather she never knew she had is in a coma and that his will has named her to receive half of his estate, with the other half going to a sister she didn’t know she had.  Tess takes a leave of absence to visit the estate – Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard located in the Sonoma Valley town of Archangel.

The story takes place in present day, but the reader is taken back to World War II and the occupation of Denmark through flashbacks to learn about Tess’s grandfather and, ultimately, the father Tess never knew.  Tess’s half sister is a wonderful cook and each of the book’s ten parts starts with a recipe that incorporates apples, wine, or a dish from the region.  The orchard is in danger of foreclosure and Tess is uncomfortable with her new found family and the situation and is determined to return to her job.  But she didn’t count on falling in love with the estate, new family, the lifestyle and the banker.  She learns to enjoy the simple pleasures of food and family, nature, and all the new experiences she has encountered.  She finally learns that she indeed has a family history that is rich in tradition, loyalty, and love.

This is an insightful family drama that is well-written.  Ms. Wiggs does an outstanding job of intertwining the present and the past.  The reader is immersed in beautiful settings with lush descriptions and vivid details.  The characters are complex, captivating and vibrant.  It’s a very enjoyable book about love and family with fascinating historic details and beautiful romances.