I get asked about my experience having a kid and raising her in Germany a lot by my American family and friends. But the truth is, I have nothing to compare it to. Unlike fellow GW contributor Jane, I never had a child in the USA.
However – as an American – I can theorize about some of the differences. The little things that catch me up as a parent, as well as the big things that show how far apart the parenting cultures are. I know that there are at least five things I can do in Germany with a kid that I couldn’t do in the USA.
- Take the Baby to a Bar
Taking baby to a bar might sound irresponsible, but I found those first visits after my daughter was born to be such a relief. While so many things had changed, some things remained the same. I could still meet-up with friends at our old haunts, I was just bringing a guest.
And I wasn’t the only one. While anyone under 18 isn’t allowed in Rauchkneipe (smoking bars), most other establishments are free game with a kid. Biergartens regularly come with a Spielplatz (play area), or at least a Sandkasten (sand box).
Before my baby could crawl, we would walk to a bar with her in the stroller, she would fall asleep, and then we would take her inside, safely tucked into her bassinet, happy to sleep for an hour or two. “This isn’t so hard!” we rejoiced.
(Little did we know what walking, talking and full-on two-yeardom would be like. We visit less often now, but I hope we will be regular visitors in another year or two.)
2. Expect them to eat Kale
Ok, ok, so it’s usually served as Grünkohl in Germany, but it does serve my point that German kids eat things American parents would never expect children to eat. In response to my post on KiTa food, it seems that may be changing in the USA, but I still regularly see things on the KiTa lunch menu that raise an eyebrow. She has fish at least once a week, radishes as a snack and she is building a repertoire of German favorites I could only dream of.
3. Park Baby Carriage Outside
The first time I wanted to go in a store without easy stroller access with my baby fast-asleep, I hesitated. What do I do? Leave? Wake her up? I know the answer to that last one – never.
So, after looking around furtively,I put on the brake and stepped inside for a minute. Distracted, I didn’t buy anything and practically leapt back out the door to see what calamity had ensued. Predictably, nothing had happened. Baby was still cozy in her stroller, asleep, and people were calmly passing by.
Regularly you can see rows of strollers parked outside a busy cafe, babies napping comfortably and moms merrily chatting inside. This appears to be more of a Scandinavian tradition with people from the north regularly leaving their children to nap in subzero temperatures. But people in Berlin do it too, with little fear of the bitter cold or those mysterious kidnappers supposedly lurking around every corner.
The first part is easy to find an answer for. German children are so warmly packed they are often sweating through their snow suits. There is no weather too cold, just clothes not up to the task.
The second part is trickier. Violent crime is much lower in Germany than in the States, and this is also reflected in a lower rate of child abduction. But more than that, it is the culture. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of the roughly 800,000 children reported missing each year in the United States only 115 cases are stranger abduction. This is a nightmare scenario for any parent and I see why it strikes terror in the hearts of the public, but I also think it is a mistake that so much of America’s parenting culture is shaped by fear. It’s refreshing to trust my neighbor, to expect that as a society we are all watching out for the little ones.
4. Walk to School by Themselves
My daughter is two so she is not doing much of anything all by herself yet, but my husband and I are already discussing how young is too young for her to go out on her own. What age do you let your child walk to school (or to a friend’s house or to the store)? Seriously – experienced parents in Germany! Help a new(er) mom out. What is the right age?
I regularly see kids walking or on the UBahn all alone, clearly on a mission. I squint at their faces, 10-years-old? 8? Younger? They look so small, and so confident. I don’t even want to let go of my girl’s hand, but hope I can let go when it is time.
5. Be at least bilingual
Friends of mine are doing admirable work trying to get their kids to be bilingual in the States. Sending them to special schools, practicing Spanish numbers and colors, trying to get grandparents to talk in their native language – working so hard!
And (hopefully) my girl will be bilingual without even trying. She will even study another language if she goes to school in Germany. And after three…the sky is the limit, right?
In any case, she’ll be a lot better off than me. And isn’t that what every parent wants? To give their child the best opportunities. I don’t know if these five things I can do in Germany with a kid that I couldn’t do in the USA will be a recipe for success, but I am happy to try them.