When I first met my husband in Amsterdam, Peter was in his early thirties, living at home with his parents. He told me that he helped with rent and that living at home suited him. “I like being with my family,” he said.
Having left home to attend college at eighteen, vowing never to return, I was surprised that grown children would want to stay at home with their parents. Not that I didn’t love my folks, but the great, big world was calling my name, and I wanted to gallop forward to meet it, no tethers attached. On the other hand, Peter didn’t strike me as a “mama’s boy” so I assumed his living at home was a matter of convenience, which it was.
As Peter’s and my relationship grew more serious and I began to learn more about the Dutch culture, I became aware of startling cultural differences between American and Dutch families, particularly in the way parents and children interact in the Netherlands. Dutch children, for example, are encouraged to be much more self-reliant beginning at a young age.
“Here’s a bicycle,” Dutch parents say. “I’ll teach you to ride it safely, and then I expect you to be responsible for getting where you need to go.” When I lived in the Netherlands, I saw kids riding 5-10 kilometers on their bikes to get to school—even in seriously nasty weather.
The amount of freedom—and with it, responsibility—children receive in the Netherlands encourages them to become independent, to develop judgment, to learn to make choices that fulfill their needs—instead of relying on Mom or Dad to make decisions for them. The children may make mistakes in their judgment sometimes, but in the process they’re learning what the consequences can be of poor decision-making.
I’m not saying that American parents are doing everything wrong, but I think in trying to shelter our kids too much, we may do them a disservice. Not that we should let our youth run rampant either, but letting kids move toward their futures with a measure of freedom and responsibility will help them grow into more capable adults.
Our biggest responsibility as parents is to help our children learn to take care of themselves. If we don’t stand out of the way sometimes and let them make mistakes, they’ll never learn. Of course, it’s hard to watch your child wobble and fall while learning to ride a bike, but it’s the only way.
Teach your children self-reliance from an early age and watch them blossom into thoughtful, caring adults.