Why We Shouldn’t Compare Ourselves to Parents Around the World

First we learned the French were effortlessly skinny. Then we learned that they are way better parents than we Americans. They do it by eschewing coddling of their children and thereby raise more independent, self-sufficient (Need I say skinny?) adults.

The Japanese are better parents then us too. I learned this while chatting with mom friends on the beach recently. They do it by coddling their children far longer than we do here in the States. They co-sleep longer, are rabidly affectionate within their families, and do much more for their children for a longer period of time. In doing so, they raise more independent, self-sufficient adults.

Scarcely a day goes by that my facebook page does not contain a story of the parents-from-a-foreign-land-who-parent-way-better-than-we-parent. Assuming my FB friends aren’t dropping hints directly at me (it’s a precarious assumption, but I’ll make it anyway), the prevalence of these stories has me wondering more about our parenting self-esteem than our parenting styles.

Are we really so fragile that we have stooped to demoting ourselves each time knowledge of a new cultural parenting style surfaces? And is there such a thing as a “French parenting style” or a “Japanese parenting style”? I can’t even come up with a uniform parenting style amongst my closest friends. There is, however, one consistency I see crop up all over the place: half of the time, we think we are doing it right and half of the time we are pretty sure we are doing it wrong.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that we do this to ourselves. We do live in a culture of comparison. We have been taught by commercialism to aspire to popular current trends, to bash ourselves and each other for being less than. My generation sported Calvin Klein’s because Brooke did, parachute pants because Hammer did, and mullets because MacGyver did. We should have shut it all down the minute we started feeling embarrassed about our Sears Catalog corduroys.

We didn’t shut it down, though. So now we compare our parenting styles to those of everybody else. And in our own comparisons, like Scrubs‘ JD placing himself as the sidekick in his own fantasy, we always come up short.

I propose we stop. Stop comparing ourselves to parents in other countries. Here are my reasons:

  1. As previously mentioned, the parenting in all these other countries is probably not all that uniform to begin with. Seriously, somebody probably gleaned a few tidbits from a TV show. I imagine if people in France were all watching The Brady Bunch they might think we Americans are the best parents in the world too. Or they gleaned the main idea of one or two books from said culture and ascribed those ideals to the entire country. One person’s observation of a trend does not necessarily constitute a uniform philosophy.
  2. Secondly, some concepts are impossible to implement in the United States and, therefore, merely cause unnecessary guilt. Unlike parents in Finland, for example, parents in the U.S. cannot take extended parental leave from work. Our laws do not allow for it.
  3. Thirdly, many parenting philosophies sound perfect in theory but simply are not reasonable for the majority of us living within American culture. Elimination communication, or infant potty learning, is much harder in families with more than one child and more than one parent working outside of the home.

American parents (and parents all over the world who are currently fretting over the incredible, ineffable French), let’s support each other in our vast pantheon of parenting styles. Let’s allow ourselves to feel content. Let’s maintain minds that are open to learning from people all over the world, but that do not demean ourselves in the process. Perhaps, in doing so, we might learn to view both ourselves and our parenting contemporaries more generously.

MMIparenting/Stitched Panorama