How do Americans raise their children

American raised her children in Germany - and was surprised

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This is a section from the book "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children":

It was a winter afternoon. I was having lunch with my Canadian friend in Berlin when I saw a woman with a stroller and an elderly couple walking towards the restaurant. The woman pushed the stroller next to the window, applied the brake and entered the restaurant - without her baby. The older couple, probably the child's grandparents, ignored the parked stroller. The three of them chose a table by the window and then picked up the menus.

"Are you really leaving the baby outside?" I asked my friend.

"I know what you mean. They always do that here in Germany, ”she whispered. “When the baby is sleeping, they don't want to wake him up. You couldn't do that in Canada because it's too cold. "

Unfounded fear for the well-being of the children

When I asked the question, I realized how stupid it actually sounded. It was very unlikely that any guy would walk by the restaurant and take the toddler with him in broad daylight. But I've heard stories of babies being stolen - and they stuck in my mind. Probably too strong.

Between 1982 and 2015, 300 babies were stolen in the US - less than ten a year. This comes from statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Fortunately, most of the babies were found again.

The chance that a baby will be struck by lightning is higher than that it will be kidnapped. So my reaction was absolutely unjustified. It was probably shaped by culture. Leaving your baby alone for even a short time is absolutely frowned upon in the United States. It doesn't fit our idea of ​​security. A Danish mother was arrested in New York City for leaving her toddler alone in front of a restaurant.

But just like northern Europeans, Germans are also keen to give their children fresh air. So it is considered healthy to leave the baby outside. Fresh air is generally very important in Europe. In an older version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” from the 19th century, Goldilocks leaps out of the window that was open because the bears “are good, decent bears who open the bedroom window in the morning”.

Germans send their children out to play at any time of the year

Two centuries later I found a clause in my rental agreement for my German apartment that stipulated that the window should be opened every day. Every German I know does that, even in winter. They also want their children to spend a certain amount of time outside each day, no matter what time of year.

In Germany there is the saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, there is only wrong clothing”. When I left the restaurant that day, I looked again into the stroller with the sleeping baby and saw that it was wearing a thick blanket, a hat, mittens and a ski suit. So the baby was definitely dressed warmly enough.

Germans love to spend time outside. In Berlin, cafes and restaurants try to keep the terrace open as long as possible. Often there are blankets for guests who want to eat outside even in cool temperatures.

Germans also like to spend the Christmas season outside at Christmas markets. In public places across the country, Christmas markets open in late November and stay open until Christmas Day. In the markets there are often ice rinks or rides between small huts where food and drink are sold - sausages from the open grill, gingerbread, Stollenbrot. And so that it doesn't get too cold, the adults drink mulled wine, the children cocoa or non-alcoholic punch.

We loved this tradition and visited as many markets as we could before Christmas. There are many pictures of my son Ozzie that we took in these markets. On one of them he is not even three months old and is well packed in his stroller. On another he has a cocoa with Sophia and on an even later one he hops on a trampoline while you can see his breath in the cool air.

Berlin is warmer than you might think. Like many parts of Europe, Germany benefits from the warm air of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. There is snow only a few times in winter, sometimes not at all. The only really cold days are those when the wind comes from the east and "Mother Russia lifts her skirt," as they say.

Playgrounds everywhere

But even when it's cold, the German children often go out anyway. All year round, daycare children play in the garden, elementary school children are sent to the school yard during breaks - often even when it is raining or snowing.

In our day care center, too, Ozzie was packed up as soon as he could walk and sent to the wet playground with the other toddlers. I had to get used to packing two rain jackets, plus rain pants and rubber boots - the kids have all the equipment they need. In winter they therefore also need ski suits, gloves, scarves and hats to cover their ears. Some also wear these balaclavas, which cover the whole head with the exception of the eyes. The German grandmothers, who kindly sometimes gave my children sweets, did not hold back with their criticism if I did not dress my children properly for the cold weather.

How important outdoor activities are for Germans can be seen from the number of public playgrounds in Berlin: 1,850. This doesn't even include those in the city's forest or in swimming pools. For comparison: New York City has twice as many residents, but only 1,700 public playgrounds.

Many US cities have one large park - Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco - while Berlin has several large parks next to the Tiergarten. Every neighborhood has a large park, whether it's Volkspark Friedrichshain in our neighborhood or Treptower Park in the south, both of which are very large.

Berliners love open spaces so much that they even protested against a building project on the site of the former Tempelhof Airport in the south of the city. In 2010 a gigantic park was made out of it instead.

Children learn a lot outside

When we were new in Berlin, we visited a different park in the city every weekend. We went kites in Tempelhof, had a picnic in the zoo, and climbed around the waterfalls in Viktoria Park in Kreuzberg. We particularly liked the playground in Volkspark Hasenheide in Neukölln, because it reminded us of “1000 and one nights”. There are figures of genies and sultans, a boat, a climbing wall and a magic carpet.

Sophia loved our weekly trips to the playgrounds. In the day care center and on the playgrounds, the older she got, the more courageous she was. We had to drive several times to Mitte until she finally climbed the house-sized pyramid with the ropes and metal fixtures.

Your biggest challenge was definitely the kite in our neighborhood. For years she climbed the kite without climbing into its mouth and trying the slides. Then Ozzie and I were sitting in the sandpit once when she yelled, "Mom, Mom." I got up and looked around. Where was she? I ran to the tunnels to see if it wasn't stuck there.

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"Mom, look up!" I did, and she waved at me from the dragon's teeth. Then she slid down as if she had done this for the 100th time. She felt like the queen of the park. She had defeated the dragon.

This courage impressed me. It wasn't long before I heard "Mama, Mama" again. This time Sophia had dragged the three-year-old Ozzie to the dragon's mouth.

This is a capital from the book "ACHTUNG BABY: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children" by Sara Zaske. Published by Picador. Copyright © 2017 Sara Zaske.

This article was published by Business Insider in October 2019. It has now been reviewed and updated.