Parenting Without Borders

Title: Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us

Author: Christine Gross-Loh. She is a freelance writer and the author of 2 previous books for parents.

Genre: Nonfiction

Readers: Writer Nan, stay-at-home parents Megan V. and Sarah L., attorney (and dad) Maratai and accountant (and mom) Gina aka Slappy.

Summary: Research reveals American kids today lag well behind the rest of the world in terms of academic achievement, happiness, and wellness. Meanwhile the battle over whether parents are to blame for fostering a generation of helpless kids rages on. Christine Gross-Loh (who raised her young children in Japan for five years) exposes the hidden, culturally-determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, are there parenting strategies that other countries are getting right that we are not? This book takes us from Finland, and Sweden to Germany, France, Japan, China, Italy, and more, and examines how parents successfully foster resilience, creativity, independence and academic excellence in their children. Revealing the surprising ways in which culture shapes our parenting, Gross-Loh also offers objective, research-based insight into what strategies are best for children and why.

 

Nan

Although my husband and I do not yet have children, I have a strange penchant for parenting books. (Might as well study up, right?) I read two different books over the last year about parenting in France, so I was interested to check out Christine Gross-Loh’s exploration of parenting across multiple cultures.

Parenting Without Borders was alternately fascinating and frustrating for me. I enjoyed learning about parents’ attitudes and the varying cultural expectations for raising children, and I appreciated the emphasis on children’s innate capability. After working with children for several years in both daycare and school settings, I was happy that Gross-Loh emphasized the importance of free play in a child’s development. The author’s enthusiasm for the subject is obvious, and I had fun traveling around the world with her and meeting a variety of parents and children.

Although interesting to read, there were a few sections that really got under my skin. In the chapter about teaching children to sleep, Gross-Loh argues the virtues of co-sleeping and condemns the “Western” practice of parents sleeping separately from children. To support her claim, she describes a child who slept in a crib by herself and now has separation anxiety; she then concludes that sleeping apart causes separation anxiety. While I understand that there are pros and cons to both situations, I found it irresponsible to make such a sweeping statement based on one family’s experience. In several instances, the author’s effusive praise of other cultures — and then dismal contrasts to American society — left me feeling powerless, rather than inspired; I can control my own choices in parenting but I can’t do much to change American culture at large, and much of the book focused on cultural parenting beliefs, not just individual families.

All in all, “Parenting Without Borders” is a worthwhile read, if for no other reason that to get a glimpse of childhood and parenthood in other countries.

Grade: B-

 

Megan V.

With a degree in psychology, I’ve read my fair share of child development books. I’m a bit wary of them, as it seems parenting advice and techniques often follow trends. I started reading Parenting Without Borders with a bit of skepticism. I quickly changed my view. I found Gross-Loh’s writing to be quite enlightening. Much of her research findings from different cultures was in harmony with my own parenting philosophy. With four kids all in different stages of development and with different personalities, it seems prudent to be flexible and adaptable as a parent. What works with one child doesn’t always work with the next. I appreciated that several different parenting approaches were examined. I think it’s possible to draw on what Gross-Loh discovered in her research and develop a parenting style that is unique to ones’ own family.

However, it did get discouraging reading over and over again how Americans are getting it wrong compared to other cultures.

A good read for parents either looking for validation in their parenting approach, or ideas for how to improve.

Grade: A-

 

Sarah L.

Parenting Without Borders is one of the better parenting books I have read, simply because it was well-balanced and did not tell me I have to immediately change the way I parent my children. That said, it did make me think about the way I parent my children and there are some things that I am going to work on changing as a result of reading this book.

It was especially interesting to read about parenting attitudes and methods from several other countries, as some of them differ wildly from attitudes that predominate in the US.

The emphasis on expecting more from our children is very welcome in a society where our children are increasingly entitled and incapable of doing things for themselves.

Gross-Loh organizes the book in a thoughtful way, beginning with a chapter that covers sleep and feeding, then moving on to methods parents use to raise their children. The chapters on educating children were less interesting to me, likely because my own children are not in that phase yet. I did find the idea of forest schools fantastic though, and while I wasn’t enthralled by these chapters, it was still interesting to learn about education systems in other countries.

She finishes with a chapter each on kindness and responsibility, two things that I agree are key to having children grow into happy, well-adjusted adults.

Overall, this was a good read. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether or not you have children.

Grade: B+

 

Maratai

Parenting Without Borders is an educational read addressed to American parents (and future parents) and designed to challenge their assumptions about how to raise children.  The book will also be of interest to those without children who enjoy learning about other cultures.  However, if you are a parent struggling to raise your kids and hoping that this book will give you the self-help strategies to change your children, you will be disappointed.

While the book covers considerable ground, and is very well researched (and even includes a list of studies which it cites at the end of the book, in a very non-intrusive manner which does not interrupt the flow of reading), two examples will highlight its strengths and weaknesses for current parents.

First, sleeping habits (Chapter 1).  Americans may be shocked to learn that they are almost alone in the world in terms of exiling their babies to sleep in a nursery and not in the parents’ bed, or at least the parents’ own room.  After reading this chapter, you will likely question why you did (or would ever) leave a baby crying to force the baby to learn to sleep on its own.  The different styles and ways this is done globally, and safely, can be used by American parents without community involvement.

Second, raising responsible kids (Chapter 10).  Americans will also be shocked to learn that in most other countries, children are expected to walk to school by themselves.  In contrast, American parents usually walk or drive the child to school directly, or even walk the child down the block and wait with them for the school bus.  The author points out that this deprives American children of learning to be responsible for their own safety.  However, this suggestion (unlike sleeping habits), is not a solution that can be “imported” to the average American parent because other countries and cultures have traditions, classes, and expectations which support children traveling to school on their own (albeit usually in groups of children).  Ironically, the books’ last chapter focuses on the oft-derided, yet obvious truism, that it does “take a village,” to raise children in a certain way with certain values, such as walking to school autonomously, which are not available (presently) to most American parents.  Many of the author’s other suggestions are similar in nature to suggesting children be allowed to travel to school alone, i.e. simply not possible, or safe, for most parents.

This book is best bought and read by, or given to, a couple who are considering raising children but do not have any children yet, and are open to discussing and changing their opinions on risk v. reward outcomes (American habit of avoiding the introduction of foods early on to limit allergies v. Global habit of introducing many foods early on to encourage a broad diet) from different parenting styles.

Grade: B+

 

Gina aka Slappy

Every parenting book has to be read knowing that no parent is perfect and that there isn’t one right way to raise a child. I raise my kids how I think is best and it’s the same no matter what country you are in. This book made me feel good about my parenting in a lot of ways, but bad in a few others. For example; I agree with the parenting approaches that allows the child to develop at their own pace where the parents don’t hover over them constantly and don’t bubble wrap them in fear. I have teenagers, so I’ve come come to realize that a lot of what they do now is beyond my control and I have come to peace with that. However, my husband and I have tried our hardest to teach them how to be productive members of society … it’s not our fault that some of them refuse to learn … or maybe they will learn … in time.

One of the areas that the book discusses is how to feed children so that they become “good eaters”. I’ve failed a little in that area. When one of our children declared that they hated a certain food (and each of mine have foods that they hate) then we didn’t force them to eat it and we often stopped serving it when they were home. I’m open to trying new things, so I’m wishing that I had fostered that attitude with my children a little more when it comes to food.

I really enjoyed the book. It made me feel good about most of my decisions as a parent …. most … not all.

Grade: B

 

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