Book review: Parenting Without Borders, by Christine Gross-Loh
Parenting Without Borders
by Christine Gross-Loh
Each country has its own firm beliefs about child rearing - and anyone who has married into a different culture will know that these differences can be a frequent source of conflict between parents and their respective in-laws.
Author Christine Gross-Loh grew up in America in a Korean immigrant family. She married a Jewish-American and they went on to raise their children in Tokyo for five years before returning to the US. Parenting Without Borders is inspired by her personal experiences of trying to adapt to two very different cultures. In it she attempts to glean the best practices from countries such as Japan, Sweden, China, Finland and France, as well as explain some of the reasoning behind each approach.
In Japan, she discovers, nobody rushes home for baby's nap time, and restaurants don't have special children's menus or crayon sets to keep them occupied. Instead, babies sleep everywhere - in push chairs, in their parents' arms - and children sit down to eat with the rest of the family. She compares their hands-off approach to American "hover parenting", and demonstrates how it makes children more self reliant, confident creatures.
The West, she discovers, is all about nurturing self-esteem in children and focusing on the individual, while Asian cultures prioritise teaching them to form part of a community and to show consideration for others.
Gross-Loh challenges many of our preconceptions of good parenting. In Finland, children don't start academic study until the age of seven, and they have frequent breaks, plus shorter school hours than in the US, yet the country consistently outperforms other nations in academic results.
In Germany she visits a forest kindergarten, and discovers why packing a child's schedule with "enriching" non-curricular activities and showering them with expensive educational gadgets won't foster as much creativity and learning as open-ended outdoor play.
Disappointingly, when she reaches China she appears to be given only a narrow glimpse as she is taken on staged tours of the most elite schools. While academic achievement is clearly a priority there, she observes that the "Tiger Mum" is an outdated stereotype, and that a growing number of Chinese parents are adopting a more open approach to education.
If there's one thing we can glean from this book, it's a message of tolerance. As Gross-Loh points out, no one nation is flawless when it comes to bringing up children, but if we're open-minded enough to see past our differences, there's something to be learnt from each approach.