Before I became a mum, I never thought about what makes adults in Poland or in other countries the way they are. Even though I don’t like to generalize, I can’t deny the differences in mentality, characters or their manner between Poles and Germans. You can notice them even if you’re on a short vacation in a foreign country but if you emigrate – for example like me to Germany – you get a much bigger insight and the differences are much more visible. There is no doubt about that the upbringing in the family shapes a growing up person. Here are a few observations I made about the differences in upbringing in polish and german homes. They’re very subjective so it’s quite possible that other parents’ observations are the opposite.
- A child as an independent human being.
Germany: early evening, a restaurant. The waiter is trying to note the order from a typical german family with 2 small children. It takes ages, because those children are supposed to decide themselves what they want to eat and drink and order it. Nobody rushes them, scolds them or makes the decision for them. Even though the scene comes from a comedy, that’s real life. A german child is not treated exactly like grown ups but like partners from the moment they are born.
Poland: first of all “you don’t drag children around restaurants”, so you stay home. You never really go to restaurants. The working mother and housewife comes home after er 8 hours of work, 2 hours of grocery shopping and after 1 hour of cleaning is ready to cook a delicious meal for her family. Going out to restaurants is an ostentation, a trend from the western countries and it’s a shame to pay a ton of money for something that a polish housewife does for free. So the child never learns how to behave in a public restaurant (training at home doesn’t really work) and most of the decisions are made for the children and they have to “eat what’s been served”.
I’m not saying that home made food is bad – it’s the opposite indeed. But I also think a child is an individual who has the right to decide for himself at some levels. It’s certainly every parents goal to raise a young person who will be independent when he grows up. If we delay letting the kids make their own decisions until they’re 18 years old, it might be a little too late. Obviously there are limitations that have to exist for safety reasons. A child who was never allowed to make his own decisions will never believe in his own abilities. If we get used to that as parents, it’s going to be hard to change the pattern.
2. Unwanted advice
Germany: no parent or any other “kind” person has ever given me advice about my child in a playground or other public space if they weren’t specifically asked for it.
Poland: summer, botanic garden. It’s a very warm day, nice atmosphere, my toddler (2,5 years old) chases butterflies with a girl about 6 years old and parents are watching and making pictures. Suddenly the girls mother who hasn’t even said hello yet says in a kind of friendly but admonishing tone: “get him out of this diaper! My Zosia could use the toilet when she was 15 months old, really! It’s warm now, let him run around without pants, he’ll learn in no time.” Dear mom of Zosia or any other kid – save your great parental advice for your own children. When I’m interested in your opinion, I’ll ask for it, trust me 🙂
I believe this is a result of more tolerance and respect of one’s freedom that I have experienced in Germany. I may have my own opinions about how to feed a child, when to stop breastfeeding or let a child play on his own outside but I respect choices other than mine and that’s what I expect from others. As long as it’s not a safety matter, I don’t intervene or judge, at least not in the way this polish mother did.
Poland: „Don’t go in there!”, „calm down and eat like a normal person!”, „keep your hands off that!”, „stop whining!”… the possibilities are endless. An exhausted grandma or overwhelmed mother have a lot to offer and they grouch, give orders and forbid when they’re on the playground. Frustration and discouragement are in the air. I think a grandmother who is not-so-fit may not be the best choice for a nanny. Not everyone has enough patience to take care of children well, so it is worth thinking of, ideally before the kids are born. Letting your own frustrations out on your kids clips their wings, slows down their development and becomes an obstacle in the process of forming their personality. We all want our children to have a happy childhood and grouching kills joy. I’m not saying I’m always well rested, in great mood and calm (hahaha) but I think it’s a conscious parents’ job to find the source of his frustrations and do something about it. Find another way to deal with it, without harming your child. I’m not a fan of anti-authoritarian parenting style – I believe that conversation (even with small children) has better results than any type of scolding.
Germany: I can’t generalize here because I’ve experienced many different child-parent interactions. But I have the feeling that german parents are more laid-back and give their children more freedom and space to be themselves than the polish. They intervene only in safety matters or if they join the play themselves.
Children are important.
In both countries I have experienced opposite parenting style approaches. First – overzealous, super-conscious parenting where the child is in the middle of its parents world and everything revolves around it. And the opposite parenting camp – the kids are there because they appeared and the parents are not spending much time thinking about how to make the best of their roles. They bring their children up the way they were brought up themselves, without much reflection and engagement. In the first home every little grouch of a child causes sprints in the kids’ direction and in the opposite camp: “we’re not bathing the kids tonight, we’re watching a game!”. These phenomena can probably be found in any country. I believe it’s best to strike a happy medium between those two camps.
As I wrote, german kids are treated on an equal footing with their parents. Despite of the age they use first names when they speak to adults, they are allowed to speak up and they are being heard. They don’t hear the popular “because I said so!” I have the impression that the most of the families are somewhere in between. The children have to fit into the family’s life, because the parents are still people and don’t feel the need to completely give up their lives just because they became parents. The children are being assured that they have the right to have their own opinion and that it matters.
I’ve learnt a lot from german parents and I try to do a lot like they do. Nevertheless, conscious polish parents are often an inspiration for me too. In the end, parents in any country would like their children to grow up to become independent, aware of their own value young adults.
See you soon!