2014 was a big year for my family. Shortly after we found out I was pregnant with our first baby, my husband received orders to Germany, I was ECSTATIC! I mean, how many people get the opportunity to live in a another country? Of course we’re going!
Then, it hit me. “Whoa whoa whoa, girl…cool your jets, you’re PREGNANT!” This new adventure isn’t going to be some extended version of “Midnight in Paris”, you’ll have a baby and all the responsibilities that come with that…thousands of miles from home…surrounded by people who don’t speak your language.
As intimidating as it was in the beginning, raising a child abroad became a very educational, and mostly positive, experience.
In many European countries, the younger population, is on the decline, and even more so in the smaller towns and villages. With the high cost of living, raising a child is quite expensive. Many couples opt to focus on their careers; and when they do have children, they rarely have more than two. All of these factors contribute to a very different environment for both parents and children.
Here are five of the most eye-opening differences we experienced raising a child in Europe.
1. Children are a Part of the Community:
In Europe, they take children into consideration when improving cities and infrastructure. It was very rare to go into a large shop or restaurant and not find a dedicated children’s restroom, changing table AND nursing/pumping room (though nursing in the open is completely acceptable). Not only did they provide these facilities, but they were lovely, clean, and stocked with diapers, wipes, lotions, and creams. Even in their airports, we always found stroller rentals (free!) or some sort of cart that made traveling with a child a bit easier.
2. Importance of Play and Imagination:
There are playgrounds and parks EVERYWHERE! Whenever we needed to take a break during a long road trip, or a place to keep our son, Harrison entertained while waiting on our food, we never had to walk far to find a playground. They’re in airports, gas stations, all around the neighborhoods and cities, and even some INSIDE restaurants and hotels. I feel like there is more of an understanding that children are, in fact, children! Even schools incorporate much more outside play time. Regardless of the weather, children are expected to attend school with appropriate outerwear for the day, whether it be a rain jacket or snow suit. And in the summer, expect to see children of all ages, naked or clothed, playing in the fountains without a care in the world.
3. Keep your Kinder (Children) Warm!:
If it is below 60 degrees and your child is not wrapped up like Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story,” every elderly woman within a mile will know…and they will find you! We often heard “Das kind ist kalt!” (the child is cold!) coupled with a waving index finger during our first winter. Our son was adequately dressed, but according to the European standard, he was nearing frostbite and impeding sickness. These women are also the first to spoil your child with gummy bears and apple juice, and treat your children as their own.
4. Childhood Illnesses:
Speaking of impeding sickness, if your child does catch something requiring a late night run to the ER, don’t expect it to be similar to an ER visit in the states, especially if you live in a smaller city. When contracted Hand, Foot, Mouth…or was it Fifths disease…or Sixths disease? We’re still not sure what he had, but we drove 30 minutes in the middle of the night to the only open hospital to get him checked out.
There was ONE doctor and ONE nurse on duty for emergencies and between the two of them, they handle everything from paperwork to procedures. Between our broken German and their broken English, we were able to communicate just fine and they were so sweet to our sick little man. They gave us a prescription and sent us on our way. This was another fun adventure. There aren’t any Walgreen’s or CVS’s, but village “Apotekes” (pharmacies). There are a few in each village/town and they take turns staying open through the night for emergencies.
The process reminded me of some back alley drug deal. I drove through the winding streets and up to the Apoteke, knocked on a small metal flap next to the door, they opened it, took the prescription and told me how much I owed; I passed them my 2 euro (about $4) and received my son’s medicine…pretty sketchy, but pretty darn efficient…I didn’t even have to take him out of the car.
By far, the biggest difference I noticed was the complete lack of “mom-shaming.” Granted, I was not fluent in German, or many other European languages but, in all of our travels, I NEVER had the impression that there was a whole lot of “mom-shaming” or judging going on. As long as your child was fed, clothed, and loved, nobody really cared what you did.
I remember witnessing mothers drinking their beer or glass of wine in the afternoon while their children played in the fountain, mothers giving their kids massive sugar-filled treats in the markets or keeping them out for a late night family dinner…things that might receive a side-eye in the states aren’t even noticed abroad. Instead, I regularly saw mothers helping others, handing them a wet-wipe or a diaper, holding another’s child, kissing another child’s boo-boo when they fell on the playground, embracing the, “it takes a village” mentality over judgment, it was so heart-warming to see!
These experiences made me appreciate the various cultures we were exposed to, to live in an area that truly embraced the magic and wonder of children…but they also made me realize how fortunate we are in the states. Traveling with a stroller is not an easy task in Europe. You don’t often see small umbrella style strollers for a reason…you cannot use them on the uneven brick and cobblestone streets. And good luck finding an elevator to bypass narrow, steep stairs in the older cities. I’ll miss the abundance of playgrounds, parks, and the, “it takes a village” mentality of raising children…but I am also so happy to have our American conveniences, like grocery delivery and drive thru Starbucks. After all, it’s all of our unique cultures that make the world go round!