An intriguing look at parenting paradigms in countries where children are deemed to be the best adjusted.
Gross-Loh (The Diaper-Free Baby, 2007, etc.), a first generation Korean-American with a doctorate from Harvard, spent five years raising four kids in Japan. This experience challenged her assumptions about child-rearing and inspired her to investigate whether or not the ideas about parenting held by Americans—or at least, those who are middle class to affluent, raising college-bound children—are empirically based realities or cultural norms. Most readers can guess the answer, as well as the conclusion that there is a lot wrong with how American youth are prepared for adulthood, especially as compared to their Scandinavian, Western European and East Asian counterparts. But Gross-Loh’s patient, grounded explication and engaging personal anecdotes make this a much more positive, culturally expansive contribution to the discussion than most parenting books. This is not to say that readers won’t occasionally become frustrated by the repetitive idealization of certain overseas child-rearing practices. Gross-Loh acknowledges and identifies with the challenge of modeling approaches like France’s two-hour, fresh, multicourse school lunch; Japan’s first-graders running family errands as a means of developing self-reliance and judgment; or Finland’s individualized education plan for each student, executed by highly qualified teachers and trained professional specialists. The book would be stronger if the author delved further into practical strategies that frazzled American families in isolated suburbs could use immediately, short of enrolling their children in a Swedish forest school. Nonetheless, this is a strong survey of such well-chosen topics as where babies sleep, materialism, eating habits, self-esteem, unstructured time, kindness, chores, education and independence. Gross-Loh's recurring theme is that American parents, who experience more angst and judgment than those abroad, inculcate their children with plenty of individualism and tolerance but not enough empathy or autonomy.
Current alarm over U.S. student global rankings will help give this persuasive book the consideration it deserves.