Moving to Tokyo with her husband and two young sons, Christine Gross-Loh noticed immediately how Japanese parents interacted with their kids. Mothers and fathers hovered less, leaving children to manage their own relationships, provided fewer toys but allowed more candy. Gross-Loh marveled at how “mature and well-adjusted their kids were,” she writes, adding that she came to realize that “the parenting assumptions I’d held to be utterly and universally true were culturally based.”
After returning to the United States, now with four children, Gross-Loh began studying how parents in other countries raise children. The result is “Parenting Without Borders,” in which she looks for ideas that work — “there is wisdom from so many cultures.”
Gross-Loh, who reads at Porter Square Books at 7 p.m. Wednesday, says the script American parents follow in seeking the best lives for their kids has steered them off course, resulting in parents who feel anxious and overworked and kids whose overall well-being ranks lower than their international peers.
“We are a child-centric culture,” says Gross-Loh. “We’re very well intentioned,” she goes on, but the American upper-middle-class race to raise perfect kids has backfired. By catering to their every need and scheduling their every moment, “we are lowering the quality of our children’s lives and our own.” In the other countries she visited, Gross-Loh says, parents trusted that with loving, thoughtful care their kids could have “a good-enough life, and that’s OK.”
Many American parents, she says, feel isolated and solely responsible for (not to mention judged by) their children’s success. In the countries she visited, mostly in Asia and Europe, “you are raising children as part of a community.” Early on, kids are expected to do their share, a step Gross-Loh says more Americans should consider taking. “Their children’s future happiness,” she says, “is greater served by raising them to feel not entitled, but to feel like they are contributors.”Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at email@example.com.