6 European-Style Parenting Tips We Can Get Behind

european style parenting"
european style parenting
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

I’ve been living in Italy for nearly ten years and have been a mom for nearly half of that time. Parenting in Italy and in Europe, in general, is a whole other game. For example, playgrounds are designed for parents to sit and watch (not hover) and babies are often dining out with their parents until late into the evening.

But first, let’s acknowledge we’re talking about cultural differences—how Europeans parent—as opposed to differences in the European system vs. the U.S. system. We know when comes to supporting parents with paid parental leave, affordable childcare, universal healthcare, etc.—the U.S. is lacking.

Certainly culture and systems are connected, however, Europeans in general have a more relaxed mindset about what “parenting” means. As an American raising my daughter in Italy, I sometimes have experienced the challenge of being “too American” when it comes to my parenting—since I have a more strict (and worried) mindset. But the longer I’m a mother in Italy, the more I’m picking up on the benefits of parenting with a more European mindset. Here, I’m sharing six observations from European parenting styles to consider.


No Shame in Day Care/Baby-Sitters/Family Help 

Parents in Europe fully take advantage of the wonderful options available to them—such as affordable daycare, reasonable rates for baby-sitters and of course, living close to family. The biggest difference here? No shame in using these resources—even if you’re a stay at home parent. Parents in Europe know how important it is to have time to themselves (yes, away from their kids) and they’re not meant to feel guilt over this situation. 

In Europe, especially in Italy, families also usually live close by. For example, my parents live down the street. Not a day goes by when my daughter doesn’t want to visit her grandparents. I get a bit of a break to work or do house work and my daughter gets to constantly be surrounded by her family. It’s a win-win. Parents here fully take advantage of having relatives who live close by and are willing to help.   



Kids Eat Everything 

In America, parents can sometimes be pretty strict about what kids eat and from what age. In Europe—parents let kids eat pretty much anything. I’m seriously not kidding. 

I’ve seen babies—six months and older—eating bowls of pasta, pizza, and burgers. And no, I’m not talking about kiddie portions. I’m talking full on portions. While I personally did not do this with my now four-year-old daughter, I understand the benefits.

For example—my daughter now has a very limited diet and no curiosity when it comes to food. Whereas I find that most European children are more open to eating a variety of foods, perhaps because they were introduced to such different foods from such a young age. I see 5-year old’s with better appetites and expansive palates than many adults—scarfing down bowls of pasta with lentils, baked fish and buttered peas.  


Summer Months—All Schedules Are Off 

Summertime in the U.S. is usually filled with structured activities, day camps, etc. When kids are home for school, most parents still try to strike a balance when it comes to their schedules to not throw them off too much when it’s time to go back to school. Here in Europe—there’s no such thing as a schedule in the summer and kids sometimes will be out with their parents until past midnight playing and running around. It’s summer after all, so parents get a break staying out and so do the kids. In Europe, (especially in hot countries), this is also due to limited work hours in the summer because of the intense heat. 


Less Helicopter, More Relaxation 

In Europe, parents in general are less hands on with their kids. They’re not on top of them 24/7, as often referred to as “helicopter” parenting. Europeans sort of just go with the flow when it comes to being with their kids and are more encouraging of independent play. When I go to the park with my daughter, most kids are completely off on their own while their parents often sit on the side and read or chat with friends. In general, when parents are out with their kids, they’re less attached. Maybe sometimes too much. 

For example, I’ve been at restaurants or stores when kids are just running rampant because the parents are doing their own thing. The American in me finds this disrespectful to the others around, it’s not looked at like that by many Europeans. Rather it’s just how children explore their own space.



Not Going Overboard With Extracurricular Activities  

In America, it’s practically frowned upon if your child doesn’t participate in at least one or two after-school activities. Here, that’s simply not the case. Yes, there are wonderful after-school options available to children such as sports or dance classes, but it doesn’t have the same emphasis that it does in America. Parents don’t feel the need to have their kids signed up for an activity every day and usually just go with the flow—kids play after school at the park or with their cousins. Parents don’t feel the need to constantly have their kids’ schedules booked as though they were mini-adults. 


No Mom Guilt  

For me, this is the biggest take-away and one that I’m constantly working on. Moms in Europe don’t suffer from “mom guilt” and feeling bad about a, b, c, and d. Moms here are more relaxed and make it a point to take time for themselves—such as meeting a friend for a coffee or just taking a walk alone. Due to the overall laid-back European lifestyle, most parents aren’t trying to prove anything to anyone—like how great a parent they are, how much money they have, etc. And while European parents have careers and work to provide for their families, it’s less money/career focused since here you work to live, as opposed to live to work. This usually results in happier and more relaxed parents, which benefits the whole family.


Trying out these European parenting style tips could initially be a challenge living in America, but parenting with more help, less pressure, more relaxation, and less guilt is something we could all get behind.

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