One of the biggest things I’ve noticed since moving to the Netherlands is that children aren’t held up as a reflection of their parents. Little Janneke’s or Joost’s accomplishments (or shortcomings) aren’t judged as a product of their parenting. I was taken aback when a Dutch parent casually mentioned how her son was smarter than a friend of his. It wasn’t the fact she offered this information that surprised me, but the way she delivered it: matter of fact, devoid of ego and without a hint of subtext that this somehow made her son better than his friends.
The saying that best encapsulates the Dutch approach to life is “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” or roughly “just act normal, that’s crazy enough.” In a culture where people aren’t encouraged to stand out or be different, pressure on children to be exceptional is also reduced. Homework is unusual in Dutch primary schools and students have one afternoon a week off school, which means kids have lots of time and space to be … kids. Dutch children are given lots of autonomy and the freedom to explore, while parents aren’t burdened with the expectation that their child has to be the best in order to succeed.