There is a school of thought amongst Christians in the United States that Europe is a godless wasteland from which we have nothing to learn. Yet my mission work with refugees has taken me throughout Western Europe over the last eighteen months and I have found it to be much more open to Christianity than most of us believe. Not only that, I think Christian parents can actually learn something important from some European parents – especially Dutch parents – that can strengthen the faith foundation of their children and make them more resilient.
Fair warning. Some of you may be triggered by this post. It is brutally honest and counter cultural. The intent is not to offend anyone, but to encourage you to make the choices that are best for your children emotionally and more importantly, spiritually. These suggestions aren’t physically possible for a few of you, but I would argue they are more possible than most of you will believe. It will require you to make hard, life changing and lifestyle changing choices. Choices that may make even your Christian friends wonder why you are making such radical changes.
The question is – how passionate are you about your children spending eternity in Heaven? Passionate enough to honestly sacrifice anything necessary to give them a strong enough faith foundation that they actually have a fighting chance of remaining faithful, productive Christians as adults? You may be strongly tempted to reject these suggestions as too difficult or unproven. Yet millions of secular Dutch families have made these same sacrifices and believe it has benefitted their children’s well being. While I do not agree with many of the moral tenets taught by secular Dutch parents to their children, I do believe those habits I am about to share would benefit children raised in any family – but particularly Christian families.
So what are these controversial parenting moves by the Dutch? They make spending time with their children a top priority. They spend as much family time together as possible listening to their children, talking about their beliefs (secular though many of them may be) and doing things together as a family. They use this time to mold their children and move them towards independence – not by ignoring them, but by gradually increasing the boundaries and encouraging them to grow in age appropriate ways.
How do they manage this? By making some radical choices! Almost half of the Dutch workforce works part time and 70% of the women do so. Often these part time jobs are arranged so at least one parent is home with the children when they are home. Fathers are not exempt from meaningful engagement with their children. Even those with full time jobs are expected to focus fully on their children for a minimum of one full day a week.
In addition, children are not in tons of scheduled activities. They are definitely “old school” with children playing with friends outside until a mandatory family dinner every night at five or six. Oh, and did I mention family breakfast is a mandatory sit down affair, too? The food doesn’t have to be fancy and often isn’t – especially by our standards, but they are sitting down together twice a day talking (no devices). Parents who work in the afternoons all leave their jobs in time to be home for dinner – even if they do more work online later. They are so strict about having dinner together at home, that guests are not invited. Instead, they have them for coffee or appetizers earlier and then send them to their own homes for dinner.
Yes, I understand that as a welfare state, there are some economic realities involved including incredibly high taxes and government supplements. But this is not about politics. Most of the Dutch homes I have seen are modest. The average person rides a bike, walks or takes mass transit. Few, if any, organized activities means no expenses in those areas. They are known for being frugal in dress, food and other expenses. You can, if not exactly, closely adapt your lifestyle to match theirs.
This won’t be easy for most of you. You may need to downsize houses, cars and those extras. Your kids will have to drop a lot of activities (which colleges give little weight to anyway). You may get passed over for promotions (Although, interestingly, the Dutch have found their productivity numbers are still high. When they are at work, they don’t waste time like many workers here.) You will be different from most likely every family you know. But I believe the benefits to your children far outweigh any sacrifices you may make.
Your children need you to be present and engaged with them. Not micro managing them, but teaching and coaching them how to be the people God created them to be. Preparing them to do war with Satan. Helping them reach their full God given potential and growing to become faithful, active, productive Christians. If Christian parents parent the way their secular peers parent in the United States, their children won’t grow up to be any more faithful than their children – or marginally so at best.
Once again, this is not to shame or offend you. There are, however, certain parenting realities. Children who are resilient have strong relationships with nurturing, engaged parents. Children who grow up to be faithful to God have usually had parents who spend as much time as humanly possible teaching their kids about God and coaching them to be who God wants them to be. You and your children cannot be separated for the majority of every day, afternoon, evening and weekend and have stellar results. It would be like wanting to have an athletic physique, but not making the time to work out for long periods of time every day.
If you don’t want to fully adopt the wisdom of this aspect of Dutch parenting, I strongly suggest you make as many changes as you can to move in that direction. Your children – and their faith – will benefit.