Saturday, August 1, 2009

Icelandic parenting

I’d read that Iceland is very welcoming of children and in my few days here, I can see that is true. At the local swimming pool, there are Bumbo seats and high chairs in the locker room, so women can shower comfortably. They have floaties, waterslides and toys for kids in the pool. Stores and restaurants have corners where children can play while their parents tend to their business. Babies are strolled down the streets in elaborate and expensive strollers. They are left in the strollers outside the shops while their parents shop.

Icelandic parents give their children a lot of independence. The attitude is that with a little bit of help, children will eventually grow up. That seems to be a lot like my own attitude. They are also taught to work hard, to value independence and quality and to see other people as equal and as entire human characters, regardless of social class. Those also resemble the values I was raised with and would like to pass on.

Boys and girls are raised the same and children are given a lot of independence. The family is the focal point of society and close relations are maintained. The downside of the high levels of independence, combined with both parents working longer hours than standard in Europe (but I imagine, less than in the U.S.) is that Iceland has had the highest rate of childhood injury needing medical attention within Europe.

We are living in the home of an Icelandic family while they are on vacation. The 17-year-old has the entire upper floor to himself, an oasis of privacy, while his parents share a bedroom with their five-year-old daughter. There are no closets in this 104 year old house and space is tight. All of the child’s toys and clothing fit into a small corner until the stairs. Yet she doesn’t lack for anything. She has only three pair of shoes, but all are stylish. Her dresses look like they could be worn by models. Her bed has a princess-like canopy. The parents also have a minimal number of items, but what they have is beautiful and well-maintained.

As we prepare to buy our first home, an older home that also doesn’t have much storage, I’m getting a good reminder in how much space is really needed (nothing near the average used in the U.S.), how to minimize and declutter, and how happiness is not correlated with quantity of belongings. Instead, the Icelanders believe, and I do too, a child benefits from close family ties, the opportunity to be independent and explore, quality and equality.

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