The media has brought to our attention the stark differences between French and Chinese parenting styles. While the French having been “Bringing up Bebe” by teaching their children the importance of not getting everything they want right away (i.e. delayed gratification)— the Chinese tiger moms have been creating an optimal environment for their children to be academically successful.
While parents in the United States may be investigated for neglect because they let their children (ages 6 and 10) walk home from the park, children in Japan are riding the subway by themselves as early as four years of age.
Hybrid Parenting got the opportunity to learn more about German living and German parenting by interviewing Kavita Bouknight. She is the mother of 5 year-old twin boys and the co-founder of Match Health. Her husband Omari Bouknight was transferred to Germany for work in February of 2015.
Hybrid parenting talked to Kavita about how she prepared her children for the transition from Fremont, California to Stuttgart, Germany. Then we talked about how she adapted to living and parenting in Germany with her family.
See below for more information on Kavita’s perspective on living and raising children in Germany:
1. When and how did you tell your children about your move to Germany?
Our timeline to move was very tight. We made the decision to move and then moved to Germany within one and half months. Therefore, we immediately told our boys about the impending move to help mentally prepare them. We talked about where Germany was (showing them on the map) and actually tried not to make a big deal out of the move. We certainly indicated how a move would be a big change, however simultaneously tried to be casual about the experience. Additionally, we couched it as a temporary move, and that we would ultimately be back in California. Eliminating the permanence of the decision has helped us all. We also talked about how it would be a fun new adventure we could do together as a family.
Omari had an opportunity to meet the children’s new teachers prior to our move. He was able to take pictures of their “cubby” with their names on it and other classroom pictures. We both sat down with Aman and Jayan to show them pictures of their new school, before leaving CA. Seeing their names written on their new cubby area alone elevated their confidence and started to excite them about entering a new school. Omari also took the time to discuss how excited the teachers and students were of their arrival. Removing the unknown helped empower our children and alleviate any potential fears. Also, talking about the new, fun adventures we would have also helped to generate excitement.
2. What was their reaction to the move and did this surprise you?
In the beginning and even now, six months into our stay in Germany the boys believe we are on an extended trip. I was surprised with how well adjusted they became with an entirely new school, house, and essentially a new way of life. I also firmly believe having twins has been instrumental in easing their transition. Certainly, the fact that my boys had one another is a far greater support to each other than I could have imagined or hoped for when going through an international move. Throughout this entire transition they have never been alone and face each new and uncertain situation with stability and the knowledge that they have each other to lean on.
The Boys, Interesting Questions, and Perspectives:
Once we moved to Germany, for the first couple of months, whenever we told the boys we were going on a trip they would ask, “Are we moving there?” “Who is going to be our new teacher?”
The boys have truly understood the importance of learning a new language. On their own, both requested that our next expat move be to England. When asked why, they both responded with “They speak English there so it will be a lot easier!”
3. What differences did you notice in terms of how Germans act or live their day-to-day lives?
At first you feel like everything looks the same in terms of how it does in the US. However, you don’t have to dig too deep to realize that most things are actually quite different. Sometimes we felt like aliens that landed on another planet. The language barrier alone was a significant difference and challenge. There are many cultural differences that are more noticeable as a resident versus staying as a tourist.
Interesting Tidbits About German Life:
Germans and many Europeans in general have a greater appreciation for work life balance. Germans (and many Europeans) work enough to live a comfortable life. Their career/business is not the reason for living. They are not aspiring to work 80-100 hour workweeks to climb the corporate ladder and accrue as much wealth as possible. Granted there are always exceptions. You can witness this difference in the way small business owners operate. Stores are open for limited hours during the week, when compared to the U.S. where stores are often open 12-24 hours a day. Many stores will remain closed in August for several weeks to enjoy holidays.
People do not move much. Many generations will often live in and around the same area/region of Germany. Therefore, it is not uncommon to have neighbors who live in a house for decades.
It is extremely safe within Germany and many parts of Europe. Crime rates and gun violence are far less than many developed countries. You will often see young children roaming throughout the neighborhood, at neighborhood stores and using public transportation on their own.
Germans like to follow the rules. Just that simple. Germans have protocols and processes in place and do not like to deviate.
Germans can be very private compared to Americans and many do not like to use many social media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook. There could be many reasons for why this is the case.
Germans typically do not engage in small talk or random, impersonal chitchat as is often typical in the U.S. If someone in Germany asks you how you are doing, they legitimately want to know how you are doing. Once you get to know a German, they are friends for life and the nicest people.
4. What differences did you notice in terms of parenting in Germany?
Overall, I feel as though German parents are more “hands off.” The best example of this is how parents are more liberal about letting young children play outside, take public transportation and walk to local businesses without an adult. Specifically, you can see children under the age of 10 taking all forms of public transportation. One day, we saw a six-year-old run to the local bakery with a list of items to purchase and bring back to their home. Fortunately, Germany is extremely safe and very family friendly, making this type of parenting more practical. I believe there are many more nuanced differences in parenting; however, I have not been here long enough to provide a more insightful assessment.
5. How did you and your husband adjust? Did you feel welcomed in Germany?
The school community offers a range of activities for parents such as book, cooking, hiking and craft clubs. There are numerous ways to engage in the expat community through the school network.
6. How did you find schools for your boys to attend?
We looked for international schools online and read reviews. Additionally, we asked local German friends about their perspective of potential schools to evaluate.
7. How did the boys adjust to the school and life in Germany?
Aman and Jayan have adjusted extremely well and far better than we could have anticipated. I believe the boys were at a perfect age to make this type of move. At age five they are old enough to articulate and internalize the meaning of a move. Also, they do not fully understand the meaning of time and their connections/friendships are not as well established or defined, in many cases, making it easier to move away. One of the major challenges we faced, as I imagine others struggle with, is establishing a new “norm.” Literally, everything is new, the language, the house, the way of life, people and environments and simple things like cartoons and food items are completely different than what our children were accustomed to.
However, this is where children can often be very resilient. On one hand children need and thrive on routine and structure, however they are also able to stretch themselves in ways and adjust or adapt to new ways of life more than many adults. Starting in an international school, where the curriculum is in English has very much aided in helping with an easier adjustment. Also, the international school provides a comprehensive network of resources and community that are invaluable during this type of move. Certainly, the fact that my boys had one another is a far greater support to each other than I could have even imagined or hoped for when going through an international move. They always have a best friend to walk through life with and are never alone.
8. Anything else you would like to mention that I did not address here?
Hands down this has been one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. If given the opportunity again, I would take it. Living abroad helps enrich your life on so many levels. I am actually overwhelmed with how best to articulate this experience because living abroad has had such a tremendous impact on each family member. It has helped each of us to truly learn to appreciate and be more open to new approaches, ways of thinking and living.
As a parent we all want to expose our children to a multitude of cultures, languages, foods and more. Living abroad provides a parent with one of the best platforms to do this in a “real-world” setting. Within a couple of months of living abroad, my boys could understand what it means to be in a new country, understand the importance of learning new languages to communicate, using different currencies, tasting new foods and even recognizing subtle differences in terms of how people live daily life.
The key to any change is to ensure you have a strong support network in place. Every child is different and it is important to recognize the needs of each of your children and best equip them with what they need to help adjust or adapt to a new environment or experience.
9. Any resources you would suggest to parents who may be moving abroad with their children?
I highly recommend learning about the various local support groups or communities that exist for expats. One great resource is InterNations – a large expat community website for numerous cities all over the world. Additionally, Facebook offers a large number of options. For example, there is specific group for expat moms in Stuttgart. This has been particularly helpful to learn about local children’s activities/events and festivals. Additionally, it has served as a great way to find babysitters. This is crucial to either find mother’s helpers or a babysitter for parents to get a night out on the town. Often, it is a good way to learn about good places to shop for kid’s items and get other useful and interesting tips. Similarly, the Stuttgart area has a popular expat community group that is very active. These online groups can be critical in navigating through a new community.