What us Women can learn from the Dutch (Photo: Mum of the World)

What us Women can learn from the Dutch

We’ve all heard the news that Dutch kids are ranked among the happiest in the world (please note that here “world” means developed countries only). But did you know Dutch parents are also ranked among the happiest, according to the UN’s first World Happiness Report? I suppose that makes sense . . .  as Rina Mai Acosta points out in her “Finding Dutchland” blog post, “The 8 Secrets of Dutch Kids, the Happiest Kids in the World” (19 Sept 2013): “in general, happy parents equal happy kids.”

It’s interesting to speculate about this. What comes up for me personally is the lack of a “liability culture” in the Netherlands. As soon as we arrive in my homeland, the U.S., we’re reminded within minutes just how fearful Americans are about being sued . . . “Ma’am, would you please keep your kids off the escalator!?” Everywhere we turn, there are signs and verbal reminders of what our children may absolutely NOT do. Other than the “friendly reminders” from Dutch strangers about their opinions of what kids should and should not be doing, I don’t sense many regulatory, punitive pressures here to overprotect my kids.

According to Acosta, there’s much more to it. In her article, she focuses on how much personal freedom of choice and work/life balance Dutch parents experience.. and then there’s the governmental support for families. Granted, we pay a lot of taxes relatively seen.. and yet because a decent amount is returned to us specifically earmarked for e.g. vacations, daycare and other child-related expenses, we genuinely feel supported and cared for as two humans doing our best to provide for our two children. This all lends to our happiness for sure!

But what struck me the most was Acosta’s attention to how Dutch mothers don’t have the tendency to experience depression. They’re evidently not easily distracted by glamour or pressured into hospitality and charm. Coincidentally, I read in the same week an opinion piece in The New York Times, called “Learning to Love Criticism” by Tara Mohr (Sept. 27, 2014) and I immediately thought how the Dutch are more skilled on this front than the American women Mohr describes (including myself for the majority of my life).

In short, she claims that American women are held back by dependence on praise / fear of criticism. She compares women to men and I think her argument holds true to a large degree when comparing American women to Dutch women.

“If a woman wants to do substantive work of any kind, she’s going to be criticized — with comments not just about her work but also about herself. She must develop a way of experiencing criticism that allows her to persevere in the face of it.”

No Hard Feelings

(illustrator, Tom Froese)

So how to persevere in the face of criticism regarding our “work” which includes all our roles as mother, partner, friend, volunteer and co-worker? What I see in the Netherlands is a culture in which people of all ages are encouraged to express whatever is on their mind. I believe this is linked to how they are taught within the educational system to think critically (something I missed in most of my American education). The downside of this is that such open expression can come across to those of us from praise- and polite-oriented cultures as rather abrasive at times (see my previous article: Dealing with the Dutch: disconnect or connect).

Criticism stings for all of us, but women have been socialized to not rock the boat, to be, above all else, likable . . . Learning to respond to praise and criticism — without getting hooked by it — is for most of us, a necessary rite of passage.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve gone through this rite of passage to a large degree, happy to be on the other side of wanting above all else “to be liked.” I’m still trying to find the balance between recognizing my personal needs, coming up for myself AND experiencing belonging – all important to me. The key to my happiness currently is not letting the scales tip toward the latter and taking long hard look at the former, a process I refer to as self-connection, or my authenticity.

If you’d like to practice self-connection, or connecting with your authenticity in the face of criticism, please share your examples in the comment section. Cara will reply using an empathic approach.

Another way to learn/practice is to attend Cara’s workshop,“Dealing with the Dutch: transforming directness/judgment into connection.” Two are planned to take place in Amsterdam (Leidseplein) this Fall. Cara is open to facilitate workshops outside Amsterdam (particularly Haarlem). If you are interested in the workshops in Amsterdam or Haarlem, please send her an email at: crislercoaching@expatsHaarlem.nl.

Cara Crisler
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10 replies
  1. Cara Crisler
    Cara Crisler says:

    @ Maria: I gather from your comment that you believe many Dutch parents having significant time away from their children – and that this doesn’t exactly match your own personal definition of happiness. Is that right? And do you also experience that it can be difficult for Dutch women to be open and honest about something like depression? If so, I find this very interesting and feel compassion towards them and all mothers. I also didn’t think I could admit how very difficult I found motherhood to be in the earlier years. That’s exactly what drives me to work with mothers today – giving them a safe space for open, honest expression of what’s really going on for them.

  2. Cara Crisler
    Cara Crisler says:

    @ Roxanne: I get that you would like clarity, so that you perhaps can better understand the article or decide how you respond to it? The main phrase that grabbed me in Acosta’s blog post, “The 8 Secrets of Dutch Kids, the Happiest Kids in the World” was: “Dutch mothers don’t have the tendency to experience depression.” I didn’t look into this (turns out post-partum depression rates are no different than other parts of the world), and perhaps Maria is on to something – that it’s not shown or admitted much here. I really don’t know – just wanted to point out that non-Dutch women might have something to learn from Dutch women in how they deal with criticism (bearing in mind that where I come from, we aren’t particularly skilled in this area!). Since the second article I referenced was based on women only, my article does also. (I wouldn’t dispute that men can always learn, too)

  3. Maria Del Mar Humanes Arrabal
    Maria Del Mar Humanes Arrabal says:

    And what is that about “dutch women don’t suffer depression”… come on they have no time or don’t say because this society is “perfec”… but yes they do as all the rest of the work. .. We are human and we have all up and downs.. And I am working with dutch women for many years, they are great, strong and also human… even though they “cannot” show it..

  4. Maria Del Mar Humanes Arrabal
    Maria Del Mar Humanes Arrabal says:

    Considering that dutch babies and children are in kindergarden since they are 3 months and most dutch parents see their baby when leaving them in crèche at 7.30am or 8 and when picking them up from crèche (if not a nanny does it…) and before going to bed… not to consider when children go to play with friends in other house…I wouldn’t write this about happiness…

    • Laurent S.
      Laurent S. says:

      And, are all women concerned with motherhood? Everyone in Western Europe nowadays knows at least one couple or single (woman or man) without children nor intention to have some.

  5. Jane D
    Jane D says:

    Hi Cara, I live in NL for 2 years, and beeing pregnant every year. I decided to be a stay at home mom till both are 2, its my happy choice, but I feel like my dutch family is little bit ironic about it, always coming with new ides what I could do not to be ¨bored¨. I have a clear idea what I want to do in the future, but evreytime they come to visit I just feel they think I’m not doing enought (like beeing pregnant 2 years in a row is already not quite a job, not talking about whole new culture and social network Im trying to build). I also feel criticized about not always sticking to dutch traditions. I would expect a little bit more emphaty and politness in their behavior. Probbaly I’m waiting for something that will never come in the way I expect it? 🙂

    • Jane D
      Jane D says:

      I just read your other article Connect or disconnect and I totlaly feel the same as you did at the beginning.

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