A flood of parenting advice books are offering a wide range of foreign child-rearing models, a movement that started with the Chinese “Tiger Mom” style and morphed into a publishing genre that now includes guidance from the Dutch, Danish, Germans, Russians and others.
The Wall Street Journal highlighted the growing number of advice books from across the Atlantic hitting the shelves in numerous countries, from The Danish Way of Parenting to the Dutch title The Happiest Kids in the World.
According to the news site:
“The Danish Way of Parenting” says boys and girls thrive with skolefritidsordning—a “free-time school” where children play until dinner. Rights to the book about raising confident children have been sold to 23 countries. It hit the best-seller list in Italy and is in its ninth U.S. printing.
Another Nordic-loving book claims a different secret: friluftsliv, or “open-air living,” encouraging children to climb trees and get dirty playing outdoors in what Swedish-American author Linda Åkeson McGurk calls their “mud kitchen.” Her book, “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather,” was just released in the U.S. and is bound for a publishing house in Poland.
“They are a familiar pitch—I say, ‘All right, what country? Got it. Send it along,” Marnie Cochran, editor at Ballantine Books, told the WSJ, adding that she’s received manuscripts from Finland and Japan, among others. “There are lots of countries left in the world that we haven’t explored, that we can perhaps learn from or exploit.”
The growing foreign parenting genre is fueled in large part by the popularity of the 2011 book by Amy Chua titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which stressed raising children with the type of discipline and high expectations Chinese parents employ. That book is now available in dozens of languages and spawned a sitcom in China.
Chua said she’s since received pitches from parenting writers espousing the benefits of Mormon, Brazilian, and other child-rearing styles that she forwarded to her agent.
Some titles—including The Happiest Kids in the World, which describes how laid-back Dutch parents offer chocolate sprinkles on toast for breakfast and allow teens “romantic sleepovers” at home—are taking off, with copies now published in Finnish, Italian, and Dutch, with Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Chinese versions on the horizon.
Another—Achtung Baby—which promotes the self-reliance in German children that encourages them to handle sharp knives and light matches—was recently purchased by publishers in Russia, Poland, and the U.K., where it’s expected to hit shelves in January.
Others, meanwhile, have flopped, such as Tanja Maier’s Shapka, Babuska, Kefir, which translates to Winter Hat, Grandmother, Kefir.
The only folks willing to publish the book, which dotes on Russian mothers who keep up their beauty routines despite the rigors of motherhood and push their children to excel at their interests, were Russian publishers.
“It turns out, the Russians wanted to hear somebody saying something good about them,” Maier, a 41-year-old from Arizona who moved to Moscow in the 1990s, told the WSJ.
There’s another country that’s been conspicuously absent from the expanding parent advice book market: the United States.
Publishers told the WSJ they can’t name a single parenting book from the U.S. to gain the type of international acclaim as those from Europe and Asia.
“I don’t know that anyone’s written a book about helicoptering,” Cochran said.
Why the interest in what other cultures do? Maybe it’s because over half of American parents, according to the Culture of American Families report from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, are worried that they aren’t investing enough time and energy in their children. And a similar percentage believe that there’s something wrong with their kids, whether it be obesity, or some kind of learning disability.
With such widespread anxiety, reading about how other parents cope might be a search for guidance. And while many American parents are working to apply what they learn from the foreign offerings, some are finding the unique perspectives from other countries don’t always translate to life in the U.S.
Kate Desmond, a freelance writer from Dallas, told the WSJ she’s tried to embrace the unsupervised outdoor play in The Danish Way of Parenting, but worries about her kids playing in busy city streets. She also took the book’s advice on avoiding ultimatums, but admits following the guidelines isn’t always as easy as it seems.
“Just this morning, I bribed a 3-year-old to get in the car with a piece of candy corn,” Desmond said.
So perhaps reading about Danish parents and their children ends up being a way of becoming yet more guilty, anxious, and unfulfilled.