Every few months, I read an article online about how American parents need to step up their game and start parenting like the Europeans do. Do this the Danish way, do that like French moms do it, blah blah blah. And every time I read one of these articles, a little piece of me dies inside and I feel a sense of utter futility and profound hopelessness.
Because let's face it: good old Uncle Sam has kinda stacked the deck against American parents who are trying against all odds to keep their kids from turning into obese, under-educated cretins.
I just returned from a trip to Europe with my kids, to visit American friends of ours who are living there. I'd been to Europe before, but not since having children, and I'm starting to realize a few fundamental institutional and cultural differences about how things are done there. And I'm starting to think that maybe this is why we American parents are not exactly "set up for success" (to borrow a popular parenting phrase) when it comes to raising our kids to be model citizens. Generally speaking, here's what many European countries and the U.S. tell parents and kids, respectively, starting from birth:
Paid Parental Leave
Europe: One full year for all parents! Enjoy bonding with your kids, moms and dads!
U.S.A.: Fuck you, moms! Who told you to get pregnant? (Uh, no you can't have free birth control). Now go nurse your baby on a gas station toilet while attending a work teleconference on your iPhone.
Europe: Oh your kid has meningitis? No problem. Here's a doctor and some medicine you can get over the counter without a prescription.
U.S.A.: Hope your kid doesn't die in the Emergency Room! Your bill's in the mail. Yes, you have to pay $40 for that aspirin the hospital gave you. No, your insurance doesn't cover that claim nor have you met your $10,000 deductible yet. Soweeeeeee.
Europe: Please enjoy this more-than-adequate subsidized child care courtesy of a country who wants to invest in its kids.
U.S.A.: Just quit working. Trust us, it's cheaper than day care. P.S.: Screw your kids!
Europe: Please enjoy our diverse, academically-appropriate, state-funded curriculum. Also you are highly unlikely to be shot while memorizing your times tables.
U.S.A.: Go fill in some bubbles on this stupid standardized test in which you're being asked to distinguish a blue horse from a green one. Also, you might get shot in the head with a semi-automatic assault rifle wielded by a disgruntled lunatic with his own personal arsenal while you're in the middle of doing that. No biggie.
Europe: Please enjoy this modest plate of farm-to-table unprocessed meat, cheese, fruit, and bread. Then go play outside in a meadow or run down to the cafe and buy yourself a fresh-baked croissant until bedtime.
U.S.A.: Go stuff this Super Sized (TM) McDonald's (TM) Happy Meal (TM) into your face as fast as possible, along with a side of antibiotics, 50 tablespoons of sugar, and hormones that make your kids grow boobs by age 8. Definitely watch some T.V. while you're eating, because McDonald's tastes best when paired with re-runs of American Idol.
Europe: Here, run this science experiment involving a lab coat and three computers.
U.S.A.: Go shop for some pretend plastic food on your way to the gift shop.
Exercise & Transportation
Europe: Walk on this sidewalk and/or board this efficient train.
U.S.A.: Drive six blocks and park at the closest spot to the handicapped spot you can find, even though you are not handicapped. Also, if you don't have a car, use a segue or even a hover-board. Anything but your feet. If you do use your feet--or God forbid a bike--try not to get hit by a car. Because then you'll be in the emergency room, and we just told you what THAT's like.
Europe: Sex happens and your kids need to know about it.
U.S.A.: Let's pretend sex doesn't exist so our kids get pregnant at 15 and are then persecuted for considering an abortion.
Basically, the only cultural parenting point that America scores over Europe is its intolerance for smoking. And even that somehow looks better in Paris.