When I talked to my Danish husband about getting grades when I was in kindergarten, he almost fell off the bed. “What in the world did you get grades for?”
We would discuss our childhoods at length and I remember thinking that my poor husband must have been neglected. Apparently he just played a lot, he didn’t start school until he was 7 and grades were not important until he was much older. I felt sorry for him that no one had taken a more active role in his academic development and just let him play so frivolously as a child. I assumed his incredible sense of self-confidence, intelligence and general positive nature was an anomaly for Denmark.
Many years, two children and four countries later, and I have a much deeper understanding of what different parenting models look like in other cultures. And I can honestly say that I now have a very different opinion.
You see, after my daughter was born a strange thing happened. Instead of referring to all the parenting books I had read, I began deferring to my Danish family and friends for advice on anything from breastfeeding to education to language choice, and I really liked what I heard.
This continued well after my son was born until I became a total convert to the Danish Way of Parenting.
So I was even more reassured when I read that Denmark had been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row. This was news to me but it suddenly all made sense. The Danish parenting philosophy is based on children needing to be children and playing. The goal for children is not to be measured but to be able to get along, be empathic and enjoy the learning and creativity that comes through playing.
Once I finally got over my need to have measurable proof that the Danish way was working, I relaxed and stopped feeling like a bad parent.
But what better measure is there than topping the world happiness reports for more than 40 years in a row I wondered? As an American, I started to wonder why this philosophy hadn’t caught on more considering we have the pursuit of happiness built into our own Declaration of Independence and mountains of books devoted to obtaining it. Why were we going in such an opposite direction with parenting and education?