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I'm an American and lived in the Netherlands for 4 years. Subsidized childcare allowed me to start my own company.

Lauren Crosby Medlicott   

I'm an American and lived in the Netherlands for 4 years. Subsidized childcare allowed me to start my own company.
  • Marianna Sachse is a mother of two boys, ages 14 and 7.
  • Raising kids in the Netherlands was a totally different experience than raising them in the US.

When my eldest son was born 14 years ago, my husband and I were living in a Philadelphia neighborhood with a lot of young parents. It was a "stoop culture" where we would gather outside each other's houses in the evening while the kids ran around the streets.

We were lucky to have this community as neither of our families lived close by, but I didn't know what I was missing until I saw it in the Netherlands.

In 2016, when I was seven months pregnant and my oldest son was 6, we moved to the Netherlands for my husband's work. We'd end up living there for another four years. During my time there, I noticed several differences between raising a family in the Netherlands and in the United States.

I had a postpartum doula covered by insurance

Even though nervous about moving, I was told I couldn't have picked a better country to have a baby in — that the Netherlands is particularly amazing regarding childbirth.

I elected to do a home birth and could not have had a better experience. There was so much support wrapped around me. A midwife and a doula were with me through the birth, and then once the baby was born, I had a postpartum doula come to the house for eight days. It was like having a mother care for me without any of the baggage of family dynamics. She just cared for me and my household, even vacuuming the floors.

All of this care was paid for through my husband's insurance. It would be the same care received by any working family because every person in the Netherlands with an employment contract is entitled to certain statutory benefits.

When I gave birth to my first son in America, I was in the hospital for 48 hours, shown how to breastfeed and diaper a baby, and then sent home.

People want to look after kids

For our first excursion out as a family after having our second son, we went to a restaurant with communal tables. I was struggling with the baby, trying to have a coffee, and entertaining our 7-year-old. There was this couple who had finished their meal, and the woman said she would hold the baby for me. In the US, it would be weird for someone to offer that, and even weird to accept it. But it was our first taste of the Netherlands' culture of parenting as a community.

I double-checked she was OK to hold the baby and she said she would just hand him back when he started crying. For half an hour, I ate my meal in peace. It was amazing.

At playgrounds, parents look out for their own children but also children who aren't theirs. If a child is being rough, a parent can engage to tell the child off or direct their own child to stand up for themselves. The US isn't like this at all. Most parents would say "don't parent my child" or "don't tell me how to parent my child". But not in the Netherlands.

Kids have freedom

When my older son was in the equivalent of second grade in the Netherlands, he started biking to school by himself. Other kids were doing the same, so we felt secure to let him.

In part, I felt comfortable making this choice because other parents weren't afraid to parent him. It didn't actually feel like he was going out on his own.

Since moving back to the US, now living in Washington DC, we've started letting our youngest, in second grade, walk to school on his own after several trial runs with us following close behind. He's the only one in his class who walks to school on his own.

Childcare is subsidized

Since childcare is subsidized in the Netherlands, I was able to start my own circular children's clothing company even while raising young children. It was absolutely amazing. There would have been no way I would have been able to start my own business while paying childcare fees in the US.

One thing I really loved was that empty-nester grandparents could care for their own grandchildren and other people's children, and that, too, was subsidized. It gives grandparents a modest income and provides the younger generation with help to get back into work.

Kids learn how to read later

In the United States, there is a lot of pressure to get kids ready by kindergarten. I know parents who freak out because their children haven't learned to read by age 4.

When we were in the Netherlands, they didn't really start reading until 7 years old. They are just doing all the pre-reading, becoming curious.

Since coming back, we stand out as a little weird after our time in the Netherlands. I really believe in the value of independence for kids. I have seen how much happier children are when they have independence.

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