Mia – February 25, 2019
I’ve looked forward to the monthly birthday celebrations at The Danish Home since I was a little girl tagging along with my mother whenever my school scheduled allowed. I loved the treats, of course, but I also thought it was funny that old people loved celebrating birthdays as much as I did.
“These lovely people were once children just like you,” my mother reminded me.
Once I had my own three babies, I understood the importance of these annual celebrations of life in a way I couldn’t as a child. And I understand why many women will do anything in their power to participate in the incredible experience of childbirth.
Which brings me to the subject of parenthood, particularly in Denmark. But first, let me share that within Denmark, an estimated 8 to 10 percent of births result from assisted reproductive therapy (ART), which means that virtually every Dane knows someone who has experienced in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or is the product of it. By comparison, the U.S. rate for IVF births is just 1.7 percent.
Danes’ attitudes about parenthood have a lot to do with the burgeoning ART industry. Single mothers are socially acceptable in Denmark, as are those who take advantage of all that technology has to offer for help in conceiving their children. Author Sebastian Mohr told Time magazine that many Danes believe “having a child is part of being a good citizen” and ART “reinforces a belief that every Danish citizen has the right to be a parent.”
As parents, Danes have a much different, and potentially healthier, view toward what’s important for children to learn and achieve. While Americans focus on their kids’ individual achievement, Danes emphasize social skills and collective well-being.
From their daycare days forward (and virtually all Danish kids are in daycare while their parents work), kids are discouraged from attempting to outdo each other or to stand out from the crowd in any way. This self-effacing behavior became known as the Law of Jante and has been a cultural hallmark of Denmark and other Scandinavian nations for centuries.
Danish kids aren’t just discouraged from thinking they’re better or smarter or more important than their classmates, they are taught to feel ashamed for such self-aggrandizement. Needless to say, this American mom finds that a very foreign concept.
However, it’s hard to argue with the results the Danes get from elevating the non-competitive group over individual achievement. Denmark has been rated the happiest country in the world for most of the past 40 years and it’s also a technology leader. Apparently, growing up blissfully “average” hasn’t hurt the Danes psychologically or practically.
Fascinated by a system that seems so contrary to the American way and wanting to learn more, I picked up “The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide to Raising the Happiest Kids in the World,” by Iben Dissing Sandahl and Jessica Joelle.
As my son, Jake, is soon to enter adolescence, I am dreading the competition he’ll be facing for grades, test scores and extracurricular achievement that stresses out so many American middle and high school students (and their parents). Sometimes I wish I were raising my children in Denmark or, in an impossible scenario, had a chance to re-do the entire mommy thing with a fresh, Danish perspective.
Maybe I can live vicariously through a dear friend of mine, who has struggled with infertility for some time. I sincerely hope she gets a chance to experience the joy of motherhood by any means possible.
I can’t wait to tell her that she might find her answer in Denmark. I might even offer to go along with her. If I do, I will pay special attention to the way Danish mothers and fathers parent children of my kids’ ages.