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Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

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In the tradition of Bringing Up Bebe and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a clarion call and practical guide for a return to rational parenting, from an American woman who learned how to raise strong, self-reliant children by following the common sense approach of German parenting. When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she knew the trans In the tradition of Bringing Up Bebe and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a clarion call and practical guide for a return to rational parenting, from an American woman who learned how to raise strong, self-reliant children by following the common sense approach of German parenting. When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she knew the transition would be multi-layered, adding parenting and then the birth of another child into the mix. She was surprised to discover that German parents give their children a great deal of freedom--much more than Americans. In Berlin, kids walk to school by themselves, ride the subway alone, climb giant play structures, cut food with sharp knives, even play with fire. But what she didn't realize was that German parents did not share her fears and their children were thriving. Was she doing the opposite of what she intended, which was to raise capable children? Why was parenting culture so different in the States? Through her own family's often funny experiences as well as interviews with other parents, teachers, and experts, Zaske shares the many unexpected parenting lessons she learned from living in Germany. Achtung Baby reveals that today's Germans know something that American parents don't (or have perhaps forgotten) about raising kids with "selbstandigkeit" (self-reliance), and provides many new and practical ideas American parents can use to give their own children the freedom they need to grow into responsible, independent adults. A blend of memoir, research, and reporting, this book calls for a return to rational parenting and an exploration of the cultural shift that has occurred over the past few generations. Zaske illustrates how our American anxiety is a culturally specific rather than a globally shared modern stumbling block--which readers can overcome using Zaske's crucial insights into the German perspective on parenting.


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In the tradition of Bringing Up Bebe and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a clarion call and practical guide for a return to rational parenting, from an American woman who learned how to raise strong, self-reliant children by following the common sense approach of German parenting. When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she knew the trans In the tradition of Bringing Up Bebe and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a clarion call and practical guide for a return to rational parenting, from an American woman who learned how to raise strong, self-reliant children by following the common sense approach of German parenting. When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she knew the transition would be multi-layered, adding parenting and then the birth of another child into the mix. She was surprised to discover that German parents give their children a great deal of freedom--much more than Americans. In Berlin, kids walk to school by themselves, ride the subway alone, climb giant play structures, cut food with sharp knives, even play with fire. But what she didn't realize was that German parents did not share her fears and their children were thriving. Was she doing the opposite of what she intended, which was to raise capable children? Why was parenting culture so different in the States? Through her own family's often funny experiences as well as interviews with other parents, teachers, and experts, Zaske shares the many unexpected parenting lessons she learned from living in Germany. Achtung Baby reveals that today's Germans know something that American parents don't (or have perhaps forgotten) about raising kids with "selbstandigkeit" (self-reliance), and provides many new and practical ideas American parents can use to give their own children the freedom they need to grow into responsible, independent adults. A blend of memoir, research, and reporting, this book calls for a return to rational parenting and an exploration of the cultural shift that has occurred over the past few generations. Zaske illustrates how our American anxiety is a culturally specific rather than a globally shared modern stumbling block--which readers can overcome using Zaske's crucial insights into the German perspective on parenting.

30 review for Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dawnie

    Okay let me start this out with: I am not a mother, i do not have children i take care of (at least not the human kind -do furry kids count?!?) BUT i was interested in this because i am German and i always interested to see an American share their option on Germany. Because honestly most of the time? Its HORRIBLE and wrong and just... in which year are you living because we are no longer in world war 2? So yes, okay? I only requested this book because it has a german title and the subtitle of an Okay let me start this out with: I am not a mother, i do not have children i take care of (at least not the human kind -do furry kids count?!?) BUT i was interested in this because i am German and i always interested to see an American share their option on Germany. Because honestly most of the time? Its HORRIBLE and wrong and just... in which year are you living because we are no longer in world war 2? So yes, okay? I only requested this book because it has a german title and the subtitle of an american mom learning the german art was just enough to make me click "request" on NetGalley and read this book. But honestly? Its pretty GOOD! I think its a nice book if you simply want a view into a different culture -or like me are just curious to see your own culture compared to a different one and actually see the differences. I would defiantly recommend giving this book a read! If nothing else, it is quiet entertaining to read the author struggle through german's bureaucracy and all the paper work. (because yes, she got that PERFECTLY!) Lets start with me saying that: I LOVE her for actually saying that America did not save or ended the second World war, that America is not the sole saver of everyone and that they did not influence Germany and make it into the country it is today. Because THANK YOU! Its nice to read that from an American, that actually summaries the European history and America's part in it as it most likely was and does show that Germany is not this huge anti-everything country. That Germans are not the devil, evil or against any and all people that are not blond and blue eyed. I also appreciated that she actually said she expected germany and its people to be completely different to how they actually are. Because that is just how is. We all have specific stereo-typical notions we grow up in from different countries around the world. I grew up with the believe that Americans all only ever eat McDonalds and eat it in from of their TV. I am just guessing here but i don't think thats really what all of America is like. Moving on the to actual "Parenting aspects" of this book: I think that her entire attitude towards letting kids explore, learn and decide for themselves what to be scared of what to do and when is great. And yes in some way resembling some aspects of how kids in Germany do grow up. And she is defiantly right that in germany most kids spend a good amount of time outside especially when they are still in the ages between toddler years and 10 years old. Not as much in the last 10 years as it has been when even i personally was growing up, but yes, kids in Germany are mostly told to go outside to play and run their energy off. (can i just add that i never even thought about that that might be something new or strange to anyone? Because how else would little kids play if not outside in any and all weather for the most parts?) Its also nice to read that the author clearly took some nice parenting ideas with her from Europe. I honestly think that we could all learn from each other on how to raise our children, maybe find a way to combine different aspects to finally raise an entire generation of children that don't fear everything they don't know, don't hate people that look different or believe differently then they themselves or even just generally learn that every human is just the same as any other human in most aspects. So it was GREAT to see those principles being talked about and mentioned. I also loved how she shared little snippets of her kids how they struggled with the culture differences and how her daughter ask her if it was allowed for the kids to wait for their mom in a cafe until she had gone to the toilet. For one because that entire concept i a bit strange for me as someone having grown up with it being completely normal that as soon as you can go to the toilet on your own, you go do that even in a cafe when you know or can find it on your own, or when its just normal your parent can leave you in a place that like that for a few minutes until they return. So reading that it is NOT something completely normal and typical was a bit of an eye opener on just how different growing up in different areas of the world really are. And now lets get into the negative (or should i say the things a German finds a bit annoying and strange because i never heard of it in that way and shouldn't i have as a German?): - its really, really, extremely over simplifies and generalises Germany as a whole. Berlin is a huge city, its also a world city with a huge mixture of different cultures, believes and school systems all mixed together. I am not saying its a whole different world than the rest of Germany, but it is quiet different to a lot of other areas in Germany. Especially since -as the book itself states- Berlin was split into two very different Germany's for a long time. So it mixes a lot of very different German believes together. What i mean by that is (For example i am not listing EVERY SINGLE thing here because that would be about the size the actual book had, but just... you know, some examples to showcase what i noticed right away and found bit annoying!): - German kids go or ride their bikes to school alone -at the latest from second year on. Which is NO! Excuse me? What are you talking about! Lets start out with the biking! Not all german parents let their kids ride their bikes to school basically from second grade on. For example its actually not allowed in Bavaria where i live until the kid is in fourth grade -or in other words at least eight, most of the time nine years old and actually have to complete something that i can most easy translate into a "bike license" (meaning you have to take a test that shows that you can successfully navigate your bike through traffic without problem and only after you pass that test and get your "license" you are allowed to drive your bike to school!) And while it is true that a lot of kids walk to school alone from second grade on, they don't walk ALONE, they go into groups of other kids that meet up at the latest two streets from their home. German public schools short their kids from specific districts the houses are marked under. So specific neighbour groups of houses all go to the same school, and with that a good amount of children go to and from the same school at the same times. There are at least always in the morning specific adults present on busy streets to assure that kids don't get hurt. And that is how i personally as a German know that it goes down with letting kids go to school in the whole of Germany. So yes, sure in a way in Germany Kids from a very young age go to school without their parents. But they do not go alone. They go with at least three to four other kids either their age or older and on the way there are a few adults placed that look out for them on streets that might be dangerous. I don't know if that is something unique or strange or different to america. Who knows? Apparently if the book got the American side right. - since we are on topic of schools... shall we talk about that? Because that hippy-dippy- lets all play and have a great time mojo? Thats "waldorf" schools. Which are basically special education places where its a lot more easy going and slower paced learning with lots of breaks. i am not in any way saying those are bad schools! They are actually good schools, but sadly hard to get places in for most kids and also a lot of them are not public but private or you have to have a special needs child to qualify for them in many areas in Germany (maybe thats different in Berlin. Could be. Possibly) But they are NOT the norm in germany. The school that the author description in America -teacher talking and talking and talking and handing out lines and punishments if you are not doing what they want?- THAT sounds like a typical german school! Also the after school "hort" the author mentioned? Not something that most schools actually offer, its a special program that a kid has to go to after school most of the time not even in school but for example housed in Kindergärten and are not for doing homework but rather to keep the kid busy until the parent can come get them after work. I am not saying that they don't exist in the way the author described them. But they are not the norm at all in germany, and not typical in the way that she described them as. - And than there is the entire section on parenting time: the book basically states that every one that has a child is allowed up to three years without problem, either mom or dad, during which they will get paid and than get their job back if they take those years without problems. Sure theoretically on paper that might even be mostly true. In actuality?? Sorry, NO! Most people are lucky if they get six months, and the payment they get after two or three months is no where near what they normally make, so that most people have no choice but to go back to work as soon as possible to be actually able to continue to make the money they need to ... you know buy stuff? For example for the kid they just had? Also i will not even touch the subject of that that entire deal with the fathers being able to take that time to make it easier on not discriminating against specific women in jobs. The characters i have for this review would not be enough to clearly prove that so completely wrong. Lets just say that in theory, yes sure in germany there is such a thing as parent time and you even earn a little money and either parent can take it, even the father, but yeah... just because something theoretically exists does not mean that it actually works... and leave it at that. so there are some things in this book that as a German, born and raised and still living there as an adult, are a bit of head scratchers. still this book was not a bad book And of course its hard to put an entire country and all its different states, customs and ideas into one book. And she could have hardly named the book "the Berlin way of rising a child" so i get it. And for the most part, Sara Zaske did a great job with sharing how Germans raise their children. *Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for a free and honest review!*

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    As a mom of 3 and as an elementary teacher, I'm always up for a read relating to children and parenting. I enjoyed the tiger mom book comparing Asian parenting with its US version. When I heard that Achtung Baby was out -- a book comparing German parenting with US -- I was thrilled. I *am* German; what a perfect book for me to read! The book's author is Sara Zaske. She heads to Germany with her husband, who gets a job there, and their toddler-aged daughter. They live in Germany for several years, As a mom of 3 and as an elementary teacher, I'm always up for a read relating to children and parenting. I enjoyed the tiger mom book comparing Asian parenting with its US version. When I heard that Achtung Baby was out -- a book comparing German parenting with US -- I was thrilled. I *am* German; what a perfect book for me to read! The book's author is Sara Zaske. She heads to Germany with her husband, who gets a job there, and their toddler-aged daughter. They live in Germany for several years, during which time she has a son. They move back to America when her kids are about first and fourth grade age. This book is based on her observations during her time in Germany. They lived in Berlin. Sara begins: "I wanted to raise my children to be strong, independent, free individuals -- all very American values. Yet I tended to use paradoxical parenting practices: constantly correcting my children, overemphasizing their academic achievement, and closely supervising them to ensure their safety. Moving to Germany made me realize how American these practices were -- and how misguided." Basically, Zaske observes that Germans give their children much more freedom than Americans do. She discusses how Germans let babies fall asleep on their own rather than the more American practice of rocking the baby to sleep. In short, there's not a lot of "attachment parenting" in Germany. Children in Germany are in preschool earlier and more often than US kids, and German parents tend to think this is a good thing, with little "mommy guilt" that we expect here in the states. German children walk or bike to school regularly. Eight-year-olds walking to school, traversing busy intersections, is not an unusual thing. Zaske mentions that in America, parents have been arrested for things like this that are everyday occurrences in Germany. Achtung Baby is bound to raise the question, which method is better? Zaske clearly favors the German method, frequently touting its successes while speaking negatively about US parenting. As a more-experienced mom, I can understand some of this. I think all of us as parents tend to idealize the situation we're in when our own children are little. I can see advantages to the German parenting methods, and I am a proponent of giving children freedom. I'll always remember our "MOPS mentor" (an older mom who came to MOPS meetings when my girls were little) calling me "the laid-back mom." And I pretty much was. I didn't tend to check on my kids throughout the night to ensure they were still breathing, or hover over them as they played. Then again, there were definitely parts of the German parenting model as presented that I didn't care for. For instance, I never put my kids in preschool and was honestly sad when the time came for them to begin kindergarten. I cherished my time with them at home. Germans seem to feel that kids benefit more from the company of their peers than of their parents, even at a young age. Homeschooling is not just discouraged in Germany: it's illegal. This is just speculation on my part, but I wonder if part of this stems from the communist background that at least half of Berlin was under until fairly recently. "Children belong to the state, not their parents" is a very Communist line of thought. Zaske frequently added disclaimers to statements in Achtung Baby. When I finished, I concluded that, while there are probably a few broad differences in parenting between Germans and Americans, the differences may not be all that great. I don't feel, for instance, that the divide here would be nearly as large as that between US and Asian parents. Shortly after I began this book, I was sitting at Disney's Animal Kingdom waiting for a show, when I heard two people conversing in German behind me. I turned around and asked them (in German!) if they were from Germany. Thankfully, they switched over to flawless English and I learned that they had moved to Florida a few years ago from Stuttgart, along with their then-infant daughter. They both teach at the university here. I told them I'd begun reading a book comparing German and American parenting, and asked them what differences they saw. They both looked a little perplexed, and said that they felt that things probably depended more on the individual parent. They didn't really notice any differences. Stuttgart is in southern Germany, so I'm wondering again whether what Zaske observed was a more Berlin-specific, East German phenomena. What I gathered from the book is that we in the US can help our kids with a few tips from German parents: don't be afraid to give your kids responsibility. Let them play outdoors more. Let them play creatively rather than always in a planned, academic, media-focused way. Zaske finishes Achtung Baby: "The biggest lesson I learned in Germany is that my children are not really mine. They belong first and foremost to themselves. I already knew this intellectually, but when I saw parents in Germany put this value into practice, I saw how differently I was acting."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Sara Zaske wrote this book about her experiences of raising her children in Berlin, Germany. Instead of being preachy and telling parent's do's and don't's, she explains her direct experiences with a different mode of parenting. What I love about Zaske is not only is she open minded to German parenting methods, but she is completely honest with her thought process, the surprises she encountered, and honest when she disagrees with some of it. What Zaske shares is that German culture and German sc Sara Zaske wrote this book about her experiences of raising her children in Berlin, Germany. Instead of being preachy and telling parent's do's and don't's, she explains her direct experiences with a different mode of parenting. What I love about Zaske is not only is she open minded to German parenting methods, but she is completely honest with her thought process, the surprises she encountered, and honest when she disagrees with some of it. What Zaske shares is that German culture and German schooling expects parents to give their children certain freedoms and rights. Basically that kids will be responsible for themselves from an young age - this includes going to the park alone, walking to school alone, travel, etc. Zaske is honest that she doesn't readily give her children the complete freedom that some of the other parents do, but basically that she eventually gives her children more freedoms as the get used to their routines. German schools also value free play, and lots of it, during school. This is something beyond what Americans can imagine. Germans have found children are more focused when they need to be the more free time and play they are given. I really loved hearing this, although it makes it hard for me to imagine that happening here in America. German early schooling also incorporates decision making. For example, the teachers ask students for ideas on what they should learn next and then everyone participates. Zaske talks about how in Germany the parents often band together to make changes in their schools for the benefit of their children. While the US has the PTA organization, American parents tend to not be involved - I feel the direct cause of this is organized sports and clubs that Americans are obsessed with. They don't have time - Germans seem to not be into organized activities for children and are more supportive of free play, where children make the decisions on what to do with their time. I feel that is a much more natural approach. Zaske does give a brief explanation on how her children had to adjust when moving back to America and the expectations here. She also mentions some of the changes that she has tried to implement. I think it would be interesting if she was able to get more of the positive parts of German-influenced school approaches implemented here. California, where the author lives, seems like the perfect area to do a trial. Great read, excellent resources, & relieved me of some of the stress and guilt I held since I am apt to give my children some more freedoms than others see as appropriate.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    The U.S. educational system has gone in the wrong direction cutting down on recess, over-emphasizing literacy, and slamming kids with testing. Zaske does an excellent and fair-minded job exploring the German child care and kindergarten system and its strengths--interwoven with the memoir of her own family living abroad. She picks important focal points: the generally positive German attitude towards child care (opposed to America's cult of attachment parenting, born of profound ambivalence about The U.S. educational system has gone in the wrong direction cutting down on recess, over-emphasizing literacy, and slamming kids with testing. Zaske does an excellent and fair-minded job exploring the German child care and kindergarten system and its strengths--interwoven with the memoir of her own family living abroad. She picks important focal points: the generally positive German attitude towards child care (opposed to America's cult of attachment parenting, born of profound ambivalence about and hostility to women who work, in spite of that being the economic necessity for the majority of contemporary parents); the emphasis on free play in those care environments (including some "no toys" weeks designed to direct children towards imaginative play and resilience); the commitment to kids' independence, including a "free range" style mastery over urban environments (I totally see Zaske's point here and will admit, as she does, some anxiety about it, given my American supervision-oriented upbringing!) and playground structures that incorporate risk into learning; religious (including atheist/agnostic) and sex education in schools. On the one hand, I could respond to the book in a kind of smug way. My daughter goes to a wonderful private school that prioritizes the values that the German child care system--and by extension Zaske--espouses. On the other hand, how awful that these approaches that work, not only for teaching children a love of learning but also for instilling in them resilience and serenity (like extended periods of time spent in the outdoors), are systematically denied to students without the money or privilege to opt out of the public school system organized around top-down teaching and desk-sitting discipline. (Oh, another chapter that was very powerful was the one on German schools and Nazism and the Holocaust; U.S. public schools still do not know how to teach indigenous genocide or slavery--and teaching them badly or partially is in many cases just as bad as not teaching about these episodes in our past at all. And the emphasis is not on collective national responsibility, as it seems to be in Germany.) So it was disheartening to think that we seem to be moving further away from having a thriving school system that incorporates play, nature, and independence into education. Not to mention having subsidized pre-K child care and subsidized university education, which would also do so much to narrow the gap of inequality, as Zaske points out here. Part and parcel of our country's fetishization of the stay-at-home mom as the whole source of a child's nurturance is our neoliberal sense that each family is responsible for ensuring the child's development, never mind the financial and logistical barriers. In her chapter on limiting or eliminating homework, Zaske points out that for children in low-income families where the care-giving adults also have limited education, homework only accelerates frustration and confusion. If kids didn't understand in the classroom, homework basically prescribes a tutorial with the parents, which requires that the parents have the time, the knowledge, etc. Given my feelings of pessimism about the U.S. educational system trajectory, I was encouraged that, even though Zaske does pitch her book to the individual parent who might want to change his or her attitude about parenting (which is the classic neoliberal solution to a structural problem--fix your attitude!), she also recognizes that the problems run deeper and can only have political and collective solutions, so she recommends organizations you can join and also speaking up on the local level. When she returns to the U.S. and her daughter Sophia is hopelessly bored in school, Zaske starts on this path, and though she admits that a good bit of that PTA advocacy falls on deaf ears, this recourse to organizations and governance avoids indulging the fantasy that one parent could embrace this "German art" without broader cultural change.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I think that this book is a rift on the "Europeans do it so much better" ala fika and hygge and everything Scandinavian, Finnish schools being better and Danish Parenting, etc. etc. Did I learn anything from the book? Not really ... I was raised to be self-reliant and not to turn to an anxious mummy who is wondering if her friends are judging her for how she raised her kids. This book feeds into the horrifying aspect of MOMMY SHAMING that is so evidenced in social media --- even celebrities get I think that this book is a rift on the "Europeans do it so much better" ala fika and hygge and everything Scandinavian, Finnish schools being better and Danish Parenting, etc. etc. Did I learn anything from the book? Not really ... I was raised to be self-reliant and not to turn to an anxious mummy who is wondering if her friends are judging her for how she raised her kids. This book feeds into the horrifying aspect of MOMMY SHAMING that is so evidenced in social media --- even celebrities get Mommy Shamed! Will you learn something from this book? Maybe .. but I would not really, in my honest opinion, recommend this book as you won't really learn anything new and usable until YOU turn off your anxiety and not worry about feeling bad about how you raise YOUR kid. Work on that and then maybe read this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Roslyn

    This book was okay, not nearly as good as Bringing Up Bebe, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the Swedish parenting one, or the Amish parenting one. The essential difference between the books in this genre that are great and the ones that suck is the preaching and the science. Parenting anthropology is awesome. I love it. I want to hear about things Germans do differently! I don't want to hear the science that backs it up and makes their way of doing it "right." I don't want to be preached at. An This book was okay, not nearly as good as Bringing Up Bebe, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the Swedish parenting one, or the Amish parenting one. The essential difference between the books in this genre that are great and the ones that suck is the preaching and the science. Parenting anthropology is awesome. I love it. I want to hear about things Germans do differently! I don't want to hear the science that backs it up and makes their way of doing it "right." I don't want to be preached at. And I especially don't want politics. And on her politics: I will never understand why the narrative of slavery means: "White people are bad." (Yes, she goes on and on about this.) I don't understand why the narrative doesn't go instead: "In the history of the world, humans always enslaved other humans, but then, in the 1800's, something AMAZING happened. One race decided that it was not okay. And then something happened that had never happened before -- that race fought one another -- white people fought their own families, killed their own cousins, their brothers ... for black people. White people killed other white people for the freedom of black people!!! That is the most incredible and strange thing to have happened! It's unheard of! And definitely not evolutionarily sound -- very bad idea DNA-wise. White people are a total anomaly!!! How amazing and awesome! And today, white people STILL don't enslave anyone! But if you google "slavery today" you will see that it is still practiced by all other races. Slavery still exists in every country in the world except the white majority (but not for long) ones. White people are amazing!!!!" That should be the narrative about slavery. And instead it's somehow that white people are bad. This makes zero sense. Likewise I don't get the WW2 endless apologetics and Germans Are Bad. WW2 happened because an entire country of people went bad. They're just bad bad bad and no one did anything to make them bad. What's the saying? "It takes two to Tango." Wars don't start in a vacuum. A country of people doesn't "go bad." I haven't studied ww2 yet, but I will soon, and I am pretty sure that what I won't find is a random evil bully and a totally innocent victim. Or bullies and victims at all. Wars are about power, wealth, and survival. For the people at the top, they’re just business. The bully and victim stories are told to people at the bottom to get them to play along, not because they are actually true. So I would say skip this book and read the Swedish parenting one — very similar differences to the German parenting one but (a little) less political.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    I am not a parent so you wouldn't think I am the audience for this book but it was utterly fascinating. Sara and her husband moved to Germany for his work, along with their baby. It takes them a while to get settled in. but once they do, everyone starts asking Sara when they're going to enroll their toddler in preschool/daycare. Sara is confused as she's not working so she had assumed that she was taking care of their daughter, especially since a mother is the best and most important person in h I am not a parent so you wouldn't think I am the audience for this book but it was utterly fascinating. Sara and her husband moved to Germany for his work, along with their baby. It takes them a while to get settled in. but once they do, everyone starts asking Sara when they're going to enroll their toddler in preschool/daycare. Sara is confused as she's not working so she had assumed that she was taking care of their daughter, especially since a mother is the best and most important person in her world and in the best position to provide her with everything she needs, right? Right? Well, that's certainly not the assumption in Berlin. Instead, it is assumed that the child will learn from her peers and learn how to navigate social settings, along with a lot of other benefits, and it's kind of crazy not to send your child to school. So, Sara realizes she can pursue her long-delayed dream of being a writer and send her daughter to daycare, only to discover she's pregnant again. So now she gets to navigate the German system from scratch, learning about how your register at the hospital ahead of time, even for a home birth, so if things go awry and you end up at the hospital, you aren't trying to fill out mounds of paperwork while in active labor. She meets her midwives, and the one for after the birth is especially helpful in showing Sara how, by not saying no to her son at all to anything during the day, she was in part creating the situation where he screamed all night. It's not Ferberizing, but it also isn't attachment parenting at all. Which makes sense, in a country where people park their strollers with kids in them outside a restaurant or coffee shop before they go inside to eat and see friends. And that's not the only baffling thing Sara experiences in the five years of raising her kids there. in kindergarten children do these long, complicated projects where they have to not only learn about a topic they pick out, but figure out what they're going to learn, and where they're going to get the information from. She's confused that one of the topics to be mastered in grade school is "traffic and mobility" until she discovers that, by third grade, her daughter is the only one in her class whose parent is still walking her to school. All the rest walk or bike themselves to school, crossing busy streets, some of them going further than a mile. Then she gets a permission slip asking if it's okay for her daughter to use matches at school in a section about fire. That's after the section they've already done on knives. Obviously, Germans value autonomy and independence above all else in school. And while Grammar and math might take a back seat in the first few years (they don't really care if a child hasn't mastered reading by the end of first grade, figuring he/she will learn eventually when they're ready), scores on international testing, the same tests where Americans score abysmally so we add more testing, and our scores get worse, they do pretty well. A big part of this mentality comes from the understandable very strong anti-totalitarianism mentality in Germany. And there are still some residual differences in the former East Germany, where, for example, the rates of day care use are highest, as under communism all women worked. While the book is pitched as a parenting guide for parenting the German way, I instead read it as a memoir of moving to Germany with a young family, with a side of sociology about the educational field. And as someone childless by choice, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read it in just over one day. Couldn't put it down. And couldn't stop talking about it for weeks afterwards, thoroughly annoying all my friends and family.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emre Sevinç

    It's been a while since I've read and reviewed a parenting book, therefore, when my brother's wife recommended a parenting book with a catchy and interesting title, I took note of it. I decided to read "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children" in Germany, during our trip to Schwarzwald (Black Forest), enjoying the perfect weather and scenery, while sipping my drink at the pool, German kids running around me (with a few Swiss, French and British kids added It's been a while since I've read and reviewed a parenting book, therefore, when my brother's wife recommended a parenting book with a catchy and interesting title, I took note of it. I decided to read "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children" in Germany, during our trip to Schwarzwald (Black Forest), enjoying the perfect weather and scenery, while sipping my drink at the pool, German kids running around me (with a few Swiss, French and British kids added to the mix). As a father of a 7-year-old & a 10-month-old living in Belgium, and frequently making trips to Germany and the Netherlands, I found the book more informative on what happened to USA in the recent years, rather than how Germans, particularly Berliners, raised their kids. I found the book not only very readable, but also it provided me with the perfect contrasts between Europe and USA. A striking theme of the book was the irony of the "freedom rhetoric" of USA, and how at the same time children were so much controlled by their parents, coupled with "parent's rights", and not much about children's rights (the Wikipedia article titled "U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child" sheds more light on it). Another striking point was how happy the author, a mother of two children, felt because of the social safety net provided for families, as well as the ability to take 2 weeks of uninterrupted vacations with her family (that she found 'luxurious'). What also drew my attention was how USA was pushing academic achievement, turning it to a kind of crazy race, even before the children started primary school: I learned from the author that "kindergarten is the new first grade" in USA, meaning that younger and younger USA children were expected to master a lot of reading, writing and math skills even before they started the primary school, and there were even 'exams' for some kindergartens. I know firsthand what such pressure does to kids, having been subjected to many exams and put into 'race' at a very early age when I was a kid back in Istanbul. The part about "risk taking" of children can be considered the best part of the book: the author gave many examples about "dangerous" playgrounds of Berlin, and how it helped children of various ages gauge the risks for themselves and learn the take responsibility for their actions and their consequences. What I found revealing was the fact that the safer you made the playground, the more difficulties the children had estimating the risks, leading to overcompensating to have adequate excitement, which, in turn, led to more dangerous actions ironically! I really liked this book, and can recommend it to parents both in Europe and in USA to understand the current trends better. Oh, and I'll always remember this book whenever I shout "pas op!", "wees voorzichtig!", or "dikkatli ol! yavaş!" to my kids. Who knows, maybe I'll even should less, and be more relaxed with those highly energetic kids, entrusting them to the legacy of human evolution a little more.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Hasan

    I am really glad that I read this book after my kids grew up a little (my children are 6 and 8). Some of the things she talks about would have settled poorly with me when my kids were younger. The way she criticizes American parenting, especially Dr. Sears' method of "attachment parenting," would have rubbed me the wrong way back when I was a new mother and wanted to be the very best at everything while martyring myself in the process. Years later, I've chilled out quite a bit. I don't need to d I am really glad that I read this book after my kids grew up a little (my children are 6 and 8). Some of the things she talks about would have settled poorly with me when my kids were younger. The way she criticizes American parenting, especially Dr. Sears' method of "attachment parenting," would have rubbed me the wrong way back when I was a new mother and wanted to be the very best at everything while martyring myself in the process. Years later, I've chilled out quite a bit. I don't need to dote on my kids' every little need, cut, scrape, bump, and bruise. I can let them ride their bikes alone down the street to a friend's. I can send my oldest into the store to buy a gallon of milk with my debit card. I don't get into the whole "parenting style" thing anymore. I do what seems logical and what works best for me and my family. What I tend to do naturally, however, is what Zaske has termed "German parenting," (or, at least, Berliner parenting) so it was interesting to see a label put to something I was already doing. Seeing it applied in a broader, social context was really interesting as well. I typically feel that I parent much differently than my American friends and acquaintances, so I was not able to imagine what it would look like if I lived in a place where everyone parented like me. Overall, really insightful book with lots of food for thought.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was a fascinating look at both the German family dynamic and Germany as a country. There are definitely things I agree with and would like to implement, some of which I unfortunately can't due just to location or living in the states. But a lot of good information and things to keep in mind. It reminded me of Sarah Moss memoir Names for the Sea but with more of a focus on the raising of children, if you liked that one you may enjoy this one.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    This is an interesting, well-written book about an American family who spent 6 yrs in Germany and what Sara and her family learned about raising kids in a letting-go way. To raise responsible, self reliant kids, German parents let them do things like: walk to school by themselves, go to the store and park by themselves, go on the subway by themselves, ride bikes by themselves. AS soon as the kids are asking to do something and the parents feel it will help them function better in their world, th This is an interesting, well-written book about an American family who spent 6 yrs in Germany and what Sara and her family learned about raising kids in a letting-go way. To raise responsible, self reliant kids, German parents let them do things like: walk to school by themselves, go to the store and park by themselves, go on the subway by themselves, ride bikes by themselves. AS soon as the kids are asking to do something and the parents feel it will help them function better in their world, they hold their breath and say 'yes'. Not everyone; the helicopter parent is also alive in Germany but the laws and attitudes of the majority make sure that children keep those rights. Reminds me of when i was growing up. WE could ride our bikes anywhere, go for a 15 minute walk to the candy store, walk to the library if we wanted to go. Now kids can barely sneeze without being checked for the flu. This was a lot easier when we lived in the city. Tom would come to us and say what he felt like he should be allowed to do and we would talk about it. I would watch him to see if he was actually following the rules of the road and of biking and if he was, increase his boundry-lines. Somewhere along the line he was allowed to go to the park down the street as long as he was with a friend or 2. Unfortunately in the hilly countryside at the edge of North Bay, it's a bit harder to 'let' my daughter have the same freedom as it's hard for a kid to learn how to ride a bike and practise on the road we live on. So biking is done as a father-daughter activity where they drive to the city and then bike around. Hopefully this summer she'll be confident enough to ride around on our street. (She learned how to ride a bike just last year, thanks to our busy, hilly street and the fact that we were doing ocd therapy when she was little and that took up our energy and time). We had tried it a few times with Tom's old kiddie - bike, but she was too scared, so we gave up. It wasn't that important compared to therapy and dancing. I like the values in this book and hope i'll remember. Kat is almost 12 now, so the 11 yr old age-restrictions are behind us. I worried when i left my 10 yr old in the car with the doors locked and a book, more about what other adults would say, than if she were going to get kidnapped. As an only child (she's 14 yrs younger than her brother) she's very responsible and adult about many things. I and my dh just need to not be afraid of what others think, trust ourselves and how well we know our daughter and slowly let her go. I was always a proponent of stay-at-home mothering if i could but when my son was a child I worked part-time as a substitute teacher, so Tom went to different child care arrangement. He liked going to after-school care at his first school, and they let me pay by the day, so sometime's i'd let him go there just to play with his friends. According to Zaske, this is good for kids. IN Germany most kids go to day cares after their long parental leaves are over. These are play based day cares. The way she described them make me rethink my 'mommy is best' beliefs. Katrina started day care at 14 months b/c my ocd was so bad, i wanted her to learn what it was like to be around normal people! Foretunately we were able to get 2-days-a -week care b/c of my illness while my dh was back at school. Later when he was working we just paid it ourselves until she was old enuf for pre-k. In Germany however, the preschool teachers are all educated. It's not a minimum wage job. The teachers find out what the children want to learn and then provide them with time, materials etc to do the learning. This even includes how to use matches, knives and other tools! They believe kids need to learn how to be comfortable in their environment instead of just to be safe. Learning how to use the tools is more empowering and safe than being told just to stay away from them.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    Like so many things in life, I think my own expectations really hamstrung my experience. I expected to enjoy this book because I like reading about cross-cultural experiences and non traditional/alternative education practices. And sure, this book has those in spades, along with some good anecdotes about the foibles of getting settled in a new country. Unfortunately this book also has a strident, preachy tone that really grated on my nerves. So often I found myself frustrated because while I agr Like so many things in life, I think my own expectations really hamstrung my experience. I expected to enjoy this book because I like reading about cross-cultural experiences and non traditional/alternative education practices. And sure, this book has those in spades, along with some good anecdotes about the foibles of getting settled in a new country. Unfortunately this book also has a strident, preachy tone that really grated on my nerves. So often I found myself frustrated because while I agreed with some of what she was advocating for, I bristled at her tone or attitude, ESPECIALLY when she would end by saying if American parents would just "start a movement" we could change American culture to be more German. How can someone be that naive and condescending at the same time? Likewise, I felt personally snubbed that in her soap box rant about working women and motherhood, she had no room for someone like me who has given up a career willingly in order to give my kids the kind of "German" childhood she so admires. Which reminds me: Sara, if you're reading this, there's no need for you to fight the public school system at every step for the next decade or more. If you really want your kids to have a play based, minimally supervised, interest-led, project-based education then homeschool! Most disturbing of all, I also felt rebuffed because fundamentally, I want my children to be firmly bonded to me and would be happiest if they would adopt most of my values (while admitting that they will definitely differentiate from me as adults in some areas. That's definitely ok, even great, but it's not my GOAL for them to differentiate at 6 or 7). She shrugged this off and had nothing but praise for the systematic de-coupling of children from parents in Germany. To conclude, then, I appreciated some aspects of the message, but the messenger definitely got in the way for me. I wish there had been more humility and more critical thinking instead of just lateral praise.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I really appreciate how the author balanced her personal experiences with interviews and extensive research from both German and U.S. sources. I majored in German, lived in Germany, have worked for many years with Germans, and am married to one. There is so much about the German culture and language that feels like home to me, including how children are raised there. But without having been raised there myself I feel like I didn’t fully understand WHY Germans parent the way they do. My husband d I really appreciate how the author balanced her personal experiences with interviews and extensive research from both German and U.S. sources. I majored in German, lived in Germany, have worked for many years with Germans, and am married to one. There is so much about the German culture and language that feels like home to me, including how children are raised there. But without having been raised there myself I feel like I didn’t fully understand WHY Germans parent the way they do. My husband does it naturally, of course, but I needed more information and Zaske’s book delivers completely. After reading this book I have started challenging myself to let my young daughter decide for herself what risks she’s ready to take and I encourage her to do much more on her own, supporting her as needed, but directing so much less. I feel less responsible for my child’s happiness and more capable of helping her become resilient and self-reliant. I highly recommend this book if you feel stifled by the expectations American culture increasingly puts upon parents and children, and/or if you suspect there’s another way to parent that might resonate more with you and your values.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mainon

    One of my favorite pregnancy/childrearing books so far. The general premise is that German parents in many ways raise their children to be more self-reliant -- they walk to school alone at an early age, do lots of things unsupervised, have more dangerous playgrounds, etc. The theory, as Zaske puts it, is that this teaches kids to self-motivate and manage risk better and earlier, so they're generally better prepared to, well, start living their own lives successfully. Obviously I'm simplifying th One of my favorite pregnancy/childrearing books so far. The general premise is that German parents in many ways raise their children to be more self-reliant -- they walk to school alone at an early age, do lots of things unsupervised, have more dangerous playgrounds, etc. The theory, as Zaske puts it, is that this teaches kids to self-motivate and manage risk better and earlier, so they're generally better prepared to, well, start living their own lives successfully. Obviously I'm simplifying things (as is Zaske) but the fundamental concept seems right to me. Helicopter parenting is a great way to make sure your children rely on you to make their decisions, provide their motivation, and manage their interests. This gave me lots to think about it terms of what kind of parent I want to be -- and what kind of child I want to raise, even if it's scary to yield control.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I was excited about this books debut. I enjoy reading books about various parenting techniques. I pick and chose what works for our family. Achtung Baby started out interesting as the author compared and contrasted various parenting methods and observations from her experiences as a parent in USA and Germany. As the book went on I felt like author was defending the choices she has made as a parent that she feels guilty about. Ultimately left me disappointed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    Another book along the lines of its French counterpart Bringing Up Bebe. The premise of both books is that Americans have a lot to learn about raising happy, healthy, independent children. While Zaske acknowledges that parenting practices can vary a lot in Germany, there are still a lot of commonalities that she witnessed in her time living in Berlin. Basically, most Germans practice what we would call "Free-Range Parenting" (otherwise known as "parenting" in many European countries): they let t Another book along the lines of its French counterpart Bringing Up Bebe. The premise of both books is that Americans have a lot to learn about raising happy, healthy, independent children. While Zaske acknowledges that parenting practices can vary a lot in Germany, there are still a lot of commonalities that she witnessed in her time living in Berlin. Basically, most Germans practice what we would call "Free-Range Parenting" (otherwise known as "parenting" in many European countries): they let their children walk to school alone at a young age, give their children the freedom to play without always hovering over them, and introduce scary topics and practices (like sex ed, drinking, and fire) with the idea that if children and teens learn how to handle these things safely, they will be less likely to engage in risky/dangerous behaviors when they are older. She also delves into the cultural and educational history of Germany, highlighting how Germans truly own the atrocities of their past, and how they have learned from their mistakes and therefore have gone on to make real changes in their attitudes and beliefs. I didn't agree with all the ideas though - in particular, I wasn't a fan of the way Zaske handled literacy. At one point, she interview a psychologist, who says "German middle-class parents will often engage their babies in dialogue as if they can talk back, even though they can't possibly answer. She also told me that American mothers in one study took this even further and read books to three-month old babies, who cannot possibly follow along, in a belief that it will help them learn later." Later Zaske mentions how there is no push to teach children to read until they are developmentally ready, which they believe in Germany is around 7-8 years old. After being initially offended by this, I read some studies that confirmed that if children are pushed to learn to read at a very young age, they will often come to dislike reading because it is "work." But I fear that people who read this will misunderstand the meaning to be "don't read to/with your child." While I completely disagree with her first statement - reading to your young infant is a wonderful way to bond, it lets them hear the sound of your voice, and yes, it does introduce the foundations of literacy and language (and as a librarian I must 100 PERCENT ENCOURAGE THIS), I can see why "teaching" your child to read at 4 years old through flash cards, repetition, and for-profit programs is counterintuitive. (But seriously, please, don't stop reading to your child and making books a fun and essential part of their lives.) This also echos how Germans feel about education in general: while in America pre-school and kindergarten have become academic classes, in Germany they take a more play-based approach for the first few years of school and let kids learn about subjects of their own choosing. Germany's parenting philosophies sound like the way I would like to raise my child, but I can see how many American parents (myself included, an only child with a sheltered childhood, raising an only child with some special medical and developmental needs) are reluctant to let their children have this type of freedom. We are living in a culture of fear, and while I used to scoff at the memory of my mother letting me walk "alone" to school in 6th grade (just a few blocks away) and then following behind me in the car, I can now understand how hard it must have been for her to let go. It doesn't help that, as Zaske points out many times, American laws prevent us from being too free-range (she points out famous cases of parents who were arrested for making seemingly minor decisions about leaving their school-aged children alone). As my son is growing up, I think I will need constant reminders to give him the freedom to make his own choices and be his own person, so this may be a book I end up purchasing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amy Owens

    It’s not often that non-fiction keeps my attention for long, but I could not put this book down. I enjoy reading things that challenge cultural norms, and this book did so from page one. I am a homeschooling mom of four boys, so this book resonated with me deeply, especially since I am currently not participating in the US public school system. That being said, there were many things in this book I did not “agree” with, but loved reading about it nonetheless. My biggest takeaway, and perhaps the It’s not often that non-fiction keeps my attention for long, but I could not put this book down. I enjoy reading things that challenge cultural norms, and this book did so from page one. I am a homeschooling mom of four boys, so this book resonated with me deeply, especially since I am currently not participating in the US public school system. That being said, there were many things in this book I did not “agree” with, but loved reading about it nonetheless. My biggest takeaway, and perhaps the ultimate premise of the book, is that in the US we parent from a culture of fear (or CONTROL as the author puts it) and we need to let our kids experience freedom to learn to be responsible and independent. I will definitely be changing some things in my parenting as a result of this book. I recommend it highly to all American parents!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I keep reading these parenting-in-other-countries books expecting to come out with insights beyond "It SUCKS to raise a child in America." While I did find some other parts of the book interesting, it's just so infuriating to read about a society that's figured out how to offer reasonable solutions for daycare that it's all I can think about afterwards. I honestly can't believe Sara Zaske and her husband chose to move to the Bay Area after spending so much time raising their children in Berlin. A I keep reading these parenting-in-other-countries books expecting to come out with insights beyond "It SUCKS to raise a child in America." While I did find some other parts of the book interesting, it's just so infuriating to read about a society that's figured out how to offer reasonable solutions for daycare that it's all I can think about afterwards. I honestly can't believe Sara Zaske and her husband chose to move to the Bay Area after spending so much time raising their children in Berlin. Achtung Baby covers almost the entirety of parenting, from giving birth to dealing with the teenage years. Zaske is clearly very enamored with the German style of parenting (even though she continually mentions how uncomfortable she is with it at first), so it's hard to get a real sense of how accurate any of this is. Her topics are really broad, too, because she covers so much of a child's life and attempts to segment everything out into themes—for example, there's a chapter on how Germans teach the Holocaust, compared to how American schools choose to teach the more unsavory parts of our history. And her oldest is only in second grade when she moves back to the States, so the later chapters are based on talking to other German parents rather than lived experiences. All of that swirled together means this book is fine. It's probably not required reading for anyone, unless you're as tickled by the names of German parenting books as I am (Jedes Kind Kann Schlafen Lernen!). Some takeaways: * Parental leave and benefits are infuriatingly good, of course. All German women receive fully paid prenatal and postnatal care (including regular visits from their midwife postpartum) regardless of citizenship status. There are no out-of-pocket costs. The mothers also control their own health records and receive regular kindergeld money from the government to help with the cost of children. Both parents can take up to three years of partially paid leave and still return to their jobs. * Every German child from ages one to six is guaranteed a spot at a child-care center. In the book, Zaske pays about $112 per month for daycare (!!). The daycares are generally play-based, and even early elementary school focuses more on social interaction than on academics. German parents put their children into daycare young because they believe it's better for the children to socialize outside their age groups and to build relationships with other adults. Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. * Children are encouraged to develop independence and self-reliance early. They start biking or walking to school on their own, through Berlin, by first grade, because the schools teach the children how to navigate the city. They play on their own in parks and work out disagreements amongst themselves. Parents avoid telling kids to "stop" or "be careful" because they learn their limits over time. * Topics such as sex education, nudity, and death are covered as early as elementary school. No parent in Germany avoids the Holocaust (you can't in Berlin, because of the markers all over the city). * Play is emphasized in early childhood daycare and school and involves the children learning to entertain themselves, particularly outside. (There is no bad weather, only bad clothing!) Because German parents are less worried about constant supervision, their children can and do go outside more frequently than American children.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jerzy

    Raises a lot of important questions to consider with my wife as we parent our own kids. I think we'd both like to encourage more independence and resilience, and that's difficult to do in the relatively overprotective bubble of American parenting standards around us, so it's worth seeing some alternatives in Germany. Much of the life they describe in Berlin is one I'd like for my own kids: a culture where it's the norm for kids to walk to school and playgrounds on their own, and where kids are ex Raises a lot of important questions to consider with my wife as we parent our own kids. I think we'd both like to encourage more independence and resilience, and that's difficult to do in the relatively overprotective bubble of American parenting standards around us, so it's worth seeing some alternatives in Germany. Much of the life they describe in Berlin is one I'd like for my own kids: a culture where it's the norm for kids to walk to school and playgrounds on their own, and where kids are expected to make friends on their own instead of "controlled access" through parent-arranged playdates. We are lucky to live in a fairly independent-kids part of Pittsburgh right now, but I have no idea what it'll be like after our upcoming move to a new town. My favorite suggestion was about fire and blades: If kids are going to be fascinated by these things anyway, let's give them a safe place to practice playing with them. Have them light a hundred matches, one after another, when they are still quite young. Do it until the novelty wears off (so they don't hide in a corner to play with matches on their own), and until they are well practiced (so they don't light the house on fire on their own), and make it clear this is something OK to talk about with parents (so they don't pretend it never happened if they *do* start a fire by mistake). Same with knives: give early supervised deliberate practice using sharp knives in the kitchen, to give them that independence and those knife skills before they injure themselves trying to do it alone. Of course... if you agree with this plan for matches and knives, it's hard not to apply the same argument to sex. If my kids are going to mess around at younger ages than I'd like, at the very least I'd like them to feel comfortable talking to me about it and doing it in a safe environment. Apparently (some) German parents (reluctantly) encourage kids to bring their boyfriends/girlfriends home, do it under their own roof, bring the partner to breakfast the next morning, etc.---it's awkward but at least they're not stuck somewhere far from home if things don't go well, I guess. Sounds reasonable, but I'm sure it's hard to strike the right balance as a parent. Thankfully I have a lot of time left to decide how to approach it before my kids are anywhere near the appropriate age. Other highlights: * p.52: One approach to tantrums (which are currently hitting my son pretty hard): "set loving boundaries for your baby as he gets older... I was not to comfort him during his tantrum, but only afterward when he had calmed down. Then I could hug him and even praise him for getting his emotions under control, but the no still stood." * p.73-4: "We Americans are notorious for wanting to hurry our children's development... Is it a good thing...? The child expert Remo Largo has a favorite proverb... 'The grass doesn't grow faster if you pull it.'" * p.82: "We can find opportunities to engage our children's curiosity by having them do projects of their own choosing at home. It is a great activity for vacations. My kids love doing projects to this day. They pick the topic and decide the ways they are going to find the information, such as going to the library, asking experts, or maybe taking a trip to a special place like a museum or zoo. ... For better self-discipline and self-control, we can involve children in making the rules of the house---and win an easier road to better behavior that way." * p.90: I didn't know that homeschooling is illegal in Germany. I like the rationale: "Schools represented society, and it was in the children's interests to become part of that society. The parents' right to provide education did not go so far as to deprive their children of that experience." * p.110: "toy-free time"---For three months, they [daycare/preschool teachers] took away all the toys... It is meant to be temporary. The teachers remove the toys for a short period of time and do not tell the children what to play instead... Taking away these external cues for play forces the children to rely on their own internal creativity and on each other. ...send the kids outside more. It fit with the traditional value of getting fresh air every day while still falling within the limits of the toy-free program---nature had no ready-made toys." * p.112: "Toy-free time at our kita now seemed a bit like waldkitas, day-care centers that are literally located in forests and whose curriculum is focused on natural exploration." Then there's a nice few pages about how the author's son Ozzie has been at loose ends playing alone inside the house, but when his class starts spending more time outside and on forest walks, he becomes quietly focused on the outdoors and really engaged in watching bugs, gathering acorns or rocks, etc. I'd like to give my own kids more time like this, never mind that it may be cold out or they might come back in all muddy. * p.132: More on that fire-training for kindergarteners, which is called Fascination Fire: "By the end of the workshop, Karawahn has his young charges making their own mini campfires outside and attempting to cook sausages on them. This activity quickly teaches children that making a fire is a social activity, that they need to pair up so one can feed the fire to keep it going while the other one cooks food over it... Although it might seem counterintuitive that insurance agencies would back such an approach, Karawahn says it directly addresses a pattern with fire accidents and young children. Our natural fascination with fire can be so strong that prohibiting children from using it just means they will do it in secret, for example, by lighting matches in their bedroom with the door closed while their parents are busy with something else... In the most tragic cases, instead of calling out for help, young children who've been strictly told never to play with matches are so afraid of getting into trouble, they hide. By the time adults discover the fire, the children can die from lack of oxygen or smoke inhalation." * p.136: "Real adventures do not have to be spectacular... They have to involve independent initiative, responsibility for oneself, the potential for failure, and the willingness to accept any possible consequences." This is from a section on "adventure playgrounds" and other intentional opportunities for children to engage in risky play, with the idea that they'll learn to identify and manage those risks themselves instead of relying on parents to step in all the time or only playing in sanitized "safe" playgrounds. * p.140: "Warwitz says that children's 'fear acts as a natural brake.' The really dangerous situations happen when something interferes with that normal instinct; for instance, when other people, such as older kids or adults, pressure children to try something they aren't ready for... this damaging outside pressure often comes from the parents themselves when it comes to organized team sports. Hyman wrote about the phenomenon in his book Until It Hurts: America's Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids, showing that the pressure to win from coaches and parents cheering on the sidelines can cause children and teens to play past the point of pain to injury." Another reason I'm not a fan of America's obsession with signing your kids up for organized team sports. * p.144: Apparently kids are taught in school about the facts of sex pretty early, around age seven. The book mentioned here was Mummy Laid An Egg!. * p.151: It's also worth talking about death early on. "This doesn't mean that parents should sit down with their toddler and have a 'death talk'; Student advises that parents should respond to children's questions about death with 'What do you think?' and let the child's own beliefs stand. They should only correct them if they have destructive ideas." * p.159: Discussing Germany's approach to teaching students about its WWII past, there's a mention of American high school teacher Ron Jones's social experiment, which he wrote about in "The Third Wave"... "that challenges the notion that the rise of Nazi-like authoritarianism could never happen in today's Germany." * p.161: Also perhaps worth reading: two sides of the debate about how the Nazis could have come to power. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland "put forth the idea that when regular people are placed in a certain setting, they will generally follow the orders of the designated authority." Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust "contends that it was not that they were ordinary people, but that they were German and part of a long history and toxic culture that hated Jews." * p.168: "...it's essential to tell young Germans that 'while you have no guilt, you must have a view. You must know what happened, and you have a responsibility to make sure this doesn't happen again.'" I teach statistics, not history, but even there I'd like to do a better job of teaching our future statisticians and data scientists responsibility and reminding them of the historical problems that have been associated with misuse of data or inference. * p.170: "I see now that if I claim to be American, I need also to claim all the things the United States has done wrong, even before my time. I need to say, 'I'm American. It's partly my fault. It's part of me.' My ancestors and I have benefited from stolen land, forced labor, and a number of historic crimes. As many Germans know, only when we accept this responsibility can we start to move forward to make changes for the better. Even more difficult, I have to talk to my children about these things, and about their responsibility as Americans."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    What a terrific book! I loved this. It is more comprehensive in scope than Bringing Up Bebe, and I think the "tough subjects" chapter alone brings it to a higher level. For some reason, I think it's a nice complement to All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. We are all happier when our society supports self-reliant kids.

  21. 5 out of 5

    nukie19

    I appreciated Zaske's stories about raising her children in Berlin and think she had some great points about how American parents aren't great at giving their children freedoms. I do think she misses the point in a few places, though. For instance, letting children move around neighborhoods on their own - I would struggle to allow my daughter to cross the street behind our house not because I don't think she is responsible, but because drivers here are not used to seeing children out alone and t I appreciated Zaske's stories about raising her children in Berlin and think she had some great points about how American parents aren't great at giving their children freedoms. I do think she misses the point in a few places, though. For instance, letting children move around neighborhoods on their own - I would struggle to allow my daughter to cross the street behind our house not because I don't think she is responsible, but because drivers here are not used to seeing children out alone and therefore do not allow them the space or safety net to be in those spaces. I will continue to try and give my daughter freedoms and will use the stories from this book as a guide, but I don't think without major cultural changes that it is even possible to parent in most of the US the way Zaske saw in Berlin.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mythili

    Some of the anthropology-light annoyed me, and the general idea-- that American parents need to stop coddling their kids so much-- is a familiar one, but there's a lot of sensible stuff here and no shortage of concrete examples of how different cultural norms bring out different qualities in kids. Also, her kids' daycare/preschool sounds fantastic. I liked that near the end of the book Zaske took some time to think about how intimately parenting is connected to society-building (and the many for Some of the anthropology-light annoyed me, and the general idea-- that American parents need to stop coddling their kids so much-- is a familiar one, but there's a lot of sensible stuff here and no shortage of concrete examples of how different cultural norms bring out different qualities in kids. Also, her kids' daycare/preschool sounds fantastic. I liked that near the end of the book Zaske took some time to think about how intimately parenting is connected to society-building (and the many forms that work takes).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alieda

    Thought provoking

  24. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Achtung Baby is part travel-log and part cultural-comparison. It follows the author's family as they move from California to Germany and start raising their kids there. Each chapter is a different phase in her kids' development. Her second kid was born in Germany, so she goes over what it's like to be pregenant and give birth there. The book then follows her two kids through infancy, preschool (Kita), and elementary school. While her family moved back to the US before her kids could get past ele Achtung Baby is part travel-log and part cultural-comparison. It follows the author's family as they move from California to Germany and start raising their kids there. Each chapter is a different phase in her kids' development. Her second kid was born in Germany, so she goes over what it's like to be pregenant and give birth there. The book then follows her two kids through infancy, preschool (Kita), and elementary school. While her family moved back to the US before her kids could get past elementary school, she also covers what its like for adolescents and teens in Germany. The last chapter covers her return to the states, and the culture shock that she and her kids experienced. The chapters all have a very similar structure. They begin with a story about the author's experience in Germany, then move to an in-depth exploration of how the chapter's topic is handled in Germany. The author sometimes interviews experts (both German and not), and often quotes various academic studies. The book isn't dry though, and the academic data really does add to understanding. Each chapter finishes with explicit recommendations to parents living in America. These recommendations aren't very prescriptive; they're more suggestions for what to do if you want to raise kids more in the German model (emphasis on if). One of the major themes of the book is that Germany is the true land of freedom and equality when it comes to raising kids. There's been a recent push in the US against overly invasive and protective parenting, but that push is working against 30 years of Americans treating their kids like they're incapable of handling any freedom. In Germany, parenting culture actively encourages kids to take reasoned risks. Germans learn to handle freedom from a young age.. German parents let their kids take a more active role in their own growth, and give their children more space to explore (even when it's scary for the parents). One of the things I was struck by is how much German parents seem to have the same feelings of worry as Americans, they just respond to it differently. In the chapter on elementary school, the author describes how almost all German elementary schoolers (past second grade) walk to school without supervision. They even ride buses and subways without supervision, and play in the park without parental oversight. German parents are quoted in the book as saying that of course they worry, but they want their kids to learn responsibility and self-reliance. Many of the admirable qualities of German parenting are primarily cultural. Parents just have a different idea of how kids develop best. The main cultural difference seems to be that Germans think kids learn responsibility by being given slowly increasing amounts of freedom to explore. Americans seem to think that kids learn responsibility by being told exactly what to do, like you might program a computer to be responsible. In many ways, parenting in this way seems like something that a parent could do anywhere (though maybe less easily without the social support). Other parts of German parenting are enshrined in law. Kids in Germany are legally protected from corporal punishment of any form (including from parents). Home-schooling is illegal there. And kids have a legal right to learn about various controversial topics (like religion or sex). Not only that, preschools are heavily subsidized in Germany and preschool teachers are a highly credentialed job. These aren't things that you can just decide unilaterally to do when raising your kids, and they make raising kids in the German way more difficult if you don't live in Germany. Honestly, this book made me want to move to Germany to raise my own kids. I loved the way that Germans treat kids with respect, encourage curiosity, and emphasize freedom and growth (instead of trying to program their kids). That said, I was left wondering how much of this is German-wide, instead of just present in Berlin (where the author lived when researching this book).

  25. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    At least half a dozen times during my reading of this book, I turned to the front cover to make sure I had read the subtitle correctly. Surely it was "One American Mother's Experience Raising Her Kids in Berlin," right? But, no. Although it is obvious this is about all Zaske really has qualification to write about, she tries to make this a sweeping commentary on German parenting. True, she makes plenty of disclaimers and tries to build up her case of why her time in Berlin is representative enou At least half a dozen times during my reading of this book, I turned to the front cover to make sure I had read the subtitle correctly. Surely it was "One American Mother's Experience Raising Her Kids in Berlin," right? But, no. Although it is obvious this is about all Zaske really has qualification to write about, she tries to make this a sweeping commentary on German parenting. True, she makes plenty of disclaimers and tries to build up her case of why her time in Berlin is representative enough to make such broad judgments, but the book would have been better if she had been more honest and less ambitious. A few of the practices Zaske observes might really be cultural differences between Americans and Germans. It does seem the hyper-vigilance of American parenting is not so extreme in Germany, by and large. However, many of her conclusions about schooling seem dubious. She mentions the many types of elementary schooling options within the German system, but she tries to generalize from her children's experience in a Montessori-style classroom. Well, obviously, you will find typical American schooling different from that. It was really toward the end of the book that my interest turned from mild to antagonistic. Rather than suggesting to American parents simple things they can do to make their children more self-reliant, she focuses on advocating for government policy changes or writing and demanding changes within children's schools. Ultimately, too, this struck me as another book written by a well-to-do American whose views of "American" parenting are skewed toward the norms of the upper classes. And when she ultimately concludes that Americans need to guarantee their children more rights, as the Germans do, I could only roll my eyes. American children may suffer from many problems, but authoritarian parents limiting their personal rights is hardly top of the list.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shauna

    Really fascinating look at the correlation, although not set up in a study, between a lack of independence / self-sufficiency and anxiety. Germany has at least a 10% lower rate of anxiety than America, & I find it difficult to believe that helicopter parenting does not add to anxiety. The Germany of today seems like a wonderful place to be a kid - you can ride your bike, you can walk around your neighborhood - basically it sounds like my childhood in the 80's and 90's. It's a shame that kids in Really fascinating look at the correlation, although not set up in a study, between a lack of independence / self-sufficiency and anxiety. Germany has at least a 10% lower rate of anxiety than America, & I find it difficult to believe that helicopter parenting does not add to anxiety. The Germany of today seems like a wonderful place to be a kid - you can ride your bike, you can walk around your neighborhood - basically it sounds like my childhood in the 80's and 90's. It's a shame that kids in America now don't experience this. I hope that this book and others surrounding 'free range parenting' encourage our culture to change - or at least the ever increasing rate of anxiety in children & adults will help us understand that our culture needs to change in response. It makes me so sad that people actually call the police when seeing a child walking a few blocks by themselves. That's not freedom for anyone. America lets all kinds of people have freedom - homeschooling parents, people will all kinds of religious beliefs, etc. - but letting your kids walk a couple blocks unsupervised is neglectful? Germany's concept of 'dangerous' / really cool playgrounds is really interesting. I just read that England is also adopting more dangerous playgrounds - maybe if playgrounds & playing outside were more interesting to kids American kids would actually want to play outside.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    If you have kids or care for kids or teach kids, you need to read this book. In Achtung Baby, Sara Zaske shows us American parents how much we can learn from the Germans. They're outpacing us in virtually every metric -- success, happiness, mental health, physical health, economics. We need to take their lead and let our kids learn by doing, instead of keeping them in bubbles or suburban "safety" where they can't walk to school or choose what to do with their time. "We've created a culture of co If you have kids or care for kids or teach kids, you need to read this book. In Achtung Baby, Sara Zaske shows us American parents how much we can learn from the Germans. They're outpacing us in virtually every metric -- success, happiness, mental health, physical health, economics. We need to take their lead and let our kids learn by doing, instead of keeping them in bubbles or suburban "safety" where they can't walk to school or choose what to do with their time. "We've created a culture of control. In the name of safety and academic achievement, we have stripped kids of fundamental rights and freedoms, the freedom to move, to be alone for even a few minutes, to take risks, to play, to think for themselves." It's time to let kids have their childhood back and, ultimately, to give them a better chance at a successful, happy adulthood. Ironically, it's the supposedly authoritarian Germans who have the most to teach us freedom-loving Americans about giving our kids the room to grow that they need -- by being less controlling.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sam S

    There is, of course, always a danger in essentializing an entire parenting style as uniquely “American” or “German,” because it misses complex regional differences and other forms of diversity. That said, this is my favorite book in this genre so far. Having spent time in the Berlin neighborhood the author lived in, I found her anthropological observations very engaging and accurate. And, the overall idea that children need freedom to grow unfettered by adults, is a great one, whether it is dist There is, of course, always a danger in essentializing an entire parenting style as uniquely “American” or “German,” because it misses complex regional differences and other forms of diversity. That said, this is my favorite book in this genre so far. Having spent time in the Berlin neighborhood the author lived in, I found her anthropological observations very engaging and accurate. And, the overall idea that children need freedom to grow unfettered by adults, is a great one, whether it is distinctly German or not. The more surprising aspects of this book were the author’s writing on how history has shaped the current German parenting style into what it is today. Specially, the 1968 generation’s backlash to the authoritarian, Nazi generation of their past. This framing gave me a new appreciation for the more child-led, freedom-based parenting styles I see in Berlin today. Overall, a really interesting comparative perspective on parenting, education, history, and community.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Annie Johnson

    This was a fast and fascinating read. Zaske's perspective on the control-oriented parenting culture in the United States was spot-on (and presented with great fairness), and I saw myself many times in the kinds of behaviors she described as problematic. This book not only made me interrogate my role as a parent, it made me question (not for the first time) how our kids are treated at school every day. In fact, I think this book is as much about education as it is about parenting. And it kind of This was a fast and fascinating read. Zaske's perspective on the control-oriented parenting culture in the United States was spot-on (and presented with great fairness), and I saw myself many times in the kinds of behaviors she described as problematic. This book not only made me interrogate my role as a parent, it made me question (not for the first time) how our kids are treated at school every day. In fact, I think this book is as much about education as it is about parenting. And it kind of makes me want to move to Germany. Read it so we can discuss!!

  30. 4 out of 5

    H

    Obviously you can't completely generalize an entire country, but many great ideas about free-range parenting and raising independent, critical thinkers. I love the idea that children get a lot of socialization out of daycare, because they truly do - I remember the doctor recommending my mom put my younger siblings in daycare a few times a week when we were kids, even though she was a stay-at-home mom.

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