Monday, 28 May 2012

Weaning Your Baby - Are there Cultural Differences?

I've spent the last few weeks up to my eyeballs and in pureed carrots, courgettes, broccoli and sweet potato. Not to mention chicken and fish blended until they are unrecognisable as edible substances. Yep, it's weaning time again. My only consolation is that this will be the last time I will be knee deep in mushed greens.

Baby weaning - are there cultural differences?
Photo: Alfonso Romero
I was talking recently to a Dutch girlfriend on the school playground after we had dropped our kids off at school and I told her that the kitchen and the blender were patiently awaiting my arrival to make batches of chicken casserole for the smallest member of my family. She expressed some surprise at the news,

"You make your own food for weaning?" she asked.
"Yes.... I did it for my two eldest too," I replied.
"You don't just give ready made pots to the baby?" she asked incredulously.

Erm, no. Later when are are out and about with him he'll get jars of food because it's easier. For now though I'd rather make my own stuff for many reasons (and if you want to know what they are: cost; I know what is in it; it's fresh; I can cook in batches....).

I mentioned my exchange on the playground to my husband later and he said giving ready made pots is the Dutch way........

Of course, there is always an element of personal choice when it comes to feeding your baby but it got me thinking. Are there trends and norms where weaning is concerned in different countries? Is is really the Dutch way to give babies jars of food from the outset? Is home made food for babies more popular or the norm is some countries but not others? What types are food are given first in other countries?

The Dutch are keen to get bread into babies as soon as humanly possible, I have noticed that.... but have you weaned a baby whilst living abroad? Was it done differently than in your home country? What advice did you receive locally?

I would love to hear your experiences of weaning overseas - and I am curious to hear from other Dutch mothers what they give/gave their babies as first foods - homemade or ready made?

Monday, 21 May 2012

You Know You're An Expat Parent in the Netherlands When...

Being a parent abroad means facing situations that you probably wouldn't face if you had stayed in the country you were born in. Being an expat parent means adapting...... Here are twenty things that make me realise I'm a Brit parenting in the Netherlands.

  1. You actually consider a home birth as a viable option.
  2. You think you can give birth without the help of pain relief.
  3. The whole idea of a maternity nurse spending a week in your home directly after the birth of your child is inconceivable. You reluctantly commit to her coming a few hours a day (half of your entitlement) but make sure everyone knows you are giving in begrudgingly. When your second is born you sign up for your full entitlement and dream up elaborate ways to get more hours out of your maternity nurse.
  4. When the well-baby clinic recommends your child eats six slices of bread a day you involuntarily take in a sharp breath.
  5. Your three year old speaks Dutch better than you do. 
  6. Your five year old actually corrects you when you speak Dutch.
  7. You are floored by the way your toddler can roll their "r's" and say "Scheveningen".
  8. You're amazed because there is no complicated school enrolment system* for your children. You fill in an application form and the school informs you within a week or two if they have a space for your child or not. You can't believe it can be that simple.
  9. When your child starts school you have no idea how the school system works because it's not the same as the one you grew up in. 
  10. You cannot get to grips with the idea that eating in a pancake house is "going out for dinner" and still see those Dutch pancakes as eating dessert before the main meal.
  11. You stop calling your GP for every minor ailment your kids get because you know the answer will be "Take paracetamol and if he's not okay in three days come back."
  12. There is more paracetamol in your medicine cabinet at any one time than you would conceivably use in a year in your own country. What's more you have paracetamol for every possible age range and for every orifice and  - you're not afraid to use it.
  13. Your kids cycle better and more than you do.
  14. The phrase you use most whilst walking to and around the local playground is "Watch out for the dog poo. I said WATCH OUT! OK, you can clean that when we get home...."
  15. Your children eat sprinkles on bread for breakfast.
  16. Your child brings home a different friend book to fill in on a weekly basis. But of course your child cannot yet write so guess what you spend your weekends doing....
  17. You wouldn't dream of driving to school. Instead, you join the masses and walk or cycle with your child to school.
  18. You have an impressive array of attachments for your bike, including a bike trailer and child seats.
  19. You race to the nearest lake when the temperature drops so that your children can wear their ice skates.
  20. Your child has a tendency to find the idea of poo sandwiches hilarious. 
*except in Amsterdam.....
    11. You don't call the GP....
    Photo: Andrzej Gdula

    What have I missed? What makes you realise you are parenting abroad, which ever country you are parenting in?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Breast is Best - But Put It Away Please!

Breast is best but nearly half of Dutch people
would prefer not to see breastfeeding mothers
near them in public
Photo: Carin Araujo
There has been lots of press coverage in the Netherlands recently about breastfeeding: the lack of acceptance in public places for breastfeeding, the lack of facilities for breastfeeding mothers and so on. If you take a peek in pregnancy and birth forums the topic of how to discreetly breastfeed your baby in public generally comes up. Many women feel uncomfortable doing it outside the home (me included) but it remains a necessity for most unless you choose to become a hermit for months on end. After all, it is a generally accepted message that breastfeeding is the best, healthiest way to feed babies. So shouldn't it be encouraged as much as possible?

I speak from experience when I say that trying to find a warm, dry, quiet place to breastfeed is a challenge in itself - and that whilst a baby is screaming for a feed.... I have ended up in an office in a first aid hut at the Efteling, a changing room in Peek & Cloppenburg, a dark corner at a table in a pancake restaurant, a toilet cubicle and a far flung table in a restaurant in Blijdorp, a woody hill in a French theme park and the front seat of our car at a service station or side of the road more times than I care to mention. The concept of a place to breastfeed a baby seems lost on many places, even if they are geared especially to children......

The only place that springs to mind where breastfeeding mothers are well catered for is Euro Disney in Paris where there is a heated room set aside, with chairs, for those mothers who wish to feed their babies in relative calm and peace. I have noticed that my local H&M in Zoetermeer also has an area for feeding but I have never been inside (I think you have to go and ask for the key). But in general facilities are poor if you want to breastfeed your baby in public areas.

How are breastfeeding facilities where you live? Is breastfeeding in public encouraged or frowned upon?

Monday, 7 May 2012

Brainy Bilinguals

Are you making sure your children
learn at least two languages?
Photo: Mokra
According to a recent headline on, bilingualism is the new crossword puzzle. In short, bilingualism promotes a higher level of concentration and aids memory function. This is the conclusion from research done with groups of teenagers in the United States.

Knowing and using two languages keeps your brain sharp - in the same way that doing crossword puzzles does.

This latest research adds to the already substantial confirmation that bilingualism is good for the brains!! Another reason to make sure your children grow up maintaining your home country language, whilst learning and using the local language too!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

It's Children's TV - But Not As We Know It

I grew up in the age of the Flumps, Fingermouse, Bagpuss and Bod. It was a fantastic era of children's TV. Or so I thought until I showed my eldest son clips on You Tube. He was quite amused by The Flumps, unsure about Bod but quite taken with Fingermouse. I, however, was quite shocked to note, firstly, how dated the programs look (they seem so modern and crisp in my mind's eye) and secondly just how rubbish they seem now. With the exception of Bagpuss of course, who remains fabulous, even if the picture quality isn't.

Anyhow, the main point is that children's programs change over the years. Of course they do. But the difference from country to country is also quite staggering. Take the Netherlands for example. Dutch children's TV is different to much of the programming you would see on CBBC.

There is of course a fair share of kid's TV in the Netherlands which is taken over from the BBC and dubbed. "In the Night Garden" is a good example of this. But many programs are of course Dutch, and unlikely ever to reach British viewers of the BBC.....

Kabouter Plop is one such program - it is such a typically "Low Lands" program (it's actually Belgian but popular in the Netherlands too) but I'm not sure what it is about it that makes it so. Before some bright spark points out they speak Dutch in the program.... that's not the only thing that makes it very Belgian/Dutch.

Photo: Wynand Delport
Children growing up with Dutch TV will also notice that Big Bird from Sesame Street is not yellow like the English speaking version, but in fact blue. He's also not called Big Bird but Pino.... in fact many of the characters are different in the Dutch version.

The other thing I notice is that there is a fascination with poop when it comes to children's entertainment in the Netherlands. Don't ask me why.

So, here's the question... what do your children watch on TV in your host country that they would never see on TV in your birth country? Does kid's television differ wildly between your host and home countries?