- Hardcover: 239 pages
- Publisher: Picador USA (2 January 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250160170
- ISBN-13: 978-1250160171
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.4 x 24 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 99,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children Hardcover – 2 Jan 2018
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"Ideal for parents of young ones...Unlike many parenting books, Zaske's is not judgmental, prescriptive or didactic. For that, American parents may soon be saying Danke and sending Achtung up the [bestseller] charts, too."--USA Today
"In turns exhilarating and devastating to an American parent....We here in the ostensible land of the free could learn a thing or zwei from our friends in Merkel-world. It's breathtaking to rethink so many American parenting assumptions in light of another culture's way of doing things...A great read."--Slate
"Zaske writes about the positive aspects of child-rearing in Germany in a relatable, self-reflective way, noting how she became aware that many of her parenting fears were culturally driven."--The Cut
"Part memoir, part essay on parenting, Zaske's book is furnished with ample statistics and research from Piaget to the origins of kindergarten in the nineteenth century. Zaske is equally perceptive when probing delicate and complicated topics such as the specific cultural menace of the Germans in relation to their history of disastrous nationalism."--Times Literary Supplement
"A compelling cultural study that will interest all those who wish to learn about German culture, as well as American parents and educators."--Library Journal (starred review)
"Supported by statistics and research studies, Zaske makes a strong argument that German parenting practices are creating smarter and more productive parents and children alike."--Publishers Weekly
"An entertaining, informative, and enlightening narrative on the German methods of parenting that will have many in the U.S. reconsidering how they're raising their children."--Kirkus Reviews
"Is it possible that much of what Americans believe about responsible parenthood, child safety, and the peculiar art of concerted cultivation stems not from reason but from blind adherence to custom and convention? With intelligence, humor, and a healthy dose of skepticism, Achtung Baby suggests it does. Contrasting American parenting with the less regimented German model, Zaske details her experience mothering in Germany to present a portrait of German-style parenting that is at once entertaining, surprising, and instructive. With curiosity and insight, she reveals how many of our parenting assumptions stem not from evidence but from insecurity and fear."--Kim Brooks, author of The Houseguest and Small Animals, and editor at Salon.com
"I was completely drawn into this marvelous account of how Zaske learned to trust her children and allow them the freedoms they craved. It is the story of one family and, at the same time, of childrens' and parents' lives in two huge modern nations. I recommend it to all American parents, educators, policymakers, and others concerned with children's lives and the future of our society."--Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn: How Releasing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
"This is a beautiful book. Zaske uses her personal experience raising her children in Berlin to reveal the differences--fundamental and trivial, serious and humorous--between German and American parenting, finding lessons in the ways Germans rear their children from birth to adolescence. Zaske probes our cultural differences and mines the hard data to offer us her pungent observations. Her insights deserve our attention." --Robert LeVine, author of Do Parents Matter?
"If you're wondering where to find happy, normal, un-helicoptered children these days, the answer is: Germany! Zaske looks to a land that trusts its youth, and lays out a smart, sensible path for raising resilient kids."--Lenore Skenazy, founder of the book, blog and movement, Free-Range Kids
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I'm not trying to pick on the author here - German is not an easy language and it takes a lot of time to truly integrate and make German friends, especially in Berlin (since my husband is German, I've had a leg-up on this front). But there were many partial truths or things that may be technically accurate but not at all consistent with the way things actually work here -- things that made my German husband laugh out loud. A few examples:
- No one would leave their baby in a stroller outside of a restaurant. In parts of Scandinavia, sure, or maybe in the smallest village in Germany, but certainly not in a major German city.
- It may be true that legally, bars and restaurants are supposed to send teens under 18 home at midnight. In practice, this never, ever happens.
- Hospital births in Germany are super natural birth friendly, despite the terrible way they're described in this book. In fact it is often difficult to get an epidural or other drugs during a hospital birth and, as the author points out, births are midwife-led. The idea that most people who go to a hospital end up with a c-section is preposterous (and statistically untrue, as the author herself admits). Among my friends, 3 children were born via c-section in a German hospital (one planned, 2 emergency after many other options were first tried) and 11 were born vaginally - far from "most" of them being c-sections.
- Germans are all entitled to a sleep consultant?! What?!?! How come none of my mom friends or the other kita parents have ever heard about this? I know of 1 German acquaintance who tried - and paid handsomely for - a sleep consultant. This is by no means a standard and subsidized offering.
- This is a nitpick, but some of the German was wrong (Abitur, not Arbitur; as someone else pointed out, "Achtung" is rarely ever used) and it drove me nuts that German nouns weren't capitalized, as they should be.
Beyond this, I took bigger issue with the unbalanced way in which many aspects of the German system and German parenting were described. If you're going to extol the virtues of this system -- and don't get me wrong, there are many -- it is important to be clear about the costs as well.
- For one, Germans pay around 50% of their income in taxes, which funds wonderful things like kita and university. Yes, these things are technically low-cost/free in that you're not getting a monthly bill for them, but everyone here ultimately pays via taxes. This is a far more socialized system than the US, with all of its costs and (many) benefits. To pretend we can have the same without fundamentally changing the state-society relationship - and corresponding tax rates - isn't really fair.
- Among the costs of this kind of socialized system is a serious lack of kita spaces. She describes spending some time looking for a spot for her child but attributes it to her bad timing rather than a lack of spaces. In many cities (Frankfurt, Munich), it is near impossible to get a space (ask any of my friends who went from kita to kita delivering homemade cookies and begging) and some families are without care options when the child turns one, meaning a parent may need to stay home longer than planned - with all of the ensuing financial consequences.
- There's an important difference between the quality of care someone on public versus private health insurance receives. For example, a publicly-insured mom will likely get a shared room in a hospital after giving birth, while someone with private insurance will get a private room and access to the head ob/gyn.
- I know Berlin is a bit different, but in most of the former west, traditional gender roles are strong (recent research said they're comparable to gender roles in Italy: https://press.princeton.edu/titles/13324.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share) and, as this research explains, mothers are often stigmatized for pursuing a career. This is absolutely consistent with my experiences in Frankfurt, where people were horrified when I returned to work before my son was a year and where our kita expects children to be picked up by 3:30pm every day. It's unclear to me how that's supposed to work unless one parent (and almost always the mother) isn't working full-time. Germany is a wonderful place to live, but it is definitely not a utopia for women who want to pursue a career and have children. In many ways, it's socially harder here than it is in the US.
I'll stop here. My sense is that these are all issues that arise when someone sees the culture from the outside-in and doesn't get deep enough below the surface. To be sure, the independence Germans foster in their children, the lack of fear and crazy helicopter parenting, the value placed on spending time outdoors, the kita system -- these are all wonderful elements of German society and it would be great if the US moved toward this model. But a book that purports to be an authority on parenting in Germany needs to get basic factual things right and also present a clear picture of the pros and cons of the system.
Also, while I appreciate that she wants to educate her audience about German history and culture, her condescening assertion that Americans aren't aware that we had Allies in WWII and her general historical overview has all the depth and nuance of a student after her first semester aborad.
We bought the book instead of borrowing it from the library because I expected to want to keep it on hand for the future. Turns out that won't be necessary, so my copy is going to the library donation drive.
The author is quite right about how nice and affordable German preschool Kitas/Kindergartens are. Too bad Americans don't have such options.
A linguistic note: contrary to what the author writes, German-speakers don't go around shouting "Achtung!" at each other any more than English-speakers shout "Attention!" If a child is doing something dangerous, a parent will yell, "Pass auf!" (watch out), "Vorsicht!" (careful), "Hey!" or "Stopp!" but never "Achtung!"
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