Americans are often negatively labeled as workaholics. Some of us see this as a positive though– we are the Little Engines That Could… chugging along, working longer and harder than anyone else to get to the top and prove to ourselves and the world that we can succeed. That’s the premise of the American Dream: a small potatoes person can come to this great country, work like a dog, and become a success story. I, too, adhere to this rationale so I found myself taking offense when a parent explained that he wanted to raise his American children with a European-type lifestyle. It sounds great in theory but in reality can you really live a European lifestyle within the confines of American culture?
This parent’s rationale was predicated upon the fact that Europeans have a greater well-balanced life: they take siestas; they have a shorter work week and longer vacation time; they value good food, good company, and good conversation; they relax! In general, Americans struggle with finding balance and contentment in the little things. We define ourselves by our jobs. In Europe, they define themselves by their interests. Europeans are taught at a young age to appreciate the small moments in life, whereas American children are taught at a young age to attempt to do everything to the best of their ability, which can create mini stress-filled versions of their parents. In general, family comes first in Europe and second in America.
Knowing the above, I, too, would naturally lean towards adopting a European relaxed mentality except for one important fact– I live in America. As such, the external factors and influences of school, friends, and culture hold greater weight in the debate. After the age of four there are no siestas built into our days, our 40+ hour work-week and two-week vacation time is the norm, and a two-parent income lends itself to less time with family and more time at work.
Essentially, America’s cultural attitudes permeate our family dynamic and trickle down to how our children are raised, whether we like it or not. Like European culture, our culture, too, defines who we are as a community, as a nation. We can and should bring our various viewpoints to the dinner table, teaching our children about other cultures, religions, and beliefs. Until we collectively create an American cultural shift, however, our children must acclimate (somewhat) to the lifestyle choices around them in order to remain socially conscious. We could stand to adopt some European attributes though, such as instilling more of a work-life balance and teaching our kids to savor the finite moments of good food, good friends, and good conversation. That, as well as a nation-wide month-long vacation, is a cultural shift I’d like to see more of too.
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Christine Terry, B.A., J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com