Letter from Amsterdam

Hello, dear readers!

I’m having a ball in Amsterdam this week. Seven nights sans child, with an ocean between us… it’s hard as hell (there have been tears) and it’s awesome, all at the same time. I’m sleeping eleven hours a night and spending my days biking down picturesque streets, sipping beer and nibbling cheese in the mid-day sun, feeling the breeze off the city’s canals.

Yesterday my hosts (my brother- and sister-in-law) took me and Jordan to see some of the city’s street art, at my request, and I soaked up the counter-cultural artistic energy like a plant absorbing sunlight. A famous squat was closing down, surrounded by scaffolding… the end of an era…but the energy of the place pulsed through, still. We went into a bookstore comprised of books made by artists, where I gathered esoteric postcards like a squirrel might gather nuts for winter. 

Seen in a bookstore filled with books made by artists

Seen in a bookstore filled with books made by artists

Hoarding.

We also walked through part of the famed red light district, where I saw big fat hookers with billowing breasts pressed up against the windows, watching us watch them. On one side street, a little boy sat playing chess with his father at an outside cafe right next door to a prostitute’s store front. Around the corner was a chocolate shop reputed to be one of the city’s best. I bought a truffle.

This is Amsterdam.

The Netherlands give women at least sixteen weeks of paid pregnancy and maternity leave, then offers state sponsored childcare when moms return to work (though there are apparently shortages in urban areas).

Check out this infographic comparing paid maternity leave in countries around the world. Out of 178 nations, the U.S. is one of only three that doesn’t offer ANY paid maternity leave.

According to my hosts, it’s quite common for Dutch women to come back to work part-time after having kids, without causing anyone distress. 

This is a country where you do your best during work hours and then you go home. There’s an implicit understanding that work is only part of a person’s life, and no one expects you to compromise the rest of your life in service to a job. 

Imagine. 

What steps can we take to get to this reasonable, civilized place as Americans?

Of course, no one’s perfect: It seems the Dutch only offer two paid days of paternity leave for ol’ dad, showing that even the more enlightened countries in the world have a ways to go in recognizing fathers as equal partners in parenting. Still, two is better than zero, which is what most American fathers get.

Apparently Dutch children are some of the happiest in the world. As an expat living in the Netherlands explains,

Family time is important to Dutch parents. Children regularly eat dinner with their parents at the (very Dutch) time of 6pm. Many fathers take advantage of a papadag (daddy day), a legally allowed (unpaid) day off work for dads to look after their children. I used to be able to count on one hand the number of dads at school pick up, now at the local Dutch school it’s close to 50%. With many dads taking on part-time work and Dutch women leading the way with part-time work amongst OECD countries, Dutch parents are not weighed under by the demands of balancing work and family. And relaxed parents means relaxed kids.

— Mihal Greener

I hope to bring home some of that relaxation when I fly back to DC on Saturday. 

For now, I’m off to eat some herring and browse the flower stalls at a local market here in De Pijp (“the Pipe”), the neighborhood where we’re staying. 

In our culture we tend to equate love with closeness, but sometimes an essential part of loving someone is loving the space between you. That’s something I’m learning as a parent this week.

– Amanda

 

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