We know we’ve come to a crossroads when German childhood is being held up as an idealized model for Americans. It was, after all, Teutonic styles of child rearing that were once viewed with disgust—as in “The Sound of Music,” for a long time the most popular of all American movies, with all those over-regimented Trapp kids rescued by wearing the bedroom drapes and singing scales. But Sara Zaske’s “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children” (Picador) is perhaps an inevitable follow-up to “Bringing Up Bébé,” that best-selling book about parenting the way the French supposedly do it—basically, as though the kids were little grownups, presumably ready for adultery and erotic appetites. So why not move eastward through Europe, until we get the book on parenting the Moldavian way?
What’s wrong with such books is not that we can’t learn a lot from other people’s “parenting principles” but that, invariably, you get the problems along with the principles. French kids are often sensitive and unspoiled in ways that American kids aren’t; they are also often driven so crazy by the enervating 8:30 A.M.-to-4:30 P.M. school system and by a tradition of remote parenting that they rebel as bitterly as American adolescents do, only putting off the rebellion until they’re forty, when the sex and drugs really start to kick in. And you can wonder whether the German molding system leaves German kids molded quite so thoroughly as Zaske, an American long resident in Berlin, insists.