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Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,349 ratings  ·  216 reviews
In the tradition of Bringing Up Bebe and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a clarion call and practical guide for a return to rational parenting, from an American woman who learned how to raise strong, self-reliant children by following the common sense approach of German parenting.
When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she knew the trans
Hardcover, 239 pages
Published January 2nd 2018 by Picador USA
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  1,349 ratings  ·  216 reviews

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Start your review of Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children
Okay let me start this out with:
I am not a mother, i do not have children i take care of (at least not the human kind -do furry kids count?!?)
BUT i was interested in this because i am German and i always interested to see an American share their option on Germany. Because honestly most of the time? Its HORRIBLE and wrong and just... in which year are you living because we are no longer in world war 2?
So yes, okay?
I only requested this book because it has a german title and the subtitle of an
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
As a mom of 3 and as an elementary teacher, I'm always up for a read relating to children and parenting. I enjoyed the tiger mom book comparing Asian parenting with its US version. When I heard that Achtung Baby was out -- a book comparing German parenting with US -- I was thrilled. I *am* German; what a perfect book for me to read!

The book's author is Sara Zaske. She heads to Germany with her husband, who gets a job there, and their toddler-aged daughter. They live in Germany for several years,
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Sara Zaske wrote this book about her experiences of raising her children in Berlin, Germany. Instead of being preachy and telling parent's do's and don't's, she explains her direct experiences with a different mode of parenting. What I love about Zaske is not only is she open minded to German parenting methods, but she is completely honest with her thought process, the surprises she encountered, and honest when she disagrees with some of it.

What Zaske shares is that German culture and German sc
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
The U.S. educational system has gone in the wrong direction cutting down on recess, over-emphasizing literacy, and slamming kids with testing. Zaske does an excellent and fair-minded job exploring the German child care and kindergarten system and its strengths--interwoven with the memoir of her own family living abroad. She picks important focal points: the generally positive German attitude towards child care (opposed to America's cult of attachment parenting, born of profound ambivalence about ...more
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
I think that this book is a rift on the "Europeans do it so much better" ala fika and hygge and everything Scandinavian, Finnish schools being better and Danish Parenting, etc. etc. Did I learn anything from the book? Not really ... I was raised to be self-reliant and not to turn to an anxious mummy who is wondering if her friends are judging her for how she raised her kids. This book feeds into the horrifying aspect of MOMMY SHAMING that is so evidenced in social media --- even celebrities get ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book was okay, not nearly as good as Bringing Up Bebe, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the Swedish parenting one, or the Amish parenting one. The essential difference between the books in this genre that are great and the ones that suck is the preaching and the science. Parenting anthropology is awesome. I love it. I want to hear about things Germans do differently! I don't want to hear the science that backs it up and makes their way of doing it "right." I don't want to be preached at. An ...more
I am not a parent so you wouldn't think I am the audience for this book but it was utterly fascinating. Sara and her husband moved to Germany for his work, along with their baby. It takes them a while to get settled in. but once they do, everyone starts asking Sara when they're going to enroll their toddler in preschool/daycare. Sara is confused as she's not working so she had assumed that she was taking care of their daughter, especially since a mother is the best and most important person in h ...more
Emre Sevinç
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's been a while since I've read and reviewed a parenting book, therefore, when my brother's wife recommended a parenting book with a catchy and interesting title, I took note of it. I decided to read "Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children" in Germany, during our trip to Schwarzwald (Black Forest), enjoying the perfect weather and scenery, while sipping my drink at the pool, German kids running around me (with a few Swiss, French and British kids added ...more
Amanda Hasan
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am really glad that I read this book after my kids grew up a little (my children are 6 and 8). Some of the things she talks about would have settled poorly with me when my kids were younger. The way she criticizes American parenting, especially Dr. Sears' method of "attachment parenting," would have rubbed me the wrong way back when I was a new mother and wanted to be the very best at everything while martyring myself in the process. Years later, I've chilled out quite a bit. I don't need to d ...more
This was a fascinating look at both the German family dynamic and Germany as a country. There are definitely things I agree with and would like to implement, some of which I unfortunately can't due just to location or living in the states. But a lot of good information and things to keep in mind.
It reminded me of Sarah Moss memoir Names for the Sea but with more of a focus on the raising of children, if you liked that one you may enjoy this one.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an interesting, well-written book about an American family who spent 6 yrs in Germany and what Sara and her family learned about raising kids in a letting-go way. To raise responsible, self reliant kids, German parents let them do things like: walk to school by themselves, go to the store and park by themselves, go on the subway by themselves, ride bikes by themselves. AS soon as the kids are asking to do something and the parents feel it will help them function better in their world, th ...more
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Like so many things in life, I think my own expectations really hamstrung my experience. I expected to enjoy this book because I like reading about cross-cultural experiences and non traditional/alternative education practices. And sure, this book has those in spades, along with some good anecdotes about the foibles of getting settled in a new country.

Unfortunately this book also has a strident, preachy tone that really grated on my nerves. So often I found myself frustrated because while I agr
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really appreciate how the author balanced her personal experiences with interviews and extensive research from both German and U.S. sources.

I majored in German, lived in Germany, have worked for many years with Germans, and am married to one. There is so much about the German culture and language that feels like home to me, including how children are raised there. But without having been raised there myself I feel like I didn’t fully understand WHY Germans parent the way they do. My husband d
One of my favorite pregnancy/childrearing books so far. The general premise is that German parents in many ways raise their children to be more self-reliant -- they walk to school alone at an early age, do lots of things unsupervised, have more dangerous playgrounds, etc. The theory, as Zaske puts it, is that this teaches kids to self-motivate and manage risk better and earlier, so they're generally better prepared to, well, start living their own lives successfully.

Obviously I'm simplifying th
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was excited about this books debut. I enjoy reading books about various parenting techniques. I pick and chose what works for our family. Achtung Baby started out interesting as the author compared and contrasted various parenting methods and observations from her experiences as a parent in USA and Germany. As the book went on I felt like author was defending the choices she has made as a parent that she feels guilty about.

Ultimately left me disappointed.
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another book along the lines of its French counterpart Bringing Up Bebe. The premise of both books is that Americans have a lot to learn about raising happy, healthy, independent children.

While Zaske acknowledges that parenting practices can vary a lot in Germany, there are still a lot of commonalities that she witnessed in her time living in Berlin. Basically, most Germans practice what we would call "Free-Range Parenting" (otherwise known as "parenting" in many European countries): they let t
Amy Owens
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It’s not often that non-fiction keeps my attention for long, but I could not put this book down. I enjoy reading things that challenge cultural norms, and this book did so from page one. I am a homeschooling mom of four boys, so this book resonated with me deeply, especially since I am currently not participating in the US public school system. That being said, there were many things in this book I did not “agree” with, but loved reading about it nonetheless. My biggest takeaway, and perhaps the ...more
Apr 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
I keep reading these parenting-in-other-countries books expecting to come out with insights beyond "It SUCKS to raise a child in America." While I did find some other parts of the book interesting, it's just so infuriating to read about a society that's figured out how to offer reasonable solutions for daycare that it's all I can think about afterwards. I honestly can't believe Sara Zaske and her husband chose to move to the Bay Area after spending so much time raising their children in Berlin.

Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: parenting
Raises a lot of important questions to consider with my wife as we parent our own kids. I think we'd both like to encourage more independence and resilience, and that's difficult to do in the relatively overprotective bubble of American parenting standards around us, so it's worth seeing some alternatives in Germany.

Much of the life they describe in Berlin is one I'd like for my own kids: a culture where it's the norm for kids to walk to school and playgrounds on their own, and where kids are ex
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a terrific book! I loved this. It is more comprehensive in scope than Bringing Up Bebe, and I think the "tough subjects" chapter alone brings it to a higher level. For some reason, I think it's a nice complement to All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. We are all happier when our society supports self-reliant kids.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2018
I appreciated Zaske's stories about raising her children in Berlin and think she had some great points about how American parents aren't great at giving their children freedoms. I do think she misses the point in a few places, though. For instance, letting children move around neighborhoods on their own - I would struggle to allow my daughter to cross the street behind our house not because I don't think she is responsible, but because drivers here are not used to seeing children out alone and t ...more
Feb 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Some of the anthropology-light annoyed me, and the general idea-- that American parents need to stop coddling their kids so much-- is a familiar one, but there's a lot of sensible stuff here and no shortage of concrete examples of how different cultural norms bring out different qualities in kids. Also, her kids' daycare/preschool sounds fantastic. I liked that near the end of the book Zaske took some time to think about how intimately parenting is connected to society-building (and the many for ...more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thought provoking
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Achtung Baby is part travel-log and part cultural-comparison. It follows the author's family as they move from California to Germany and start raising their kids there. Each chapter is a different phase in her kids' development.

Her second kid was born in Germany, so she goes over what it's like to be pregenant and give birth there. The book then follows her two kids through infancy, preschool (Kita), and elementary school. While her family moved back to the US before her kids could get past ele
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: child-rearing
At least half a dozen times during my reading of this book, I turned to the front cover to make sure I had read the subtitle correctly. Surely it was "One American Mother's Experience Raising Her Kids in Berlin," right? But, no. Although it is obvious this is about all Zaske really has qualification to write about, she tries to make this a sweeping commentary on German parenting. True, she makes plenty of disclaimers and tries to build up her case of why her time in Berlin is representative enou ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating look at the correlation, although not set up in a study, between a lack of independence / self-sufficiency and anxiety. Germany has at least a 10% lower rate of anxiety than America, & I find it difficult to believe that helicopter parenting does not add to anxiety. The Germany of today seems like a wonderful place to be a kid - you can ride your bike, you can walk around your neighborhood - basically it sounds like my childhood in the 80's and 90's. It's a shame that kids in ...more
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you have kids or care for kids or teach kids, you need to read this book. In Achtung Baby, Sara Zaske shows us American parents how much we can learn from the Germans. They're outpacing us in virtually every metric -- success, happiness, mental health, physical health, economics. We need to take their lead and let our kids learn by doing, instead of keeping them in bubbles or suburban "safety" where they can't walk to school or choose what to do with their time.

"We've created a culture of co
Sam  S
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is, of course, always a danger in essentializing an entire parenting style as uniquely “American” or “German,” because it misses complex regional differences and other forms of diversity. That said, this is my favorite book in this genre so far. Having spent time in the Berlin neighborhood the author lived in, I found her anthropological observations very engaging and accurate. And, the overall idea that children need freedom to grow unfettered by adults, is a great one, whether it is dist ...more
Annie Johnson
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a fast and fascinating read. Zaske's perspective on the control-oriented parenting culture in the United States was spot-on (and presented with great fairness), and I saw myself many times in the kinds of behaviors she described as problematic. This book not only made me interrogate my role as a parent, it made me question (not for the first time) how our kids are treated at school every day. In fact, I think this book is as much about education as it is about parenting. And it kind of ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: parenting
Obviously you can't completely generalize an entire country, but many great ideas about free-range parenting and raising independent, critical thinkers. I love the idea that children get a lot of socialization out of daycare, because they truly do - I remember the doctor recommending my mom put my younger siblings in daycare a few times a week when we were kids, even though she was a stay-at-home mom.
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Sara Zaske is a writer who has bounced from the US to Germany and back again. Her articles have appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, The ATLANTIC.COM and TIME.COM among other places.

Her new book about how Germans raise self-reliant children, ACHTUNG BABY, is available now from Picador USA.

She also has young adult fantasy novel THE FIRST (2012)

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You’d think that with, well, everything this year has had in store for us, readers would flock to sweet stories with happy endings. But as...
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“But it makes an odd sort of sense when viewed as part of the value Germans place on responsibility. Each child at the playground was expected to judge for herself what she could or could not do. Parents did not run around after their children telling them this slide was too fast or that climbing structure was too high. The children learned to manage the risk on their own and prepared themselves for each new challenge, like Sophia was starting to do with the dragon.” 0 likes
“In Frankfurt, Monika Seifert started kinderläden, day care centers, which emphasized “repression-free” education, a philosophy that deliberately set itself against the old “German virtues of obedience, diligence, modesty, and cleanliness.” Seifert’s anti-authoritarian theory basically held that children should rule themselves—or run wild, depending on your perspective.” 0 likes
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