Saturday, March 29, 2008

What to Expect When You're Expecting... in Holland

On Thursday evening, I was invited to the bi-annual Oudelande parent-toy-cleaning-session at Lukas' Pre-School. We were instructed to bring our own bucket and towel, and show up at the school at 7:30 PM.

So we quickly ate dinner, then I left Lukas, Tobi, and Tobi's parents behind, for what turned out to be more of a mothers' social function, with the end-result being a clean, tidy, and germ-free preschool.

I have to admit, it was kind of a cute idea. Apparently, they don't do that sort of thing in every Dutch community, so perhaps it's more of a small-town trait.

Then yesterday, while chatting with some friends at a birthday party, I learned that schools here break for lunch, making it both logistically and financially challenging for a mother to return to work, even when her children are school-aged. There is a form of day-care in most communities during this time (and after school), but if you're lucky enough to secure a spot for your child, the programs are often (but not always) cost prohibitive. For this reason, many parents either search for a less expensive alternative in their community, or rely on a support network consisting of relatives and friends.

Another issue foreign to expats, which takes some getting used to, is the fact that, in order to see any specialists, including a Pediatrician, you must register with your local "gemeinde" - the regional government authority. Once you and your children are registered, depending on their age, you might be required to bring them to a designated doctor in the "gemeinde" at pre-determined intervals for exams and vaccinations (previously we've always been able to choose our Pediatrician, be it in America, South Africa, or Germany). According to some sources, these offices can be (but again, are not always) very impersonal... which has got me thinking about whether I want to drive the 45 minutes to Antwerp for any necessary check-ups and doctors visits.

I've written a bit about our experiences with the local Obstetrician on our Pregnancy and Baby Blog. But these are just my experiences, and they're by no means bad, just different from what we've experienced elsewhere. That's the beauty of globetrotting!

I wish I could write more about recent exciting adventures, but we honestly haven't had any. The weather has been terrible and I seem to have yet another cold, so we've been pretty lazy over the past week and a half.

Maybe next week?
Or perhaps you have some adventures that you could share with us...
some sunshine that we could bask under vicariously from this sometimes strange, "foreign" place.

But it won't be long before rose bushes and incredible gardens line every street in Zeeland. And believe "you me" - I'll be the first to rave about it! :-)


Anonymous said...

Sorry Liz but I have to correct you, this time. Firstly most “basis schools” primary schools not only organise the regular cleaning of toys/puzzles but also encourage parents to help out with window washing and general odd jobbing. They also have an active group of parents who come into school to help with reading groups, nature walks, craft morning/afternoons and sports activities all the aforementioned being coordinated with the “ouderaad” PTA, this association also coordinates “Overblijf ouders” Lunch monitors, this way parents who choose to go to work can, for a relatively small monitory cost, ensure that their children are looked after at school. Personally I always loved having my children home for lunch.
As for your second comment, it’s not “foreign” to me to register with the local “Gemeente” or local council, as it has been a legal requirement for my family to do just that in every country we have ever lived in (including Germany). Your child’s physical as well as its mental development is also monitored in most countries within the civilized world. Finally, every visit I have made with my three children to the GGD (gemeentelijke gezondheidsdienst), The Department of Health and Socially Security has been handled with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity. Hope this clarifies things for you.
Personally I find your comments rather negative.

Carol Wattel

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz,
I just wanted to respond to this and share a different perspective with you of the system here. So my impression of Holland is this:

Yes there are many rules and what many might say "hoops" one has to jump through to settle in here but the system is fair and just and designed to take care of the people. The government takes on alot of responsibilty and tries to control everything to best provide for all of its citizens. Here you pay high taxes but you see the benefits of those taxes put back into the social welfare system. But one can't just come here and expect to automatically receive these benefits without first being "in" the system, which is why they require everyone to register with the gemeente. (which registering with a town council is pretty much the common practice in most countries, aside from the US. Probably because most other countries offer more and better social benefits than the US, therefore one must register so that they can receive the benefits offered by the government.)
The flip side of this is that sometimes it feels that there are too many rules here and that the government controls everything and that one has less freedom, but it is this way to create a system which works for everyone and for the most part it does, thus creating a country with one of the highest standards of living in europe and one of the top countries in the world to raise children.
I also wanted to share with you my experience with the Consultatie Bureau. (which is the designated place the gemeente sends you to for appts and vacinations, which in your entry sounds like a horrible place and I have found it to be exactly the oppisite, with it being extremely well organized and everyone being very nice and helpful.) As soon as you register with the gemeente and they are aware that you have a child then they require you to go to the Consultatie bureau for regular vaccinations and check-ups. (pretty much the same check ups and vaccinations that are required or recommended in every other country.) After we registered with gemeente, within a couple of days the consultatie bureau called us to make an appointment to see Eden(they called us!), which they sent a nurse to our home to interview us. They were very thourough with this interview, asking questions concerning our background, such as, if marco or myself had a history of physical abuse or alcoholism in our family, because these things can be hereditary and if so they would want to provide the proper help for us if we had issues like these to ensure that we are capable of providing a safe environment for our child. They also give you a "growth book" for your child, which you take to all of their appointments which keeps a record of all of their vaccinations and gives tips and information about the development of your child. The nurse also gave us brochures and pamflets about everything from breastfeeding to starting them on solids to potty training (which all of this information is offered in a number of languages). Then we made an appt. to see the pediatrician at the Consultatie Bureau that corresponds to our area. The bureau is very well organized and each time i have gone, everything has gone extremely well and with very little wait. The consultatie bureau that we go to is set up with about 5 baby changing tables in the waiting area, where you undress your child and then they are weighed and measured there before seeing the doctor. Our doctor that we see is very nice, professional, knowledgable, helpful, and everything that you expect one to be and we are now on a first name basis with her. We don't see the doctor every single time we go, sometimes the nurse can handle the visit or administer the vaccinations, which it is always the same nurse, who we now have a personal relationship with as well as she has done home visits. They also have times available every week where you can take your child in and weigh and measure them without making an appointment. There is also a nurse on call certain hours that you can call if you ever have a question or need some kind of help. The only drawback being is that if you happen to not like your pediatrician or nurse at the consultatie bureau, then in holland there is no private sector to then turn to and choose from. But my experience has been nothing but pleasant and helpful as opposed to impersonal and stressful. The Consultatie Bureau is designed to ensure that every child that the government knows about in Holland (and they know about them through regristering at the gemeente) is taken care of and they proactively ensure this by calling you to make the first appointment (the following appts are scheduled after each visit)and providing you with information and accessability to their services so that your child receives the proper care. You do however have the freedom to choose your GP, or family doctor, which can/will refer you to any specialist that you or your child might need. We have chosen our GP and had an appt. with him just to meet each other and discuss the expectations that we have from him and his practice. This is a very common thing here and they as well proved to be very helpful.

I just wanted to share with you my experience and perspective of the system here because it seems that you have received a lot of negative feedback and information that I haven't found to be the case at all. I hope this allows you to be a bit more open to understanding and accepting the way things are done here so that it will allow you to get the most out of your time spent here.


Liz Kraft said...

Hi Carol,

Thanks for the wake up call! I was surprised when you said you found the entry negative, and then I went back and read it and realized that, well, it was! After reading your comment, I made a few small changes to the entry, and really appreciate you taking the time to correct me!

Anonymous said...

Howdy Liz,

This is Tim from Leuven Belgium. You left a comment on our blog and I thought I would return the favor. We have a 3 year old that is in the school system here in Belgium. (They start public funded schooling at the age of two and a half, and it is a great system, although not mandatory till 5 years of age like in the States.) We also just gave birth in Belgium back at the end of January, so it appears like our stories are strangely similar. Although you guys have done WAY more traveling.

Speaking of traveling, we are hoping to head up to the Netherlands in two weeks to see the tulip bulb fields, Amsterdam, and anything else that might catch our fancy. We would love to hear some ideas or perhaps get in touch.

Feel free to email me. Our address is (but remove the numbers).


Liz Kraft said...

Dear Sheri,

Thanks for your feedback. Hopefully other expat parents in the process of relocating will benefit from the experiences we share here online, both negative and positive. It's great to read your account of the system - you sound like a poster child for the Dutch Healthcare system! :-)

As for your comment allowing me to be "more open to understanding and accepting the way things are done here so that it will allow me to get the most out of my time spent here", that's doubtful, as I feel I am very open to the way things are done here. However, having experienced healthcare on 3 other continents, I find that every healthcare system has its weak points, and it's ok to discuss these things. There's no such thing as perfect! But you're right - the quality of life here is fantastic.

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment,