The key is just to try and do the best you can. Try not to worry too much about what other people are doing.
Your parents were likely just as imperfect and ignorant as you are, albeit in their own ways. If they were able to get you to a point where you've got these kinds of concerns doing it yourself, you've probably turned out ok, and your kids will too.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
That being said I'd consciously not move to an average US town as I think there's too much fear spread, it doesn't fit my own culture of giving children space/responsibility as early as possible. Depending on community reaction that can be impossible - not just in many parts of the US but also in Southern Europe for example. There tends to be much more support from the wider family there however.
Another local optimum I've seen in Japan where almost everyone is incredibly well behaved but almost no-one learns to think outside the box. Eh. I say choose what you think works and try to choose a community supporting it, within the options you have.
What's "locally" and not globally optimal about working together as a group vs everyone going their own way? The answer isn't obvious, and ultimately it's probably impossible to compare; we can't run A/B tests on planets.
1. almost everyone doesn't think outside the box -> if just a couple of people do it, there can be big breakthroughs once the group has been convinced, because then suddenly everyone pulls on the same string.
2. post WW2 Japan was a different beast from what it is now. I generally find there's quite a generational difference between people growing up after the war and 20-somethings now. not unlike the US, but for different reasons and more intense, they had to rebuild a whole country.
Contrast my experience nearly 60 years ago in a small US town of ~35,000:
Once I had a bicycle I had almost complete freedom of movement. My buddy and I would cycle everywhere we could within about a 20-mile radius, out into the countryside, to the rivers and into the downtown urban area on our own. We also had large forests nearby and would wander afoot into those forests and stay out for half a day with no worry by us or our parents. To get to certain woods, we might have to cross private property and go through wooden fences that some owners had erected, but there was almost always a loose piece of fence "left unrepaired" to pass through (if not, then we climbed over the top). We were good Boy Scouts and always left things as good or better than we found them, and no one ever stopped us or threatened us.
Except other kids! In forests other groups of children sometimes might view us as hostile, perhaps to protect a "fort" (essentially a foxhole and a dirt pile) they had built out in the woods or who felt this was "their territory", and who might rain down clods of dirt upon us with little warning. We would parlay around it and if that didn't work, we were both pretty accurate with dirt clods ourselves and learned to keep moving so as to be difficult targets.
Today I get the impression most US-raised children are restricted to the house, the back yard (even the front yard is too dangerous) and adult-accompanied trips. So sad.
Just to give an idea where I'm from:
* in my home country (one of the highest GDP/capita, so we're not talking poor&rural), children are walking alone or in unaccompanied groups to kindergarden at age 5-6. if parents try and drive them they're often scolded by school authorities, they're supposed to handle it by themselves.
* in Japan (just another example that I know well), children walk to school at age 5-6, accompanied by a 1-3 year older sempai that explicitely takes over the responsibility for younger colleagues. There's also people taking the responsibility for a given street corner at a defined time in the morning, watching out for the youngins a bit (but it's not necessarily their own). Again, people who drive their own are typically scolded by society.
* after school, children in both countries typically go do other activities on their own, like go to football club or in case of Japan do some school club activity. Curfew time is typically before dark or around 5-6pm.
* from time to time there tends to be an accident or case of violence/murder against children that might have been avoided without this culture of letting them run. people are outraged against the person who did it, but culture of self responsibility is not questioned and life goes on. risk is typically 1/1 million or lower (relatively safe drivers, low levels of violence).
No one is scared to let their children out because of violence or murder. That’s silly news media fear mongering unless you live in a bad area.
How close is the kindergarten to your house?
1. Kids are more spread out. A suburban neighborhood is huge and fewer people are having kids. The people that have kids will have fewer of them. For kids to coagulate together for playtime, you need higher density.
2. American roads are fucking deadly. Bigger cars at faster speeds with ever less attentive drivers. Cars are by far the number one killer of children and American voters do fuck all to fix it. If we banned all cars, I'd probably let my 2 year old mostly wander around by himself until dinner.
3. Dual working parents plus shitty workplace policies mean there are just fewer eyes out there. Even in the old days, "Free Range" didn't mean Lord of the Flies. It meant the kids roamed around but there was always an adult nearby, even if not in any official capacity.
A combination of 1, 2, and 3 makes for American parents structuring a kids' life around schleping them to various scheduled events and places. Even when a kid gets older, they've never developed the habits to do it for themselves.
Kids nowadays wait for the school bus with their parents, usually in their parents cars.
Best delivered while the car is still at speed for maximum frustration. (Also best when the mood is already light.)
Small changes in the way you use language help make such mental shifts possible. The positive outcomes make you want to do them more and more. I wish I had learnt this stuff at a younger age though.
My wife constantly reminds me that what I learnt from how to deal with my kid, has made me deal with adults way better. So there is that advantage too :)
I tend to think that as long as I can say to my kid that I am honestly proud of them, I know me and my partner haven't screwed up.
First up, just accepting that I'm not not going to be perfect and there are going to be times when I take the easy way out (like this morning when I just stuck the TV on for them while I got things done). No one is perfect and most kids do fine. Expecting to be perfect is like people who crash out of a diet after one day where they fail to stick to it. Be kind to yourself. Do what you can when you can. Sometimes I will have the time and energy to go all deep and meaningful with my kids, and sometimes it's just a quick "stop hitting your sister or I'm selling your trainset".
Secondly, when I do make the most of the good times, it tends to pay off later. It's like taking the hit when we did sleep training with my youngest. It was hard work for a couple of days, but the end result was totally worth it. Same goes for stuff like this, sometimes you just get a breakthrough when the kid "gets it" and from then on they are just a little easier.
Finally, sometimes I'm going to be grumpy, stressed or tired (probably at the same time), and I'm going to snap, or lose my temper a bit from time to time, like most normal people. But I then make a point of saying "I'm sorry I didn't mean to snap at you, I'm just very tired/stressed". I've found my 4yo is pretty receptive to that, he gets it. It's good for kids to see you owning up to your own mistakes and understanding why. Recognising you've done something wrong, owning it, and apologising is a really important skill for kids. So much of the crap in the world is caused by people just not being prepared to accept when they are wrong and owning their mistakes and failures, but doubling down and digging in.
In short, don't take all these "perfect partent" stories too much to heart, most of them make them seem more straight-forward and perfect than they really are (and there is a smell of "look at the mystical native" about a lot of them that I think clouds the narative). But there are often good things to learn from them. Every kid is different so having a wider set of ideas to try is always great.
Parenting is always a series of trade offs. On one hand maybe I am not teaching him how to self regulate and go to sleep. On the other he gets an extra hour of sleep. The reality is there is probably a better solution that I haven’t thought of but there is only so much time to research and explore each little issue that comes along!
I only recently figured out how to phrase it, you can be "firm" without being "strict". You don't have to be a shouty monster to have limits, boundaries or firm ideas over what is acceptable behaviour. Kids seem to like consistency, they like knowing what's what, that doesn't mean you have to be horrible about it.
We're all making this stuff up as we go along, and every child and situation is different though, so you've got to go with what works for your kids.
My practice is to reflect on when things like this happen. We have one 3yo son but issues do arise where we get upset, and reflecting on them and preparing myself for the next time helps me address what he needs to not do whatever it is that upset me, and for me to not get upset which makes him upset.
I guess it's not so strange now but when I started parenting I figured my parents' approach would be best, like expecting kids to do their work because it's basically their job.
What I didn't expect is how powerful the word "please" is.
Seriously, I'd been trying to get him to do small tasks when he was about two and understanding us, but wouldn't ever, EVER do it. I'd talked with a teacher who mentioned her class listens to her because she asks them politely and other teachers who don't have unruly classes. And so I finally caved and said "...can you please put your dishes in the sink?"
The difference was night and day. Immediately, he picked up his dishes and put them in the sink. Since then, I think we've done an OK job of inviting him to be involved in chores and tasks because anytime he realizes we're working on something the first thing he says is "can I help you?"
Anyway, point is you can learn so much just by paying attention, mindful reflection, careful preparation, and some study mixed in there. And as someone else said, having the humility to acknowledge to your kids' face that you were wrong goes a long way.