Airplane Survival

Parenthood Around the World

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For the past three summers, we’ve done a series called Motherhood Around the World, which has been one of my favorite blogging experiences of the past nine years. We featured interviews with American parents living around the world. The stories about parenting abroad are fascinating, funny and surprising. We’ve talked to mothers living everywhere from Norway to Japan to Congo to India to England to South Korea to Sweden.

As I’ve mentioned before, we decided to speak to American mothers abroad — versus mothers who were born and raised in those countries — because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what’s unique about your own country (“don’t all kids eat snails?”), and it tends to be easier to identify differences as an outsider.

We’re excited to be putting together our fourth installment now. Do you know any American parents living in South America, Russia, Southeast Asia, Tokyo, Finland, Iceland or New Zealand? Or any other countries you’re curious to hear about? If so, we would love to hear from them. (To those parents: Please email hello@cupofjo.com with a couple surprising things about raising children where you live, plus a few snapshots of your life in the country or a link to your Instagram feed. Thank you so much!)

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Here are a handful of favorite quotes from past interviews:

In Northern Ireland, when your kid throws a fit in public, people get involved. I know, because my five-year-old has spent the last two years testing this theory. For example, we’ll be in the cereal aisle at the market when the wailing and tears begin. Up walks a nice lady with armful of groceries. She doesn’t pay me any notice, or shoot me any dirty looks. Instead, she bends down, looks my son in the eye, and says in her sweetest Northern Irish accent, “Ach, son. Now why you carryin’ on so? Look at yu’r Mummy. She’s so sweet, and she’s waiting for you to stop, so she can finish buying you food, so she is.” — Tiffany Wyse-Fisher, 11 Surprising Things About Parenting in Northern Ireland

Latin culture has a reputation for being romantic, and I see that even in the little ways people speak to one another. My Mexican friend was telling me about when she and her husband first started dating. She said, “It was the time of life when you would reach into the sky and pull down stars for each other.” Another friend was describing a breakup and she said, “I cried an ocean of tears.” They actually say those things! It is awesome. — Naomi Smith, 10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Mexico

My kids attend Barnehage, which is government-subsidized Norwegian daycare. They spend a ton of time outside, mostly playing and exploring nature. At some Barnehage, they only go inside if it’s colder than 14 degrees. They even eat outdoors — with their gloves on! When I was worried about my son being cold, my father-in-law said, “It’s good for him to freeze a little bit on his fingers.” That’s very Norwegian — hard things are good for you. — Rebecca Zeller, 10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Norway

When I gave birth to our daughter, a South African nurse, told me about being a nanny for a colicky baby. “Never slept. Always cried,” she said. “But it was fine, we just Gripe Watered it out of that baba.” I remember thinking, ‘I have no idea what that sentence means.’ I would soon learn. Gripe Water, sold in Congolese drugstores, promises to “Comfort Babies with Gripes.” It’s a mix of sodium bicarbonate, dill seed oil, sugar… oh wait, and alcohol. 4.4% alcohol! You may have seen “Gripe Water” in an American drugstore, but it’s not the same at all. The U.S. version has no alcohol and thus doesn’t really do the job. So I bring back a bottle or two for American friends with new babies and simply say: Use it. Thank me later. — Jill, 13 Surprising Things About Parenting in Congo

The people here are just so wonderful — I think they’re the best part of the city, which is saying a lot. One day, we were walking to a shop and it started to lightly rain. My husband Josh was carrying Aaron, and we didn’t have an umbrella. While we were waiting at a crosswalk, a young man walked up to Josh and held his umbrella out over him so Aaron wouldn’t get wet. He walked us all the way to our destination, keeping Aaron dry the entire time. When we got there he just said goodbye and went on his way — to him, it wasn’t a big deal, it’s just something you do. — Diane Zhang, 13 Surprising Things About Parenting in Turkey

In a country in which space comes at such a premium, few parents would dream of allocating a separate room for each child. Co-sleeping is the norm here, until children are at least six or seven. An American friend of mine put her son in his own room, and her Indian babysitter was aghast. The young children of Indian families I know also go to sleep whenever their parents do — often as late as 11pm. Our son sleeps in our bed, as well. — Danielle Dumm, 12 Surprising Things About Parenting in India

When we go to a get-together with other families, men and women are totally separate. The women are usually in the kitchen cooking food and watching the kids, and the men are in another room drinking beer. I don’t understand this… I want to be sitting and drinking! In Brooklyn, we were always mixed, mothers and fathers. — Yoko Inoue, 10 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Japanese countryside

The Swedish word mysig is hard to translate, but technically means “to smile with comfort,” or be cozy. It’s an important concept here, where the winters are long and cold. You see candles everywhere, all year round. When I first moved here, it struck me as a major fire hazard! But they’re so beautiful. Sometimes we go to IKEA on weekends (“It’s cold and rainy, so let’s go to IKEA!”), and everyone, and I mean everyone, has candles in their carts at checkout. — Angelina Allen de Melo, 14 Surprising Things About Parenting in Sweden

In America, childproofing is a profession — you can actually hire someone to come childproof your home. Most English parents I know, while not being at all blasé about their child’s safety, didn’t do much childproofing at all. I want to protect my daughter from the things that could kill or seriously hurt her, but that’s it. If my daughter pulls our cat’s tail and gets scratched, I see that as a learning experience: how not to treat the cat. — Erin Moore, 15 Surprising Things About Parenting in England

Hugo is two, and we recently had a parent/teacher conference with his daycare. The teacher said, “I’m concerned about his coming into the group of older kids.” I asked why, and she said, “He needs to learn to stand up for himself more. When other kids take toys away from him, he just lets it happen.” I was like, well, isn’t that just sharing? And she said, “He needs to either take the toy back or fight. We teachers can’t fight all his battles for him!” I was laughing inside, because it was SO different from how we were socialized as children… It’s not meant to be confrontational or mean in any way. But their emphasis is teaching the child to stand up for himself. — Luisa Weiss, 20 Surprising Things About Parenting in Germany

See the full series here, if you’d like. Thank you so much!

(Top photo of my mom with us in France. Photo of three kids in Norway by Rebecca Zeller, and photo of girl running in Kenya by Tara Wambugu.)

  1. Lyra Espineli says...

    Are you considering other parts of Scandinavia? We live in Copenhagen, Denmark with 3 children & we’re truly enjoying our 2-year “vacation” as ex-pats. Our children go to the international school & love riding their bikes everywhere. Living in Europe has so many possibilities!

  2. Robyn says...

    Hi, I am an American happily living in Finland with 2 kids and a Finnish husband. How can I share with you my stories?

  3. Hi, this is such a fascinating series! Are you looking for someone in Switzerland? I’m from the UK, but we’ve lived here since before my 4 year old was born.

  4. An amazing series! I’m already looking forward to all of the new stories!

    xx B

  5. Elizabeth says...

    Loved this article! The story about the Irish woman is too sweet!

  6. Love this series so much! Can’t wait for the new instalments! Would be nice to have a Canadian perspective as well, to see how similar or different we are from American parents? lafabere.com

  7. I just happened on your blog and saw this post. This fascinates me. Now I will have to go back and read the posts from the previous summers. I am an American that first became a mother over in Scotland. Transitioning back to America proved harder than I thought due to the differences in child rearing styles. I read your quote from the mother in England and have to agree that it is a much more lax style of parenting over there, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

  8. Best series ever!!! Can’t wait to read the new batch of posts this summer. And I’m psyched that my photo of Claire running in front of the Kenyan sunrise made it in the mix!

  9. annie says...

    I LOVE this series and was just thinking about how I miss it last night! I am young and not a mother, but it’s so interesting to learn about other cultures and traditions and things you wouldn’t normally learn about. Can’t wait for the next round!

  10. JaneMG says...

    I enjoyed this series but the whole time I kept thinking, how interesting it would be to do a series where it was the perspective of a foreign parent living in America. You might have a little of their experiences from their home country and how they found things different living in the US. I am an Aussie and I was living in the US for eight years until recently and I definitely found some big differences parenting in the States as compared to my homeland. Just a thought, love the blog by the way!

    • Dovilè says...

      I enjoyed the series so much!!! And was always thinking THE SAME THING 😊

  11. Olivia says...

    GIving birth to a baby this August in Japan! I’d love to hear about everyone else’s experiences too!

  12. Rema says...

    This is one of my favorite blog series, ever. Thanks for continuing it!

  13. Anna says...

    A potential motherhood around the world idea could be a post from your neighbors up north – Canada. It might be interesting to know about maternity leave, daycare options, etc. from our (what some would consider) more socialist point of view. We are just hours away but the opportunities new parents have in Canada are really quite different from those of my American friends and really quite progressive.

  14. Alex says...

    I loved reading this series as a French mum of 2 living in Canada with her British husband. As someone else mentioned in the comments, I would love to read the experience of foreign parents raising their kids in America. I know Canada is not quite the same but i’d have a thing or 2 to say about cultural differences ;)

  15. My favorite thing you’ve ever done on this blog

  16. I am a part of an amazing group call PMG (physician mom’s group ) and connected recently with a physician mom living in Uganda with her kids. My daughter plans to go there to volunteer for the summer and I know she has younger kids. I could contact her to see if she would be interested?

  17. Amy Joy says...

    Aloha from the United Arab Emirates! My sister-in-law just sent me a link to your blog and said it’s one of her favorites. :-) I’m an American gal, born & raised in Hawaii, currently living in the Middle East with my husband & 4 children. I’ve only read this one post so far & I noticed you’re looking for different experiences of parenting from Americans in certain countries? My host country wasn’t one of the listed, but I could probably share a few things I’ve notice in my (almost) 2 years here, if there’s interest. Either way, I’m looking forward to perusing your site quite a bit more!

  18. yay, these are my favourite posts on cup of jo!

    as a born and bred NZer it will be interesting to see what things expats pick up on – it all seems perfectly natural to us!
    xx

  19. Rhonda says...

    I love this series so much. Hope you find someone great to share from New Zealand. I feel pretty blessed to be raising my child here :)

  20. Tara says...

    I adore this series…they are so fun and enlightening to read! Thank you!

  21. I have written in the last two years and would love to contribute. I finally started my own blog about mothering in The Philippines. I sent an email. Would love if you considered mostly so people can see The Philippines is great. PLUS Filipinos would be insanely happy. It is amazing the number of local mommas who have asked me to submit an email for this series.

  22. If she was interested, you could interview Amanda from http://www.marshallsabroad.com/ She had her first baby in Okinawa and lived there for a few years and then had her second baby in the states and then moved to Croatia. Her husband is in the military and she is a full time mommy and blogger. Along with your blog it is one that I read every chance I get.

  23. I haven’t seen this feature before, but I’m so excited to read the series! I am an American mom of four living in the UK — we’ve been here just 8 months, and I agree that parenting here is very different than parenting in the US. I think the schools actually play a huge part in it, actually! How great to be able to read the perspectives on so many different places.

  24. Alex says...

    I love this series, especially as a new mom to a 6 month old. I’m going back to re-read them all!

    My husband is Australian and he’s always commenting on how things are different here (in New York) with kids. I’d be interested to hear from foreigners living in the U.S. about their experience raising kids here too.

  25. Allison says...

    This might sound wacky, but when this series started I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have kids. Honestly, reading about these amazing moms all over the world, including you, made me realize how beautiful raising children could be. I would forward them on to my husband every week and we’d discuss what we’d do the same or different.

    Now here I am with Clementine and Matilda — 8 month old twins.

    So excited for these stories to continue. Keep up the good work! <3

  26. Resi says...

    I’m not a mother (yet) but I looooove reading those parenthood posts. Such a great series!! I would love to hear about families from other countries tell us about parenting in the US (as a couple of other readers have mentioned before) – I’m from Germany, now living in Switzerland, and have spent a couple of years/months living abroad in Spain, Sweden and Cuba. It would be cool too to see how parenting is different in a couple of different states within the US.
    Cheers and keep up those wonderful posts!
    A big fan of your blog in general xx

  27. Maria says...

    LOVE this series! Can’t wait for it to start up again!

  28. Shannon says...

    My favorite series by fall and look forward to it every summer! Loved reading through all the above quotes.

  29. Géraldine says...

    I alos would be curious to read the interview of foreign parents living in the United States. It could be surprising ;-)

  30. Sonja says...

    Love this series so much!

  31. emily says...

    I can’t wait! I look forward to this series every summer. : )

  32. So looking forward to reading those new posts! These are amongst my favorite blog posts EVER.

  33. I’m not American but have an american accent does that qualify? Multinational couple living in Brussels, been following and loving your blog from the wee days. If you really want US mama I’ll ask my network. <3

  34. This is one of my most favorite blog series! So excited it’s continuing!

  35. Kristien says...

    I really love this series! I’m not a mother, and I’m not too keen on becoming one, but it is fascinating to learn about different parenting styles around the globe. I’ve read all of these features, and it’s so funny when one culture completely contradicts another. And it seems like the take-away from all this is that there isn’t one “right” way to raise a child.

  36. What a great idea for a range of blog articles! I’m sure I’ll end up reading every single one of them!

  37. Joanna! I absolutely love the “motherhood” serious – it’s so inspirational and eye-opening! I read the Kenya post after I got home from Kenya, and fell in love. It made me so happy!

  38. I just emailed you from Bangkok. I love this series. I even have gone back and reread some. We are so, so happy that our lives brought our family here from Portland, OR. I am continually reminded of the gifts that Thailand has given and continues to give our family.

  39. Krista S says...

    So excited for this to come back!!

  40. I’m an American currently living in Indonesia in a large expat community. I will reach out to some of the moms here and see if they would be interested in sharing!

  41. Diany says...

    This series is my favourite blog reading ever! My husband and I read it together as we were expecting our first baby and it opened many conversations about how we wanted to raise her. Thanks for this :)

  42. A friend just forwarded me the link to your blog post this morning, and I am so happy to have found your lovely site. I am from N.Ireland, my husband is from the States, and we have lived here in the Philippines for the past 12 years. Our kids were born here in this beautiful country and we have the joy of raising them in a remote jungle village where we live on the island of Palawan. Of course, it has not been without it’s fair share of struggles, but we wouldn’t change a thing, and we are more than grateful for this multi-cultural life we lead. I blog at http://philippabrooks.com and instagram daily as pippyjbrooks about our life here. Just thinking of this post had my hubby and I laughing as we thought over the various experiences we have had. Maybe I actually need to sit down and send you off an email. Glad I have found your blog either way, and looking forward to following along. With love from the jungle today, Philippa.

  43. This has to be one of my favorite pieces I’ve read on your blog. Now I want to go and read these stories……I was laughing out loud at some of them and shocked at others. Great stories!!!

  44. YAY! Love, love, love this series!

  45. Maywyn says...

    Wonderful series, one of the best and most interesting online for people of any age.
    I read the blog An English Travel Writer, that just returned from a trip to Iceland. Fascinating country. I hope parents living there reply to your request.

  46. Jess says...

    This is my favorite of your series. I’m excited there will be more!

  47. Megan says...

    This is my favorite series that you do! So wonderful and inspiring. Do you follow either Our Open Road or Courtney Adamo on instagram? They’re both traveling around with their children and teaching them on the road! Not sure if they’d exactly fit what you’re looking for in this series, but they are so fun to follow and I’d love to hear more of their stories! Xx

  48. Dee says...

    You have to be the child on the right it looks so much like Anton. <3

  49. I’m so excited for this series. I love it so much and always learn such fascinating things. Last year I forwarded the one from the Netherlands to my mom (she was born there) and I was surprised and delighted by how familiar some parts of the culture were.

  50. Elis says...

    Hi Joanne!
    Would it be possible to write I post about parenting in the US? I do understand that you want to compare parenting in differente countries to your own but for an outsider like me (I’m Brazilian) I have not a clue of what are you comparing all those countries against.
    Love the blog, the stories and specially the bits and pieces about your boys!
    Elis

  51. Libbynan says...

    I have just loved this series! I talk about it to friends all the time. I do feel that other countries are still raising their children the way I was raised here in the US……. that is to be self- reliant and think for myself. We also need to realize that it does indeed take not only a village, but a whole society to raise strong, healthy children.

  52. I’m living in Guatemala now and know a lovely family if you’d like to get in touch. The mother founded a school here after serving in the Peace Corps.

  53. Samantha says...

    I’m so excited! I LOVE this series and talk to everyone I know about them. Even if I’m not interested in having kids myself, I find it so interesting to learn how people live in other countries. I hope you do a Caribbean one (I live in Dominican Republic), and a middle-eastern one (my family is from Israel), I’d love to see what foreigners think about the cultures I was raised in. And also, a remake for Italy, since that one was deleted shortly after being posted. I’ll see if I can think of any American mothers who would be interested in sharing their experiences, so they get in contact with you. I really hope you get to publish all the parenting posts in a book one day, it’d be an amazing gift to any parent. I’d probably get one for myself, too :) I’m SURE it’d be a hit.

    • Yes! I love that idea. Make it a book 🙂

  54. As an American who has lived in Africa and a couple of European countries, yes, there are differences, but there are also so many similarities. What’s universal is, to me, the most interesting.

  55. Wow! This is a fantastic way to learn how things are done differently all over the globe :)

  56. I have always loved this series. I’m so glad to hear that you plan to continue it. I love your site and all the many topics you post on but something about this series in particular (and the My Beauty Uniform ones!) are just so wonderful. It’s fascinating to hear about other parts of the world through the lens of motherhood. Thank you for continuing it!

  57. Nik says...

    Hooray! Another reason to be excited for summer. xo

  58. My mother came to California from Denmark in the early 1970’s. She had four children and thought the way people raised kids here was so bizarre. Also, at that time, there really weren’t any good clothes for infants and kids. She knit most of our baby clothes and would bring clothes back from visits to Denmark. She even thought of importing children’s clothes to fill the gap (just before Hanna Andersson).

  59. Cindy says...

    When I first saw the picture at the top, I thought, “Who is that with Anton?” :)

    Excited for this series. It’s what first brought me to your website.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you’re so right!!

  60. I’m not even a mother and I’m completely fascinated by motherhood in different countries. My husband and I have actually thought about moving to Ireland for 6 months to a year. We’re in the process of “trying” and think that it would be fun to have a little one with dual citizenship.

    Katy
    http://www.coveredstyle.com/100-modcloth-giveaway/

  61. Laura Lindstrom says...

    I’ll email you tomorrow! We’re American living in Russia. We also have lived and live some of the year in Sweden!

  62. American mom and photographer raising four children in New Zealand here.

    • Just send an email out.

      Thanks!

    • Rhonda says...

      Yay, I was hoping to see a Mum in New Zealand put her hand up :)

    • Hand up and message submitted. This is such a great series to read. The perfect winter (summer for most) read.

  63. These are my very favorite blog posts of all time. It’s exciting that you are bringing the series back for another season. I feel like I just received word that my favorite TV show was renewed!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that makes me so happy!

    • Darcy says...

      I totally agree with this — I thought the same thing!! Love, love, love this series!!!

  64. Ruth says...

    My absolute favorite series of your blog! I’m a new mom (baby girl is almost 5 months old) and I look forward to reading this summer’s columns with my new badge of motherhood!

  65. Hi Joanna, I was born in Argentina, lived for a short while (three years) in the US, and recently wrote a blog post about motherhood in Argentina.

    It’s because I’m a huge admirer of “Motherhood Around the World” series that I decided to write my version. I know, it’s not from an American perspective but here goes the link, in case there’s somebody interested!

    http://eclecticalu.blogspot.com.ar/2016/02/6-unexpected-facts-about-motherhood-in.html

    Can’t wait to read the next installment! Thanks!

    Alina
    http://www.eclecticalu.blogspot.com

  66. Deb says...

    I’m an American and lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland recently for a year. I can 100% confirm the accuracy of your quote by Tiffany above. Walking in town one day, my son started to downward spiral. An older Irish lady stopped to find out what all the fuss was about. “Ah, sure, it can’t be all that bad, ya wee pet.” My son was stunned into silence – it was hilarious!

    • Rachel S says...

      This is so funny. I wish Americans would talk like that!

  67. This is wonderful. I believe we have much to gain when we are open to the perspectives and practices of others. I look forward to learning more about families around the world!

    http://www.thewefiles.com

  68. Taylor says...

    You should include a mother in one of the Polynesian islands (I’m not sure if you have already done one from here). I think it would be so interesting, because each island has a unique culture!

  69. Jessica says...

    Eek! I’m so excited!

  70. mackenzie says...

    LOVE LOVE this series!
    Do one on HONG KONG! its not quite China and not exactly Shanghai.
    (we are moving there with a toddler this summer)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so exciting!!! and that’s a great idea.

    • Alexia says...

      My parents raised me in Hong Kong. Lovely city, although the pollution is bad, definitely very different mindset from mainland China. There is a lot of Western influence because of the British colonization:)
      I would love to see more mothers from in the Middle East and Southern Asia. Brazil would be cool too!

  71. Yay!! Already looking forward to the next round of this series. In fact, I believe one of these posts was how I found Cup of Jo (and all the others are so great I just keep coming back for more!).

  72. Allegra Liu says...

    Really enjoy this series, one of my favorites. The picture of you and your sister with your mom is sweet. You look a lot like Toby and your sister looks like Antoine!

    • Allegra Liu says...

      Oops Anton

  73. Melissa says...

    How does Canada fit into all of this with our cultures being so similar?
    I do have a lovely Canadian cousin living in New Zealand raising a child!

  74. Ruth says...

    Any parents in Geneva/French-speaking Switzerland? We are (if all goes to plan) re-locating and would love someone’s perspective. Or maybe it’ll be us contributing down the road… ;)

    • Sarah says...

      I lived in Geneva for a little bit, and all the families have wonderful play dates in may of the parks. Because most if not all people live in apts, getting kids outside was important. Summers on the Lake (and at the beach) are beautiful.

  75. Amanda says...

    Love following Elise Hu-Stiles (EliseWho and elisegoeseast.tumblr.com) on Instagram. She’s a Seoul-based correspondent for NPR and often posts things that have to do with being a mother in Korea.

  76. Mary Jenkins says...

    yes!!! my favorite series in blog land.

  77. Steph B says...

    This series is originally what brought me to your blog. I absolutely love it as a first time mother. And every time my three your old doesn’t share something I always say to the other parent, “Did you know in Germany…” Haha. This series really should win some sort of blog award.

  78. Kadria says...

    Are you including Central America in “South America?” If so I have some fantastic recommendations from Costa Rica.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Costa Rica would be wonderful!!