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. 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?