Motherhood

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in Iceland

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

Our next Motherhood Around the World post features Mary Frances Davidson, who lives with her six-year-old daughter and five-year-old son in Reykjavik. She works for the United Nations University Fisheries Training Program. Here, she talks about mischievous elves, swim lessons for newborns, and how great the country is for single mothers…

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

Mary Frances’s background: Ten years ago, I moved from Seattle to Iceland to get a master’s degree in Environmental Science at the University of Iceland. I married an Icelandic man and we had two children; although we’re now divorced, I love it here and plan to stay. We live in a cozy basement apartment in the capital city of Reykjavik. We’re only a 15-minute walk from the water, and the air is clean with a fresh, salty smell.

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On the wild landscape: Iceland is a strange and beautiful country. If you drive 30 minutes in any direction outside of Reykjavik, you’ll find yourself among lava fields, waterfalls, fjords and glaciers. It is striking, but extremely harsh. When the weather is bad, it’s bad. Sometimes the icy wind is so strong that it will cut your cheeks, literally. Yet, people here don’t understand the concept of taking a “snow day.” Life carries on, no matter the weather. My son sometimes looks out the window in the morning and reports, “The weather is not too bad today, Mama. The trees are not moving!” There is a positive outlook that helps us survive. I have found myself adopting this, saying things like, “At least it is not windy,” or “At least it isn’t snowing,” or “At least it isn’t too cold.”

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On being a small country: Reykjavik feels like a small village where everybody knows each other. It is not unusual to see very famous people in line at the grocery store. I once shared a community hot tub with Bjork. The President is listed in the phone book. [The entire country has a lower population than Cleveland, Ohio.]

My son’s teacher gave the class an assignment: Each child had to take a walk every day to visit the home of another kid. Teachers took photos of each student standing at his or her front door, and then made a map of the neighborhood with all their homes. Now when we’re walking around, my son will randomly point and say, “That is Soley’s house!”

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On names: My daughter is Elsa Maria Kolbeinsdottir, and my son is Finnur Atli Kolbeinsson. There is a patrilineal naming system in Iceland, so my kids’ last names are derived from their father’s first name, Kolbeinn. Elsa’s last name means daughter of Kolbeinn, and Finnur’s means son of Kolbeinn. When people marry, they don’t change their names. It’s not confusing because everyone is referred to by their first name. Even teachers, doctors and other professions that would typically use surnames in the U.S. go by their first names. My daughter will call her teacher “Margaret” at elementary school next year, and our doctor is named Gudbjorg.

iceland-19

On single parenting: Three years ago, I separated from my kids’ Icelandic dad. The cultural attitudes toward marriage and divorce in Iceland feel very different than in the U.S. There’s no stigma or taboo around being a single parent. The American narrative seems to say everyone’s goal should be to get married and have kids, and that divorce will negatively affect children. All that was going through my mind when I was trying to decide whether our divorce was a good idea or even a possibility — it took a long time to get there. But when I told people in Iceland that we were getting a divorce, the response was often, ‘I’m sorry to hear that, but it happens.’ Nobody asked, ‘What happened?!!’ They didn’t need the details or a dissection. I was nervous about the judgment, but there was none.

On marriage: People don’t get married as often in Iceland. Although we got married when I was pregnant with our first child, it’s common for couples to date for many years, then have a baby and maybe move in together. And when the kid is older, they might get married. Out of all the couples I know, I can think of maybe one or two who got married before having a baby. [Studies show that 67% of all Icelandic babies are born out of wedlock.]

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On hands-off parenting: Icelanders value freedom in childhood, and that includes freedom from adult supervision. Kids often play outside without their parents, and there is a 10 p.m. curfew for kids under 12 (enforced more by parents than police). I have never heard people here talk about “stranger danger,” and there’s a very low crime rate. My boyfriend has seven- and eight-year-old sons. They spend their days just wandering, riding bikes and going to the football field. I’ll ask my boyfriend, ‘Do you know where the boys are?’ He’ll say ‘Nope, they’re out.” I’m getting more comfortable with the Icelandic parenting mode, but I still worry about my kids all the time. My six-year-old daughter will walk to school on her own this fall, but my kids don’t stay out late by themselves.

On bright summer nights: The sun never sets in the summer. It looks like it’s setting around midnight, but then it just bounces along the horizon for a few hours and comes back up, so it feels like dusk all night. The energy in the summertime is really invigorating — everyone stays outside way past their bedtimes. You need blackout shades to get kids to sleep. People get creative: I’ve used cardboard, and I have a friend who uses big towels. Each summer, my favorite moment is watching the bright orange “sunset” at midnight with my children snuggled up in my lap.

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On dark winters: You begin to notice the darkness in October and November, and November to February is the darkest time. In the dead of winter the sun will rise at 10:30 a.m. and set at 3:30 p.m., but it never gets truly bright because the sun never gets high in the sky. It’s beautiful — that kind of light makes long shadows and a mysterious, ethereal beauty — but it can be hard. A lot of people get winter blues. We cope by baking and lighting candles and spending cozy time inside. My kids love ice skating and sledding on a hill by our house. People also take cod liver oil, which is rich in vitamin D and is supposed to help with mood.

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On Christmas traditions: Icelanders celebrate Christmas hard! At Christmastime, children are visited by 13 mischievous elves. They’re tricksters named for the sly things they do, like The Door Slammer or The Sausage Swiper. They used to just cause trouble, but these days they also leave little gifts inside children’s shoes. [In one 1998 survey, 54.4% of Icelanders said they believed in the existence of elves.] I doubt any adults actually believe in elves, but at the same time, no one will admit that out loud because they don’t want to risk making the elves mad!

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On swimming: Pretty much every town in Iceland has a geothermal outdoor community pool that is open year round. After school, or weekend mornings, we’ll walk to the pool for a swim and a soak in the hot tub, no matter the weather. Locker rooms have high chairs for babies to sit in while their parents shower or get dressed, and every pool has water toys and games for kids. The coolest and most Icelandic thing to do is to swim during a blizzard. The geothermal heat makes swimming pleasant, even if it’s dark, windy and snowy — you just have to sprint from the pool to the hot tub.

Elsa Maria in swim class.

On babies swimming: Parents take their babies to their first swim lessons when they are three months old. It’s less about learning to swim and more about getting used to the ritual of going to the pool. Both our kids went three times a week in a pool made just for babies. They learn to how to go under water without breathing, by training a reflex that all babies are born with. You basically count to three and blow in their face and dunk them under water. The guy who teaches them has been doing it for 25 years.

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

Elsa Maria and Finnur eating ice cream with their grandmother and great grandmother.

On ice cream: Despite the freezing cold temperatures, Icelanders are always up for grabbing an ice cream, and my kids are, too. There’s almost always line out the door — even in a blizzard. Until recently, there were only two flavors available at our local ice cream shop: one was called “Old,” which is vanilla made with milk, and the other “New,” which is vanilla made with cream. This year, they brought in all different flavors — chocolate, pistachio, licorice — and people are going crazy for it.

On Icelandic dinners: If I’m tired after a long day at work, the kids are happy to have liver or blood sausage with oatmeal — that’s an easy Icelandic dish. Another favorite is dried fish, which is an excellent snack to eat with butter. Slightly less appealing are the foods that are eaten in the season after Christmas, called “Thorri,” to pay homage to the hard times Icelanders have survived — such as soured meat including ram’s testicles and whale blubber, as well as boiled sheep’s head and fermented shark. There’s also a lot of drinking, which I assume is to help make the food palatable.

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

On dogs: We just got a puppy, but pet dogs are a relatively new thing in Iceland. Dogs weren’t allowed in the city until the 80s, so a lot of people are afraid of dogs. You need a permit to get one, and if you live in an apartment with a shared entrance, by law you have to get permission from two-thirds of the other tenants. Our dog is affectionate and always wants to run to people, but I make sure to keep her close. “Heel” is the most important command that she’s learned.

On a mom-friendly culture: One thing that really surprised me when I was in grad school was all the pregnant bellies and strollers I saw at the university dining hall. I always thought that getting pregnant was a death sentence in academia. How are you going to finish your degree with a baby? How will you afford to live? When will you write your thesis if you have to take care of the baby? Not an issue in Iceland. This hit home for me when a woman in my program gave birth over the holiday and came to class with her newborn. She breastfed him when he cried. There is a university-run day care for babies, and later there’s a state-run play school. I’ve never felt like I needed to choose between my professional life and raising my children — even as a single mom. Icelandic society is basically built for children and families, so it feels like one of the best places on earth to be a working mother. I love it here.

Motherhood Around the World: Iceland

Thank you so much, Mary Frances!

P.S. The full Motherhood Around the World series.

(Family photos courtesy of Mary Frances Davidson. Landscape photos by Christine Han. Geothermal pool photo by Cree Jones. Reykjavik town photo by Iceland Magazine. Interview by Megan Cahn.)

  1. Julie B says...

    You had me till liver and blood sausage were the ‘good’ meals…..

  2. Terry says...

    My daughter is married to an Icelandic man, that she met in Talknafjourder about 29-30 years ago. She had been traveling after college and ended up there to work with other girls in a fish factory to make money to get home but met him instead. After going back and forth for about three years they moved here -US and had their children, but kept the Icelandic name way, the trolls, the cooking, the ideals of the Icelandic community, etc and go back every summer. there is a small community of Icelandic people in the Seattle area -his family all live in Iceland, so the closeness is always there. A good place to live

  3. Freya says...

    I love Iceland so much, for so many reasons! If I could find a way to live there legally, I’d move in an instant. <3

  4. Laura says...

    American living in Iceland here with my Icelandic husband. We don’t have kids but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. :) I taught at an elementary level and I too, was amazed at how kids are left to themselves to go out, play, walk places in the snow, etc at such a young age! I especially loved your mention on being a single mom/student/professional/divorcee and how there is no judgement here and no pressure to be greater at one than the other because you can have a healthy balance. You have a lovely family. Stay smiley and happy!
    xoxo- Laura

  5. Maddie Oakley says...

    Too funny to be scrolling through Facebook and see a photo of a childhood friend! Hello to you, Mary Frances, from Seattle!

    • Mary Frances says...

      Hi Maddie! Long time no see :) Hope all is well, and greetings from Iceland! Hugs, MF

  6. Lucy says...

    I got the winter blues when I was living in Sweden in winter, taking vitamin D capsules made such a difference, I feel like that should put it in the water or something! It is so surprise that there is such a high level of depression and suicides in the Nordic countries.

  7. kate says...

    I was totally with you up to the “liver or blood sausage.”

    This was totally fascinating, and I can’t get enough of that baby swim lesson! I swear it looks like a magic trick.

  8. I love this series so much!

  9. Sharon says...

    What a fabulous read. I would love to know how to pronounce the names of the children. Was tickled pink by the “new” and “old” ice cream flavours and the daily dip in the pool is a wonderful ritual. But that weird food after Christmas … ahem. Pass.

  10. Sarah says...

    I love these motherhood series. Thank you for sharing them

  11. Shannon says...

    I’m in love with Iceland! What’s wrong with America and the American ideas for moms, single parenting, getting married and having children, not being able to work after having kids. I love their overall acceptance. I love this series and a story like this one makes me love it even more.

  12. Nidhi says...

    Such a wonderful way to explore cultures & motherhood! I’ve read most of these & still can’t get enough… Just adore it Joanna!

  13. Jim Breedlove says...

    Wow, that’s all I can say!

  14. I LOVE this series. I just returned from Iceland and I thought it was magical. Our tour guide told us about the Reykjavik police department’s instagram account which is delightful and worth sharing: https://www.instagram.com/logreglan/

    As a sidenote – I was recently in Finland and my American friends had a minor freak out when they saw babies left outside to snooze in their strollers. Thank goodness I remembered from reading this series that leaving babies outside to sleep is totally normal and stopped my friends from making a scene!

    • Luiza says...

      I always tell this anecdote to people and in France they all seem very surprised as well!!

  15. Leanne Dunlavey says...

    This series is by far one of the most interesting things I read on the internet on a regular basis. Iceland sounds so refreshing! But I could go without the really dark winters—and just year round summer! (I’m from Michigan.)

  16. oh I just love this!

  17. One of my best friends lives in Iceland. We visited her two years ago and we loved it! It`s such an impressive country! I loved to hear some random facts from Mary Frances!
    xx Caroline

    https://carolinespassion.wordpress.com

  18. Sæþór says...

    Another American transplant to Iceland (from Richmond, Virginia). I am a gay man married to an icelandic man, and we have an almost 2 year old son. I absolutely adore the difference in culture here. It is so much safer, the focus on family and ensuring people are taken care of while raising kids is such a great feeling. Especially getting equal paternity pay as men.

    Thanks for such a great post and background about Iceland, I agree with all of it!

    • JB says...

      Hello!
      How big is the LGBTQ+ population there? My girlfriend and I are looking into various places to live in the future hit we definitely don’t want to be the only gay couple.
      Thanks!

    • Sæþór says...

      Heya JB.

      The queer population is both big and small. It’s small because the whole nation is only 320,000, but it’s big because there is almost no anti-gay stigma, nearly anyone who is bi or queer is out, and there are very few pressures to keep people in the closet or in shame marriages.

      The majority of queer families with kids are lesbian led, as surrogacy is still illegal here (out of concern for women’s rights) but it’s an extremely open and safe place for queer people, sometimes entire years pass with zero hate crimes.

      Pride is the largest social gathering of the year, with many families bringing their small children to support friends and family and to see the colorful floats and performers.

      As a queer father, I honestly can’t imagine a safer or more accepting nation on the earth.

    • Tae says...

      Oh how crazy, I just moved here with my Icelandic husband and my 4 year old, and I grew up in Richmond, VA too. >_< I'll probably see you around town! This place is magical, loving it so far.

  19. Tiffany says...

    Loved my brief visit to Iceland – thank you Mary Frances and cupofjo!

  20. Iceland is such an incredible country.

  21. Anna says...

    Growing up in Iceland was magical…the freedom, the nature…ohh how I miss my wonderful childhood <3
    I have lived abroad for 10 years and now I want to move back home too raise my two children in this enviorment…I actually teared up when I read this! Thank you…I am gonna start packing pit bags now ;)

  22. KylieO says...

    One of my absolute favourites ever! I gobbled up every single word of this one – so fascinating! It makes me want to move to Iceland (although being Australian, the non-sunlight thing would be hard to wrap my head around lol). Thanks once again for such a great read! xx

  23. Love this! And it reminds me of the (very cold, dark) time we spent Christmas in Iceland. The night before Christmas Eve is a huge party night, and we went out to a bar and started chatting with a group of jolly men in their 50s drinking next to us. My husband started dueting on the bar’s piano with one of them. Then it turned out they were Bjork’s original bandmates in the Sugarcubes…

    • mosey says...

      That is so cool! I used to love the Sugarcubes! :)

  24. This post is making me want to go to Iceland in ways I never have before! And I love the elves!

  25. Asa says...

    Overall a very good article but I feel inclined to tell you that the 13 Santa Clauses are not elves but trolls! Their mom being the fiercest troll of all with children being her favourite meal. Her troll husband is known to be the laziest troll of all. But the family is not completed yet, because they have a fearsome giant cat that eats humans too. Then there are more Santa Clauses from a time where they where known as bad scary trolls but where cut down to 13 mischievous trolls.

    Elves are a whole different story and besides elves we have “hidden people” (huldufólk), ghosts, zombies, and plenty of monsters.

    • Kristin H. says...

      to add to the story…. There is a way to prevent being eaten by the cat, you only have to provide your family member with a new garment, therefor, it is quite often you see a pair of socks, underwear, pajamas, gloves etc from one of the santas, to keep the oh so hungry cat away. (we put one shoe in the window for each child and when say “Sausage swiper” comes to town, he walks by the houses and puts a little gift in a childs shoe).

  26. madame says...

    I spent six months in Iceland, and it was great! There were so many wonderful things to rave about. People were so kind and the cultural scene is CRAZY! I could not get over how many super talented classically trained musicians, filmmakers, writers, artists there are per capita… As for the food, there were some really great restaurants and lovely quality “normal food” ( lamb, cheeses, fish and great langoustine etc) as well as the weird boiled sheep head and all that. The food thing that I could not wrap my head around was the mashed potatoes with SUGAR and not salt!!

    • Hanna says...

      With suger and salt and a little bit of milk 😉

  27. Lynn says...

    Mary Frances what a great article! I loved reading about your adopted land and it sounds like a great place to raise children. I love the pictures and the writing and the information and everything! I remember you from your visiting Kwaj, I knew your mother there, and I think we spent a little time in Hono together? Anyway, best of luck to you!

    • Mary Frances says...

      Hello Lynn! Great to hear from you. We *did* spend some time in Hono, as I recall. I still remember your epic DVD collection :) Hope you and your family are well! Let me know if you ever get a hankerin’ to visit Iceland! MF

  28. Laura says...

    Mary Frances, you are living my dream! We have been to Iceland twice, and would love to live there (at least part of the year.) Is Iceland a country that is difficult for foreigners to move to if you’re not married to an Icelandic citizen or a student?

    • Sæþór says...

      Yes, Laura, Iceland has fairly strict immigration routes. The most common are student, marrying an Icelander, or having a “high skill visa” (think programming, doctors, or rare skills not found often among the EU).

      EU citizens can move and work freely in Iceland as it is part of the European Economic Area, so the laws acknowledge that nearly any job or shortage of laborers can be filled easily from the rest of the EU, and only the above exceptions apply to non EU citizens.

    • Laura says...

      Thanks for the reply!

  29. This is amazing. I’m actually heading to Iceland this summer, and it was really neat to read all about the parenting styles — I loved it! And had no idea the country’s population was that tiny!

    — Dara // http://www.peoniesandhoneybees.com

  30. Ethan Kelley says...

    Just got back from a couple weeks in Iceland and must say watching kids run around outside was refreshing. (Soccer fields and bikes everywhere) That being said, I saw some of the worst behaved kids inside stores that I have ever seen, even in America. One boy and girl, in particular, screamed all thru the store and then spun a shopping cart repeatedly until it struck an old lady. I held up my hand for them to stop, and their faces seemed like they had never been told to stop anything. Mom was oblivious throughout.

    • Alena says...

      Sure sounds a lot like Iceland… for many parents here educating your child does not include saying “no”.

  31. margo fallon says...

    I have been excited to read this post on parenting in Iceland since I learned it would be part of the Parenting Series last week. I visited Iceland for a week last year and like so many other visitors, I truly loved it. The insights into parenting gave me a better understanding of their culture which seems so freeing. My only regret is not that I decided not to go to the Blue Lagoon but that I didn’t go to one of the geothermal pools frequented by Icelanders use on a regular basis.

  32. So beautiful to read about this. I visited Iceland in April and fell in love with the uniqueness of the country and the kindness of the people.

  33. This series is so fun and interesting! The divorce/marriage part was what I found to be the most interesting; and given some of the comments, I’m not the only one! It’ a fresh perspective to hear about the lack of stigma.

    Helen @ http://www.KaleidoscopeSpinning.com

  34. EsLin says...

    I love these! So good to hear from a divorced mama too!

  35. Lisa says...

    We just returned from Iceland. We brought our 6 year old and while we initially thought it might not be the most exciting place to bring a child, the people were so inviting and welcoming to children (at pubs, at restaurants, etc), and we noticed there were kids everywhere. We went cave exploring, hiking, hot pool swimming, and boated around icebergs in a Zodiac. We took him horseback riding, took a ferry to the Vestmann Islands to see puffins, ate lots of local candy, climbed behind waterfalls and walked black sand beaches. Our kid had the time of his life exploring this natural landscape– there was SO much to keep him interested, so many places to stop and adventure. It was also the solstice– what an amazing thing to walk around at midnight in the light, yet no one was really around! We stayed at a little airbnb in Reykjavik and I thought “this is a place I could live.” Wonder if I’d feel that way in the winter? The Northern Lights would be stunning though! No need for the “kid-centric” entertainment– bring them to Iceland!

  36. Ana says...

    Amazing as always. Iceland hits close to my heart; I really adore the way people deal with life and nature more naturally in these environments. The fact that you trust kids to be kids; and you just deal with nature…
    On a different note; I’ve tried the “I’m sorry” approach to people who divorce and they seem to take it personally, that I don’t ask more about it. It’s so weird.

  37. This is such a beautiful look at life outside our own zone (our, in my case, being American). At my university, pregnancy was the kiss of death if you wanted to be in academia. I hope that one day we change that as a culture.

    aroseisinbloom.blogspot.com

  38. Neena says...

    “Old” and “New”, how sweet and comforting.

  39. Really loved reading this, it is always interesting to see how children are raised in different parts of the world!

    Great post :)

    x

  40. Carolyn says...

    I went to Iceland last year and loved it. I also think it’s cute how all the babies sleep outside of shops and restaurants tucked up in their prams – even when it is super cold.

  41. Kate says...

    Wonderful post! It sounds like a fairytale with all the elves and hot tubs and snow. If I wasn’t a solar powered South African, I would want to move there in a heartbeat :)

  42. Brynhildur says...

    It is always nice to hear a foreigners view on Iceland but it is not a totally perfect country to live in as no country is. It is mostly because of bad government and other leaders in charge. We Icelanders say we believe in elves and jul lads (our 13 Santas) because we think it’s cute not because we do. The reason for only one flavor of ice cream is only one company made ice cream before and if you don’t have competition you don’t need to. Most Icelandic people also love hot dogs and we claim ours is the best in the world. And we always feel the need to correct foreigners articles 😆

    • Laura says...

      I’m not sure if just being in Iceland made the hot dogs taste as delicious as they did, but I agree that you have the best hot dogs in the world!

    • Lára says...

      Well, I’m from Iceland and I say I believe in elves because I do… and so many other people I know 😊

    • Margret Payne says...

      When Iwas growing up in Iceland we had two companies that made Ice Cream, Emmes and Kjoris one made ice cream from cream and the other from milk.

  43. Love this series. I also really like the mom-friendly culture.

  44. Miki Wheres says...

    This was very interesting and the best piece I’ve read on Iceland thus far. I’ve been interested in visiting for a few years, even in light of the most recent Eurovision debacle, where the people were upset to have a black music group represent country… But then I read other reports where many (older) men are looking to marry women of color from various countries. Either way, of like to see for myself and experience this beautiful country perhaps in the late summer/early autumn next year. I hope it’s more than I can ever imagine; all for the good, of course. And I also want to try the 2 versions of vanilla ice cream.. I think everyone likes I’ve cream year-round, right?!

    • Sigridur says...

      There were only a few people who were upset that the musician represented Iceland. Then you saw waves after waves of people expressing how much they respect him. He’s as Icelandic as anyone else who’s been born here. Please don’t let the views of few idiots discourage you 😊

  45. Beth says...

    As always, thanks for bringing such a great variety of viewpoints and inspiration into your posts! I was lucky enough to spend a week in Iceland last September and it was truly such a magical place- a week was not enough and I cannot wait to go back and explore some more. The scenery was breathtaking (we even got to see the northern lights, which we were not expecting so early in the year!), the people we encountered were very interesting and kind, and Reykjavik was very walkable & easy to maneuver. We had lots of nice meals and enjoyed all the adorable cats we saw all over the place!

    • Eygló says...

      Oh I just have to comment on this! “The people” certainly were not upset about the great guy who represented us in Eurovision – TWO racist people said something on Facebook and it made the news, since others were appalled. And older men marrying young women of color are not many, although this happens.

      We are not a perfect country, but it hurts to know someone thinks racism is a general thing here. It belongs to a few idiots – just like in most countries.

      Thank you. :)

  46. Fascinating! I really love this series.

  47. Stacey says...

    My husband and I took a two week trip to Iceland last fall, and it was incredible. I’ve visited a lot of countries, but Iceland was the only one where I pretty much instantly wanted to move there. The food, culture, landscape, geothermal pools (I miss those sooo much!), people, and everything else completely charmed me. Plus the cats in Reykjavik! Everywhere we went, we saw adorable cats lounging on the sidewalks and sometimes in the middle of the street. And they wouldn’t move for cars, either, so people would stop their cars, get out, and try to shoo the cats out of the middle of the road. If that didn’t work, they would just back up and take a different street :)

  48. Ash says...

    Her words made me so happy! I’ve been to Iceland twice (from FL) and am completely captivated. Can’t wait to spend next July there! So much beauty.

  49. Katie says...

    Joanna, this is the best series — I look forward to it every summer. I have such wanderlust for living abroad and these stories are inspirational and interesting.

    Love that baby swim video too!

  50. Ana says...

    This series is so fun. Reading these is like eating candy! Thank you!

    • Anna says...

      ditto!! tonight it was my treat after getting the kids down!!

    • Tharanath says...

      Indeed

  51. Alice says...

    I’m swept away by Icelandic elves and windy weather. My fave so far, by far.
    I have a wonderful Icelandic friend, our eldest boys are similar ages, and she is so calm, down to earth, and non-judgemental. She told me most families have elves living at the end of their garden and her grandparents believe they are real. Her kids have really cool names too. I really wanted to visit there. Now I want to move! Thank you, Mary Frances!

  52. Paula says...

    My favourite posts/series – so interesting!!
    Thank you!

    • Dagný says...

      I don´t know how serious she is about the two flavours (possible in her neighbourhood shop) but not all over the city.

    • María says...

      Actually we don’t. Maybe the ice cream shop the writer frequents only has two flavours, but as I native Icelander I can assure you we have had other flavours for years ;)

  53. emily says...

    hooray! this couldn’t be more perfectly timed – headed there with my 18 month old in a few weeks : ) we chose iceland for it’s family friendliness and short(ish) flight time. can’t wait to try that ice cream and go swimming!

    • Laura says...

      Emily, we just came back from 10 days in Iceland with our 15-month-old. (It was our second time there, first time with our little one.) You can honestly not pick a better place to travel with a baby. Every single place we ate at had high chairs, and many had toys for children to play with. And as others have mentioned, it is one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever encountered. We went to a geothermal pool that did not happen to have a high chair in the changing room, and a bunch of elderly Icelandic women offered to hold my baby while I changed. Also, the men’s bathrooms we encountered while driving the Ring Road all had changing tables in them! The U.S. could learn a thing or 2 from Iceland on making our country parent and child-friendly.

      Anyway, have a safe and enjoyable trip! I have a good feeling that you guys will enjoy it as much as we did.

  54. I love this so much (and this whole series!) it’s so fascinating!

  55. Sophie Simonsdóttir Heiðdal says...

    As a long time reader of Cup of Jo, and resident of Iceland (I’m a Brit living here with my Icelandic husband), this was SUCH an exciting post to read!! Thank you Joanna for choosing to feature this little chilly island… and thank you Mary Frances! As per other reader comments, you have such a warm friendly tone, and it was so nice to see our home represented and described so wonderfully. I hope (and probably will) bump into you and your littles in some coffee shop downtown. Fingers crossed.

    Joanna, I actually met your lovely sister on the Breath Becomes Air book tour when she was in Hampstead, London… I asked her a question from the audience, and almost had a panic attack talking in front of all those people ;) Afterwards at the signing, when I had a quick chat, in a strange (not creepy, promise!) way it also felt a little like meeting you also which was special to me as a long time reader. I’m such a huge fan, and think this is such a wonderful little corner of the internet, full of support, intelligence and kindness. Thank you so much (especially as a fellow sufferer of anxiety… You’ve provided many moments of relief and insight through your posts). If you and your beautiful family ever find yourself in Iceland… I would just love to grab a coffee, or at least help point you guys towards a truly kick-ass itinerary.

    p.s For anyone in the comments section now nervous of Icelandic food, you don’t need to go anywhere near blood sausage/ fermented shark/ puffin/ whale if you don’t want to… In fact please don’t! The restaurants, coffee shops and cafes here in Reykjavík are just amazing, and one of the highlights.

  56. Amy says...

    I loved the swimming video! I haven’t been confident enough to do that with any of my own babies (I’d brush up on my CPR skills first even with lifeguards around…) but maybe I should take my current babe to a lesson. The acrobatics were so fun to watch and Elsa Maria looked like she loved it!!

  57. Twyla says...

    Loved this interview and the photos! One question – what is used as a baby’s last name if the father is unknown or the mother wants no paternal name on the birth certificate?

    • Sandra Sigurjónsdóttir says...

      Then the mother gives the child her first name as a last name – with the son/daughter (son/dóttir) ending :)

    • Egill (the boyfriend) says...

      Easy. The child just takes on the mothers name. Son or daughter of mothers first name.

    • Hildur Sigurdardottir says...

      It´s such a small country, you´d probably know. However in later years people sometimes choose to go by their mothers names.
      I could then be Hildur Thorasdottir. Or even use both.

    • Alena says...

      Hildur, if you mother is called Thora (Þóra) you’d be ÞórUdóttir, not ÞórASdóttir.

  58. Erin says...

    Love so much about this interview, but I laughed SO hard at the ice cream comment. TWO flavors?! Clearly they knew that other flavors existed, so how were they okay with this? Or maybe I’m just a greedy American…

    • Tinna says...

      Of course there were more flavours available, I’m guessing Mary was joking a bit 😊

    • Sigridur says...

      She’s probably talking about ice cream from machines, not scoops.

  59. Sue says...

    Oh wow it is so worth reading Mary Frances’s blog too. The post on feminism in Iceland is amazing, as is the one on showering naked before getting in the pool.

  60. Peggy says...

    Such a great addition to the series.
    My husband and I had a truly wonderful vacation in Iceland a few years ago and when reading about the country before our visit we found the system of creating a new last name each generation really interesting. There is a government sanctioned list of acceptable first names – in theory to protect the Icelandic culture. Scroll down to read the “Controversies” section in the link below. People have sued the government to be able to legally use a name not on the list. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_Naming_Committee
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_name

  61. How wonderful the children there are still able to enjoy the freedom like we did it in the 70s and 80s in Bavaria. No one was in sorrow although we have been in the nature the complete day. Iceland belongs since a very long time to the countries I’m really interested in and I read as much as I can get about this fascinating country and in general about the North. Thank you and Mary Frances so much for this post. I really enjoyed each sentence! All the best to Mary Frances and her family.
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena
    http://www.dressedwithsoul.com

  62. Paige says...

    Thank you for sharing the voice of a single mother! It is so refreshing to get a peek at a single mother’s experience. I hope to see more single parenting incorporated into your beautiful blog.

  63. Carrie says...

    I loved reading this. My husband and I went there for our honeymoon for 2 weeks, and the country is truly incredible. Aside of the fact that it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, the people really are so kind. Everywhere we went, people were just nice. And not nice because we were American tourists (I grew up in a tourist town and currently live in Las Vegas, so I know “tourist nice”), but they were just genuinely nice. Thank you for the insight into parenting there! It’s a wonderful place!

  64. Jenna says...

    My favourite 15 Surprising Things so far! I’d love to hear more about Mary Frances’ career and professional life! Sounds so interesting!

  65. Melanie Price says...

    Beautiful. What a wonderful life experience. Thanks for sharing!! Cheers.

  66. Julia says...

    Beautiful interview, and as always so interesting. The ice cream thing is what I found most interesting.

    I do get bummed out when I see comments that reflect so poorly on our current situation for professional moms, single moms, and how unfriendly our country is by not having one year maternity leaves and daycares in universities, etc. I think our country values family in a very traditional sense and obviously we’re leaving tradition in terms of what constitutes marriage and the nuclear family.

    LOVE this series and keep coming back to reread interviews, but am always disappointed by seeing the comments turn into a comparison game. Can we celebrate our culture along with those of others? Especially considering all that has happened in the USA just in the past two weeks.

    • Emma says...

      There’s nothing traditional about being unsupportive of women, mothers in particular. Seeing the horror that has come to light once again this past week is exactly why we have an obligation to look critically at our culture and our nation. Frankly I can’t think of anything more patriotic.

    • Anna says...

      I agree with Emma, and want to add that there is room for improvement in many countries around the world. But, we can learn and grow by looking at what is working in other countries and trying to adapt it to our own, or aspire to it. On any measure the United States is doing a terrible job supporting families—even “traditional” ones. And, we have a long and dark history of not supporting people who don’t fit a very narrow “traditional” mold—including people of color and the LGBTQ community. What has happened over the last two weeks, as well as what has happened over the last 200+ years is just part and parcel of that history, unfortunately.

  67. kayla says...

    SO interesting! i love this series so much!

  68. Karen says...

    Whoa. eye-opening and paradigm shifting!
    Especially these days as we (Americans, more specifically white privileged Americans) have to reckon with so much–it is sobering to realize how very little is still “exceptional” about this place we call home.

  69. Steph B says...

    Well I guess we’re all moving to Iceland then. Sounds like a dream!

    • Azlin says...

      It does sound like a dream!

  70. This is so amazing. I love this country. Iceland has a special place in my heart: it was the first trip I ever took with my daughter, although I didn’t know it yet. I thought I was just exhausted from all the hiking we did, but it turned out that I was already a few weeks pregnant. I would love to go back!

  71. Jamie says...

    I just recently started following einstok on Instagram, a craft brewery from Iceland. They post the most breathtaking photos of Iceland.

    • Auste says...

      I recently discovered their beer! It has quickly become a favorite. Checking out their Instagram now!:)

  72. I think this is my favorite story in this series! I always knew Iceland was cool and now I have a load more reasons why :)

  73. Heather says...

    This series just continues to make me so happy! This makes me want to visit Iceland so much – the swimming, the varying landscapes, the long summer days. The killed me about the ice cream flavors! Hah!

  74. So incredibly interesting. I could read more and more about living in Iceland. Thank you for sharing.

  75. Jenna says...

    Bye! Going to open a gourmet ice cream shop in Iceland! ;)

    • Erin says...

      Ha, just made a comment on this above – clearly it’s a business need.

  76. Wow, I love how open and accepting Iceland is! It would be hard for me to get used to the food though!

    • Hildur says...

      Don’t worry…there is regular food here too:)

  77. I loved this and the parenting around the world series!

  78. Tina says...

    This was so beautiful but made me a little sad wishing the US and other countries were more accommodating to mothers :(

  79. I loved reading this. Thank you so much for sharing. The freedom parenting reminds me of when I was a kid. We spent hours outside riding our bikes, down at the creek, building forts in the woods, and all sorts of exploration until all our moms called us home for lunch or dinner. I have such fond memories of my childhood.

    XOXO, Amy @ Jeans and a Tea
    http://www.jeansandatea.com

  80. Stella says...

    Was a really nice read, glad to see a single mother. I went to baby swim with my kid as well, but I think he was maybe 5months. Regardless it was a lot of fun!
    Really want to visit one day. (I’m from Sweden)

  81. I love this series. Iceland sounds beautiful and unique! Really enjoyed this one. :)

  82. Sarah R. says...

    This warms my heart thinking of pregnant and nursing moms being taken care of while in school! Brava, Iceland!

  83. Thanks for sharing! Though I have to admit… the 2 ice-cream flavors was the part which BLEW ME AWAY!!!!!! Hahaha!

    • Hildur says...

      Being icelandic this is the only thing I can’t agree on:) we’ve had other flavours for decades, but recently small italian gelatoshops got popular! :)

    • Margret Payne says...

      I agree with Hildur we have always had more than two flavour of ice cream my fav used to be chocolate and strawberry although I have to be honest and say that chocolate ice cream in Iceland is nothing like the ones in America or rest of the world, I remember the first time having chocolate ice cream in america and just about choked on the raw cocoa powder taste, still today 30 years later I can not eat american chocolate ice cream

  84. Kim says...

    Have been reading the series for years and really loved this one. Joanna, I appreciate that in everything from beauty to baby to MATW posts, you make sure to include a wide breadth of experiences, people, and lifestyle choices (like single parenthood, adoption, women with different skin/hair/body types than your own, etc). I was telling a friend the other day that your blog feels like a compassionate, gentle political statement to me in that way.

    • Amy says...

      I love your comment about a compassionate, gentle political statement! So true! Thank you, Joanna.

  85. jill says...

    i loved reading this and I love this whole series. and it’s so nice to have a post from a single mother – thank you for sharing! sounds like such a beautiful place to live!

  86. Gosh, I loved this. Especially the part about the Icelandic views on marriage and kids. I think they might be onto something… :)

  87. Katie says...

    That baby swimming video is amazing and terrifying to me! Mainly the acrobatics that accompanied the swimming, haha!

  88. Reagan says...

    I have always wanted to visit Iceland. It looks so beautiful! I’m curious to know if her children are bilingual and if she’s adopted the Icelandic language in her daily life?

    • Egill (the boyfriend) says...

      They are and she has :)

  89. Lauren E. says...

    University-run daycare, state-run play school… What a dream. A country and a culture that truly values women and family and motherhood.

  90. Amy says...

    Oh wow. I think this has been my favourite post in the entire series. It made me want to move there SO much- and I already live in Canada with the chilliest of winters! But so many things she talked about made me smile, made my jaw crop, and the video of the baby at the pool was amazing!
    Love love love.

  91. Dawn says...

    My mind is blown at the thought of the support measures in higher education for mothers there!! Definitely something to strive for here in the U.S. Thanks for sharing…Iceland truly seems like such a wonderful (and beautiful) country to live in!

  92. Lily says...

    What a lovely interview!

    Although reading comments like:

    “Icelandic society is basically built for children and families, so it feels like one of the best places on earth to be a working mother. I love it here.”

    make me both sad and frustrated to be a mother in the US. For all the family values that politicians purport to uphold, they do basically nothing to enact laws and changes that would actually make having and raising a family easier. Get it together, America!

    • Jenna says...

      I seriously don’t know how American mama’s do it. I live in Canada so we get a full year off after a baby. It is fantastic, and such a normal part of our culture.

    • Samantha says...

      That’s the type of thing that countries with low birth rates do. They are more supportive of families and give them much more benefits. In places like United States, they don’t have a low birth rate issue, so they don’t feel the need to be as accommodating. Plus, there are way too many people living off the government’s help, for the State to assist even more people.

    • Sue says...

      Reading about other countries who support families makes my brain want to explode. It makes me want to leave the US. But hey I don’t need a permit for my dog at least?

    • Gudrun says...

      Actually, Icelanders have a similar birth rate as the U.S….

      “According to a report from the International Labour Organization, only three countries don’t offer paid maternity leave: Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the United States….”

      http://mentalfloss.com/article/56799/paid-maternity-leave-around-world

  93. It is easier to let kids be free-range in a place like Iceland where everybody knows everybody. When my kid was still little, but getting bigger (4th grade-ish), there was the terrible shame of having mom going to school, and I was told to stay away. I could go within a block of school, then it was two blocks, then farther, and finally, don’t leave the house! Of course I did, fulfilling my dream of being a spy, peeking around corners to ensure that my kid arrived safely at school. And the village old guys, sitting on benches, would smile at me and say, yes, yes, went to school! When you have old guys stationed on every corner conducting surveillance, you can let your kid run wild. I think that’s what they have in Iceland.
    At the same time, OMG there are dogs in Iceland now? I always said I’d move there because they didn’t have dogs (I am terrified of dogs–don’t try to convince me otherwise).

    • Carol says...

      Ha ha Loved this comment!!!

  94. Samantha says...

    An interesting fact about Iceland is that about a third of the population owns guns but they have one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Definitely gives us all something to think about. Also, about one in ten people in Iceland are published authors, how cool is that? I wish she would’ve said something about aurora borealis when she mentioned the weather, it’s probably one of Iceland’s main attractions for tourists. I find it interesting that people are chill with dating, having children and maybe later marry, since that’s what my parents did. Where I live it was so weird for people when I said I was at my parents wedding, they were like “yeah, right!”. But I really was, I was the flower girl lol.

    Anyhow, I can’t wait to visit Iceland! To me, it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth (says someone who lives in the Caribbean).

    • Meg says...

      I live in Iceland and it’s true that gun ownership is high and violent crime is low, however it should be noted that the guns owned by individuals are almost exclusively shotguns and hunting rifles.

    • Nafn says...

      Yeah, they have guns to shoot geese and reindeer, not to ‘protect themselves’ or anything like that. You also need a license to own a gun for hunting, it’s not like you can just walk into a shop and buy one.

    • Nafn says...

      Plus it is definitely not true that a third of the population owns a gun. That might be true if you take the number of guns and imagine that they are distributed evenly, but that’s not the case. A few people (who like hunting) have several guns.

  95. Mae says...

    I would love to know where the picture of the geothermal pool was taken. I’m going to put it on my bucket list! Just gorgeous and so tranquil looking.

  96. That sounds like an amazing place to live!!! Especially with a family! I’m not so sure about the food. Maybe a don’t knock it until you try it. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Gudrun says...

      The food in Iceland is quite ordinary when you go to the grosheryshop. The “old” Icelandic food you can also buy and from late january to late february (Þorri/Thorri) then you can get more variety of the old tradisional food that I love very much, but lot of Icelanders don’t and it is quite expensive too.

    • V says...

      The traditional food is mostly eaten (make that forced down while very drunk) on special occasions. Otherwise we eat typical food, pasta, chicken, fish red meat, veggies. The restaurants are fantastic actually. Except for dry fish, it is delicious and lots of foreigners agree.

  97. Finn says...

    I’m from Iceland and I cringed a little when I saw the title of the post. Articles on Icelandic culture are sometimes very off, with statements about most Icelanders believing in elves or similarly ridiculous claims, but this is pretty spot on! My siblings both took swim classes with that instructor as babies as well :)

  98. Emma says...

    Wow! One of my all time installments of this series — love Mary Frances’ unique voice – she sounds like a warm, adventurous and fun mama! What a cool snapshot into Icelandic life.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i felt the same way! i really loved her and all her thoughts:)

    • Samantha says...

      It was definitely refreshing to read about a single mother, since I’m almost sure every family until now featured parents who were married (or at least together I guess). It was interesting to see how supportive people are with mothers (and single mothers), when almost everywhere else in the world young and single motherhood is so difficult. My mom had me while she was still in college and, even with my grandparents taking care of me, it was not easy to work full time, study and finish a career with a baby.

  99. Going swimming so often (and in natural pools!) sounds amazing. My husband would go nuts for that – he loves the water! We don’t have kids yet but we’ve already talked about finding infant swim lessons here in the States.

    Their puppy is adorable. Hopefully it will help the natives learn to like dogs or at least not be afraid of them.

    • Hanna says...

      We love dogs but the thing is that we were more used to the tought that they belong on a farm rather then stuck in a city.

  100. Sara says...

    I was struck by how lovely the response was to people hearing about her divorce. I’m going through something similar (and I live in the US) — “what happened?” is my least favorite question in the world. I wish people would just say “I’m sorry.” and leave it at that!

    • S says...

      Same for me, Sara! Or they treat it like someone died or with a look of pity…when in actuality, it has made my life much happier!

  101. How fascinating! My parents are traveling there right now, and their photos are beautiful. It seems like a wonderful country to live in.

  102. amy says...

    Sounds just lovely. This is a great series! Thank you Joanna and Mary!

  103. Deb says...

    I love this series so much! I’m not a aren’t and never will be but I find people’s experiences fascinating and in a world where hatred is doing its level best to tear us apart, this series is helping us understand one another better. Just brilliant!

    • Deb says...

      *not a parent

  104. So lovely! Sounds like such a wonderful environment to raise children and just enjoy life in!

  105. Tyler says...

    I wanna live there! Great interview, I’ve been wanting to visit Iceland for years.