24 Surprising Things About Parenting in the United States

In our Motherhood Around the World series, we talked to American moms who are raising their children abroad. This week, we turned the tables and talked to nine moms who grew up abroad and are raising their children here in the United States. Here are 24 things they have found surprising about parenting in the U.S….

Lee Jensen

On food:

I had never seen cereal eaten dry as a snack before going to American playgrounds. But Cheerios seem to be a big hit with American kids. Also I had never seen such colorful snack containers and sippy cups. In Denmark, a kid’s snack would be a slice of rye bread with cheese wrapped in tinfoil or an apple straight up. I must admit that now I too have a fancy snack container collection!
—Lee Jensen, who moved from Denmark to New York

The most surprising thing for me was the lunchbox. In Japan, we take it quite seriously. Growing up, our typical lunch box would be eggs, fried chicken, vegetables — a proper meal. When I first saw my husband prepare a lunchbox for our son, it was bread, peanut butter, chips…and that was all. He assured me it was normal.
Reika Yo Alexander, who moved from Japan to New York

Sandra Ajanaku

On safety:

I was surprised by how supervised children are here. In Japan, kids go to school by themselves. As soon as children start first grade, they walk and ride trains and buses by themselves — even in Tokyo! I was surprised that in New York, my friend walks her 12-year-old son to school everyday. My son is five and in first grade, which is a ten-minute walk from here. If I let him go alone, I would be put in jail! So I walk with him to school every day.
—Reika Yo Alexander, who moved from Japan to New York

Here in the U.S., there is a huge “baby industry,” which does not exist in Romania. There’s special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for “brain development from months 3-6.” Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I’m constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.
—Arabella Hester, who moved from Romania to California

In Denmark, babies often nap outside in a big pram with warm bedding (a big no-no in the U.S.). We believe napping in the fresh air is good for babies. When it’s naptime you just find a quiet spot outside, put the baby monitor in the stroller and go back inside. This goes for people living in a house, but also for people living in apartments in Copenhagen. (Most apartment buildings have an interior courtyard where you can park your stroller for naps.) It’s common to see strollers with napping babies parked outside shops and cafés, so mom or dad can pop in for some quick shopping or meet a friend for coffee. My Danish mom friends aren’t concerned, and I’ve never heard of anything bad happening.
—Lee Jensen, who moved from Denmark to New York

When she was six months old, I took her to get her ears pierced. (That is a culture thing: ALL baby girls in Brazil get their ears pierced in the hospital when they are born.) So my Brazilian friends kept bugging me about when I was getting them pierced. But people here are pretty surprised that she “already” has earrings. I’ve also gotten dirty looks from people when they see my daughter riding her tricycle without a helmet, even though she’s only riding on our driveway. I feel the judgment!
—Ana Willenbrock, who moved from Brazil to Montana

Arabella Hester

On community:

New York is an extremely easy place for mothers to make friends. You make casual playground friends with the women you see all the time, and then, if you’re lucky, you find a kindred spirit. I made one girlfriend on the street when I cornered her and her stroller, and yelled “WHAT IS THAT?” (It was a SnoozeShade, and it’s amazing.) Another girlfriend I made when we were having picnics side-by-side with our babies in the park. I’ve certainly never made friends like this before — I literally pick these women up in the street. Motherhood is a great equalizer. You can always find something to talk about when you have a baby, and I think American women are particularly friendly.
Gemma Burgess, who moved from Hong Kong (via London and Switzerland) to New York

People here are scared to touch each other! What’s that about? When I first moved here I was hugely pregnant with a two-year-old daughter in tow. She was still getting used to the Brooklyn block system — stopping for traffic lights at every block. She’d sometimes run down the pavement without a care in the world and my heart would stop as I screamed behind her to stop. Sometimes I’d yell at people walking towards us to please stop my child. They wanted to help, but I got the impression they were all too scared to actually just grab and stop her. In the Netherlands, people would have gotten involved. I’m guessing it’s more of a liability here. Another parent suggested maybe they were worried the child would be scared (the whole stranger danger thing). But seriously? I’d rather grab a child and stop them from running onto a road than worry about behaving appropriately! We all appreciate getting help.
—Sandra Ajanaku, who moved from the Netherlands to New York

One big difference that I miss is greetings. Sometimes when I take my son to school, the teacher doesn’t even say good morning — to the kids or to us. In Japan, it’s a very important thing to greet people. You say good morning very loudly to everyone — the teacher, the traffic person, everyone you pass. It feels very good to start your day that way.
—Reika Yo Alexander, who moved from Japan to New York

I was really surprised that play dates and birthday parties in America have a specific time to start AND finish. Because I come from Brazil (where we like to party) I never thought of stipulating a time to “end” a party. For me, we always thought, “Okay, let’s go to the birthday party from the start time until the end, and who knows, it can be a two-hour party or a six-hour party!”
—Ana Willenbrock, who moved from Brazil to Montana

Nitya Karthik

On manners:

I was surprised that American children as young as one year old learn to say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Those things are not actively taught in India. Another difference is how parents here tend to stay away from “because I said so” and actually explain things to their children. It’s admirable the way parents will go into basic reasoning to let the child know why some things are the way they are. When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn’t buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn’t just stop at “no.”
—Nitya Karthik, who moved from India to New Jersey

Children in America have amazing freedom that children in Romania don’t have. Here, they are permitted to make decisions from a very young age, their opinion is asked for, and it matters. In Romania, parents and elders have more authority, and children in Romania seem better mannered. But at the same time, they might be more timid, shy and compliant. It’s a hard task for me to find the balance and raise my babies in a way that takes the best from both worlds.
—Arabella Hester, who moved from Romania to California

My family is appalled at the way my son behaves at the table. He can’t focus, he doesn’t finish his meal, he refuses to eat certain foods, etc. Here in the U.S., it is considered normal. In France, that’s considered rude. My family sometimes thinks my child is pretty spoiled and that I am a so-so parent. Yikes!
—Johanna Trainer, who moved from France to California

Something we love in New York is the sense of community! People give up their seats for pregnant ladies in the subways and buses, say “hi” on the streets and help moms with strollers get down the stairs. When I first arrived and was opening up my map in the subway, people would ask if I needed help! In the sandboxes at playgrounds, children are taught to exchange and share. That’s something that definitely isn’t taught in France.
Melanie Roüan, who moved from France to New York

Johanna Trainer

On school:

American schools try to involve the parents much more. Parents often go on class trips and to events. In Japan, there is nothing like that. We’re also really involved with homework, which is good. My parents never helped me with homework — ever!
—Reika Yo Alexander, who moved from Japan to New York

There is a total hysteria in New York about preschools and kindergartens. I am opting out of the freak out. I felt intense pressure to get my son into a preschool at two, and kept thinking “but I’m sure he’s too young.” I kept re-reading that Slate article ‘If You Are Reading This Article, Your Child Probably Doesn’t Need Preschool’ and trying to calm down when some of the playground mothers were like “YOU’RE SKIPPING TWOS? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?” I need to ignore the paranoid little voice that tells me that I’m making a giant mistake when deep down I know I’m right. Everything will be fine. It always is.
—Gemma Burgess, who moved from Hong Kong to New York

Melanie-motherhood-united statesMelanie Roüan

On fashion:

American moms are permitted to dress more casually. I recently went back to France and was surprised by how well dressed French moms were. Yoga pants are a big no-no. Even a mom of a newborn will be dressed well. For me, a person who loves yoga pants, that was stressful. And now that my son goes to a French school here in New York, I stress when I pick him up.
—Johanna Trainer, who moved from France to California

On bedtime:

Here in America, we have friends that put their kids to bed around 7pm. It can be great to have the kids go to bed early so the parents can have a glass of wine, watch a movie and relax. But I come from a country where people go out to dinner at 9:30pm at the earliest, so I still cannot get myself to have dinner before 7:30. Sometimes my two-year-old doesn’t go to bed until about 10pm if she doesn’t seem tired and doesn’t need to wake up early the next day. I don’t see why I shouldn’t spend a little more time with her playing or reading at night?
—Ana Willenbrock, who moved from Brazil to Montana

reika-augustReika Yo Alexander

On work/life balance:

In the U.S., it’s common to hire an evening babysitter now and again. In Japan, most families don’t have a babysitter. Personally, I think it’s important to spend time with your kids, but it’s okay to get some help, too. Parents need to have their own life! Here, you’re actually encouraged to go out and enjoy yourselves.
—Reika Yo Alexander, who moved from Japan to New York

My friends in Brazil have nannies and maids, which is normal in the culture. I’m a little envious! But here childcare can be very expensive. I’ve found American moms to be very practical and smart. Many things in America make your life easier and help get more work done — diaper pails, baby wipes, slings like the Baby Bjorn and Ergo, blenders, special utensils where you put a piece of fruit in it and the baby can chew on it forever. There isn’t as much gear in Brazil, and I have found these tools to be really helpful.
—Ana Willenbrock, who moved from Brazil to Montana

Gemma Burgess

On philosophy:

One of the things that surprised me the most is the extreme anxiety that goes along with parenting. Countless blog posts, forums, discussions and debates about different aspects of childrearing. There’s anxiety about breastfeeding vs. formula; co-sleeping vs. leaving the child alone in his room; homeschooling vs public schooling — I could go on and on. When I was growing up in India, these debates didn’t exist. Most parents here are so worried about making the “right” choice that the pressure can become oppressive.
—Nitya Karthik, who moved from India to New Jersey

Raising a child here seems to be guided by theories. You’re either doing attachment parenting or Ferberize/cry-it-out, etc. In practice, I think everyone is a bit in-between, but the books seem to encourage divisions among parents, especially moms. It’s daunting to raise a child in this environment! For example, two weeks ago I looked online to see whether I should wake my infant son, who had been sleeping all day. All the U.S. sites said YES, do wake the baby every three hours to feed. All French sites said NO, never wake a sleeping baby. If you don’t have a village and rely on Google, it can be confusing.
—Johanna Trainer, who moved from France to California

When we first moved here, I was given a referral for a Dutch babysitter. She told me from the get-go that U.S. parents treat their kids more like little adults, with more respect. In Holland, a child will be told quickly what she should or should not be doing. Here, there are always choices and suggestions — “Shall we go home now?” “Do you want apple juice or water?” “I think your friend might like it if you share.” Even though I like to think I’m Dutch in my approach, all three of those quotes are things I say, daily. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way.
—Sandra Ajanaku, who moved from the Netherlands to New York

Ana Willenbrock

Thank you to all these lovely mothers for sharing your perspectives!

P.S. Motherhood Around the World, including: Japan, Norway, Mexico, Northern Ireland, China, England, India, Abu Dhabi, Congo, Germany, Australia, Turkey and Chile.

(Illustration by Caitlin McGauley for Cup of Jo. Interviews by Caroline Donofrio.)

  1. Chantay says...

    It’s interesting seeing my own culture commented on by others. I’ve Long wondered at the confusion and hysterics that seem to have overtaken motherhood here… It’s wonderful to see it all from a new perspective. As a soon to be mother I have been studying alternative cultural views and methods of child rearing, so thank you all for your honest comments and offering a place free of aggression for me and people like me to explore!

  2. Elizabeth says...

    I just discovered these articles and I love them!

  3. I can’t believe the comment about the teacher not saying good morning. Only in NY where many don’t go to great lengths to acknowledge someone else’s presence. I would expect that any where in NY (not that I agree with it and certainly not from a school teacher) I would pull my child out.

  4. I am a grandmother,and also a
    national educator for a large real estate firm and I have to say these are the best blogs I have ever read in my life- so interesting, real, touching it inspired me to share these along with real estate in each country, thank you so much for doing this!

  5. Very very Thanks for your nice presentation and i am very agree to your post and share some days ago i have fine out a relevant site and here has many online support.
    Japanische Puzzlebox

  6. I moved from small town east coast USA to China, I don’t have kids yet but it never ceases to amaze me all the strange differences i find ( many of which I do not like very much) my husband and I (he’s Chinese) are constantly discussing what we agree and disagree with, in some ways it’s good as it’s forced us to think about parenting a bit more seriously then we might otherwise have done.

  7. I really don’t think that people don’t want to touch kids because of possible litigation. I think it’s much more about personal space in the United States–we like a lot of it. It’s rude to stand too close to someone. It feels weird to pick up somebody else’s kid, like you’re interfering, even when they’ve requested that you interfere. We’re an independent society, but not one continually preoccupied by litigation.

  8. Even within the US itself, parenting cultures differ based on where you live and what kind of background you have. For example, my mother comes from a large Hispanic family and was always really laid back with me. There wasn’t a lot of childproofing in my childhood, and I was allowed to run free and play outdoors for hours unsupervised from about four years up and upwards. My mom let me do a lot of things that most parents (myself included) would consider unsafe, but I actually learned a lot through my upbringing (she never let me do anything that was really dangerous, I will say that). We lived next to a large (and deep) body of water and after toddlerhood was never told “Don’t go near the water, you might fall in,” but rather, was taught to swim. We lived around woods with wild animals and snakes and I was never taught to be afraid of them, only how to avoid them and what to do if I couldn’t avoid them. My father showed me how to navigate using the sun and other landmarks so that if I got lost in my frequent, unaided wood romps, I could find my way home. My husband’s parents raised him completely differently–obsessed with safety, there were so many things that he missed out on because “it wasn’t safe.” As a result he spent a large part of his childhood indoors. Also, my in laws are obsessed with germs and want everything to be sterilized and my husband has the same tendency. My family wasn’t really worried about germs and as a result I ate things off of (relatively clean) floors and tables and counters, and with my bare hands to boot. The only thing my mom was big on was washing your hands before meals and after the bathroom, and brushing your teeth and taking regular baths. LOL.

    • vero says...

      sounds like a wise woman, your mom!

  9. Always interesting perspectives. I adore this series!

  10. I absolutely loved reading this post. I’m not anywhere near motherhood but it’s very fascinating to read what people have to say about parenting styles in the US. Love all of your Motherhood around the world posts!

  11. I love reading about these different perspectives about childcare! Even the motherhood in different countries. :)

  12. I love this series.

    A few months ago, I spent time in Maasai Mara, Kenya and was fascinated by the differences in childhood there. Children are fussed over much less, but still adored. They seem to be trusted not to get hurt even around something “dangerous” like a campfire. Older children and teens take responsibility for teaching little ones right and wrong. It was charming to watch them have little adult moments with kids.

    In a ten day period, I only heard children cry TWICE and there was no whining at all. What a pleasant difference that was!

    If you’re curious, I posted more about it on my blog.

  13. this was such a great post. I come from a Pakistani background but grew up in America. While my husband grew up in Pakistan. He was surprised when my son play pretend. In Pakistan children don’t have imaginary friends.. they all play cricket on the street. Kids esp boys don’t play board games, make puzzles, paint or play dress up. He is used to it now and even encourages it.

  14. So interesting and moving post! Thank you, Joanna, you are great!I find many similarities between parenting in US and Poland, i.e. to let kids make their own choices, making friends with other moms just in the playgrounds. I think that open-parenting style has become popular from 30-20 years.

  15. This is an amazing series. Hard as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to find another blog that comes even close to Cup of Jo. So insightful!

  16. Have no kids but still liked to read about he cultural differences.

    Specially liked the point about suggesting and providing choices to kids vs telling them what to do.

  17. Amazing post!
    I am living in my native Canada now but I lived in the US for many years. I agree with the baby industry, and also the extreme anxiety among parents about absolutely everything. I also think American moms are more friendly :)

  18. great post! one other (awesome) point: here in States they dedicate a lot of attention to post-partum depression and do a fantastic job preparing first-time moms to possible baby blues.
    In Russia this topic is still somewhat ignored. There’s a lot of peer pressure when new moms expect each other to be all happy and cheery after giving birth.
    I’m talking to my friends back there to create a special resource to raise awareness on the subject.

  19. E says...

    I’ve been a longtime follower of both you and Jason Kottke (if I could only read one thing on the internet for the rest of my life, it would be his blog and what it links to!). I just wanted to say I love the occasional interlinking between your two blogs. It’s nice to see my two favorite places on the internet pingponging off of each other!

  20. This is a such an interesting post. I am from India, and my husband is from Serbia. We met while living in Canada, and now we are (temporarily) in the States. We are not parents yet, but I (and my husband, if he were to read this) can so relate to all these observations on the good and bad of raising kids/generally living in (North) America.

  21. Regarding babies naping outside – in my country (Lithuania, northern Europe) babies nap outside all year round, it’s the easiest way to give them their share of fresh air every day (and they do need to go outside everyday) plus they do sleep better/longer. So you either park them outside or take a loooong stroll with the pram. Worked very well for loosing postbaby weight.

  22. .. french kids are not taught to share toys? Sorry, that is just ludicrous. Not sure where she grew up…. Love the series though! Helicopter parenting is a foreign concept here, but sharing toys is definitely taught in day care, at home and in schools.(Wait, did I just defend the country I live in? Good to notice that I do it at all!) : )

  23. …By the way, if you are interested in the “history of childhood” on America and how we came to rear our kids the way we do here read this awesome book: “Huck’s Raft: a History of Childhood in America.” It blew my mind!

    • Crystal Hall says...

      Wow, thank you for this book suggestion. I have always wondered how we got here.

  24. I absolutely agree with this post and all of these mamas perspectives on American child-rearing. As an American and a mother of a toddler and another baby on the way I definitely try to opt out of the weird baby-product/baby-food culture, and stay away from “mom-blogs” and online advice. Cup of Jo is the only thing I will read that has mention of parenting. Too many theories that change daily, too many “baby experts” who try to tell you how to raise your child. Thanks for sharing your too-true perspectives.

  25. really interesting post! such different perspectives and points of view

  26. I’m not a mother and not sure if I want to be one day, but I’ve LOVED this entire series. It’s eye-opening, informative and such a great read. It’s so interesting how different parenting is around the world! Thank you for this series, and bravo to all the amazing mommas out there who make it happen!

  27. One of my favorite posts!! So often American parenting is shunned and it’s wonderful to be reminded from “outsiders” of the positives we also have to offer.

  28. Ha! I think it’s probably considered pretty rude in America as well for children to be allowed to act up at the dinner table – refuse to eat something, not focus, etc. Very interesting perspectives!

  29. Speaking of not touching other people… I am Italian leaving in the US. In Italy we do “touch” each other a lot. Last week I was at my daughter’s soccer game. A kid was running next to me and fell down. I helped him to stand up, putting my hands under his arms, so of course I had to touch him. He looked at me as I did hurt him, instead of helping him. His mom was not to far and saw me trying to help him. He went to her to complain and at the end I had to apologize to both of them for trying to put him back on his feet. Yes, sometimes I do think Americans are a little extreme about this…

  30. Wow Wow Wow, great post. I think this really needs to be shared everywhere.

  31. I love this series — thank you! Personally, I really wish Americans were okay with babies sleeping outside because that is sometimes just the trick for my 9-month old. He’ll fall asleep in his stroller on a walk, or, on occasion, I’ll just put him in the stroller on the front porch, and he falls asleep easier than in his bed. We have a glass door, so I can see and hear him when he stirs. However, one day this summer, when he was sleeping like that, our mail lady came by and thought it inappropriate, so she rang the doorbell! That alerted my dog, who barked at the door, waking up the baby and my 3-year old who was sleeping in her bed!

  32. I was born abroad, grew up in NYC, got married a few years ago, and have been getting ‘that question’ with exponentially increasing frequency. But I feel completely crippled by the ‘mommy-culture’ projected on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest…the world of themed bday parties and organic, ethically produced onesies seems too perfect and unwelcoming…and motherhood seems challenging enough without making it into another area in which we are expected to ‘excel.’

    Thank you for these posts, they’ve helped humanize modern motherhood for me.

  33. Yes! I’ve been secretly hoping for this post ever since you started the “surprising things” series. We all have so much to learn from each other. What a great post!

    I’m curious about what Vera said above… How many of these women went home to have their babies, like my friend from Germany just did?

    I can’t wait for your post about parenting in different cities in the US. I am always surprised by how people do things here in LA, and I’m a So Cal native!

  34. I moved to Belgium from Texas. I was shocked when my son had only 1 security bracelet put on him & it slipped off. Everyone was so blasé. They told me no one takes babies from their mothers in Belgium. I had at least 4 bracelets for my other two sons.

    Also, there were no locks (and only limited hr restrictions) on the maternity floor..Seemed so strange to me!

  35. Love this series! I think Canada is a little more relaxed but overall similar on not letting babies sleep outside, kids walk on their own to school and so on. To me it seems a bit much, but like the Japanese mom said, I’m worried if get arrested or something if I left my baby boy asleep in his stroller outside a store or cafe, even though to me there’s nothing wrong with it. Maybe it’s my German heritage ;).

  36. I hate that we live in society where people are afraid to stop a child who’s running towards danger. If I am ever in that situation, I’ll stop the kid in a heartbeat and carry them back to their mother. Better than the alternative!

  37. This is such an interesting post! I’ve been enjoying this series so much and its great to see the other side.

  38. So interesting. A lot of these issues are things I’ve thought about. The comment about not touching children is one I can totally relate to. My 3 year old once ran down the street too fast for me and my infant soon to catch up. I called out to the hesitant people ahead of him that it is okay to touch him and stop him. Finally someone actually stopped him only a few paces from the street. Ridiculous how fearful people are. We are to litigious.

  39. Read this article and then saw this post suggested on my Facebook feed by HuffPost parents! Congrats!

  40. Loved this, Joanna! My (German) parents have expressed to me before that they think we ask our children an enormous amount of questions, especially in situations where their opinions shouldn’t matter. I am kind of in the middle. It drives me crazy when my husband asks our 3 year old where he wants to sit in a restaurant or if he WANTS to do a certain thing that is actually not optional. I think parents here are often afraid to give very clear directive and guidance. I think offering limited options is great when the situation allows for it (red sneakers or blue sneakers? who cares! just put your shoes on!), but in many instances I think kids are overwhelmed by the freedom of choice they are given. Also, I can relate to the woman who said her family expected her to just stop at “no.” I find myself giving explanations sometimes that are actually unnecessary and probably go over my son’s head. Parents seem to be afraid to say “no.” Sometimes explanations are great and educational and can spark an awesome dialogue, and sometimes they are just not needed. “No feet on the table.” “Why?” “Because I said so.” Not because it’s rude and feet are smelly and this is where we eat and please be nice and behave yourself. Just plain and simple: No feet on the table. Period.
    WHOOPS. Sorry. Kind of a rant here. I guess this article hit home!

  41. I was born and raised here in the US and my boys are older now, but I must agree that I feel we are pressured into an almost neurotic style of parenting as Americans. The theories and judgements swirling around while we were raising our sons felt very overwhelming at times, and in addition we were part of a strong religious community, so our kids were expected to be perfectly well-behaved. I’ve loved reading about the parenting styles in other countries and have envied a bit the more relaxed attitudes so many foreign moms possess.

  42. I’ve only parented in Australia, but I’ve nannied in USA.. and yes.. I can relate what has been shared. My friends in USA would question me why I would make conversation with the shop assistants. Well, why not? They’re human aren’t they? It might just help them appreciate and enjoy their job just that little bit more. What’s the harm, seriously?

  43. This was so interesting! Thank you for such a great post.

  44. Is it just me or are all of these mamas stunningly beautiful?! Great read – as an American raising my daughter abroad, it’s good to remind myself of the ‘flip side’.

  45. This is my absolute favorite series! Love the spin you took with this one.

  46. Thanks! I’m expecting my first and this was so much fun to read. Truly, I absolutely love this series.

  47. In regards to Arabella Hester who was trying to find balance in guiding children while giving them freedom to make their own decisions, a book she might want to look into is Loving Our Kids On Purpose by Danny Silk. I don’t have children but the father of children I used to nanny for read it and was parenting based on it’s principals so I read it as well to stay consistent. It comes from a religious perspective but I don’t think your religious preference matters. The book gives a beautiful way to teach children how to make their own decisions while still leaving restrictions in place that leave the adult with the overall authority. The children responded so well that I took those principals with me going into my next family and it worked just as well. I plan to re-read it with my husband once we start a family of our own!

  48. thanks for these fascinating comments!! thanks for the atlantic article, sooo interesting. and netanya, LOVED your anecdote!!

  49. yes, i hear you, nicole! there could be a book about parenting differences around the US. every state (and even city) has different customs and traditions and norms. here, we talked to moms in CA, Montana, New York and New Jersey. to try to get a range of experiences/perspectives, but we’d love to talk to more in the future!

  50. I really enjoyed reading this! I’m a strange case because I was born and raised in the US by parents of two different nationalities and now I live in Spain with my American husband and our two year old son who has only visited the US a few times. There are so many ingrained habits that are just a product of how (and where) you were brought up but you also pick up things from other cultures you’re exposed to. For instance, after having lived in Spain for three years, I’m totally okay with my son being naked at the beach. I wouldn’t attempt this in the US though because I know it’s a different culture and it would be weird. It’d also be weird for my family to see me allow this because my father comes from a country where modesty is very important so a naked baby bum would be a bit scandalous.

  51. This is interesting but I wish the title had been parenting in NEW YORK. We lived in NY/Brooklyn for over 12 years as have had kids for the past 3. We just moved to California this past summer and can assure you already that parenting here is VERY different. It would be interesting to compare different US cities. I would say that NY is certainly the exception in the US, not the rule.

  52. I am American and my husband is from Italy. We live in the USA but are moving to Rome in January with my 7, 6, and 4 year olds. I’m nervous for all the differences in raising your children away from what you’re used to. I like my handy kid-things!

  53. This is really fascinating! Would love more parents from developing countries next time, if possible. :)

  54. YAY I was hoping a similar post would make its way into this fascinating series. We can all learn so much from each other!

    And to the moms who think raising a child in America is daunting – I completely agree. We are rarely encouraged to follow our own mom instinct and instead to rely on what some “expert” – who has never laid eyes on our children! – suggest. I find it a little sad.

  55. I love this post! My husband is Brazilian, and I love noticing differences in the way my Brazilian brother- and sister-in-law parent their sons (our nephews) here in the US. The bedtime thing made me lol, there have been so many times where my nephews are running around at 10pm and I am thinking, shouldn’t they be asleep!? But for Brazilians (or for “my” Brazilians at least), it’s weirder to exclude the kids from family hang out time than for them to be up late. I love the inclusion of Brazilian culture in this post, and the varied foreign perspectives on US parenting culture!

  56. I am from Belarus living in Brooklyn. I loved the post and agree to everything ) My mom lives in Belarus and visiting now, and she is literally shocked how lightly dressed American kids are. When we go out with grandma to a playground, for instance, my daughter is dressed in warmest clothes of all kids there )

    • Heather says...

      Patty, that is funny! I am often surprised at how “overdressed” French kids are! My husband & I are American but have lived in Paris for 15+ years now (and we met here, not in the U.S.). Our 9 & 5 year olds go outside, all year ’round, in a single layer underneath their coat. Their coat is what makes the difference, ranging from a light fleece up to a heavy winter coat. French kids, on the other hand often have layer, upon layer, upon layer underneath their coats. They just have to be roasting! Though I am generally a cold person (I wear gloves for many months of the year), I know that kids run hotter than adults do, and my kids will tell me that they are sweltering when I am cold. So I am ok with one layer + coat for them. They tell me if they are cold (happened just this past Sunday when the temperature dipped down but I hadn’t gotten out the winter coats yet, and they were still in their Fall fleeces) and they are the first to shed their coats when they are hot!

  57. I really enjoy this series (please do more!) as a British mum I find it fascinating to read about other ways of parenting!

  58. Great job Jo and Caroline! Love this series. I’m an American living in New Zealand with my daughter and only having been a parent in NZ, but still having all my friends and family in the US I find the different perspectives so interesting. It’s sad to me that so many American moms seem to have so much anxiety and feel so much pressure around being a parent.

  59. The Motherhood series is my favorite and I really enjoyed these perspectives on Americans!

  60. This is so great. I am a Spanish teacher and a lover of the world and its uniqueness. I will share these things in class. The students will learn so much from this. Thank you!

  61. I had been waiting for the reverse post! I’m french living in the US and with an american partner the conflicting child-rearing theory happens right at home! As a Frenchy, I feel strongly about table manners and he thinks I am way too strict with our daughter! Great article, loved that whole series!

  62. great post, love seeing perspective from mothers that are born outside of North America. We parent very similarly in Canada as the US and I have family in Europe and Australia and see and hear the differences all the time. it’s amazing!


  63. great post! entirely true in Canada as well. we are very similar to the US in parenting. I have family overseas in Europe and Australia and they parent much differently than we do. they even parent differently by country too in Europe. I have family in the UK and Italy and it is night and day with some issues. great to see perspectives from mothers that are from other countries.


  64. I’m surprised that the majority of the comments are pretty positive regarding parenting in the US!

  65. I don’t have kids so I’m not super knowledgable in the area of parenting, but this article made me wonder if our generational tendency to move away from where we grew up has anything to do with our reliance, as parents, on the internet. Maybe 20, 40, 60 years ago people weren’t as fanatic about researching parenting because they had their parents, grandparents, sisters, etc to rely on for advice and guidance. I know I’ll be raising kids without mine or my partner’s family close by. There will be friends for guidance but ultimately we’ll be in it on our own.

  66. This was fascinating.
    My husband is half Romanian, and when he was nearly 2, stuck a pair of tweezers in an electrical socket! He is just fine. But, yes, illustration of lenience regarding baby proofing…!
    P.S. We are in CA too, Arabella – any leads for where to find some good cozonac?

  67. I’d like to mention the white elephant in the room: It seems that none of these mothers discussed their access to healthcare in the U.S as opposed to their home countries. I assume it may be because not all of the mom-contributors gave birth in the U.S, or they may all have health insurance and dont enounter any issues. However, birthing in a hospital in the U.S is the costliest in the world, American mothers do not have as much protected maternity leave as their European counterparts (and most moms go at least partially unpaid). U.S mothers do not receive house calls from pediatricians and not everyone is guaranteed access to basic healthcare for mother and child.

  68. Love this post!

    Also, I watched a wonderful TED talk on parenting by Jennifer Senior (I recommend googling it :) that really makes you ask, why is parenting so nebulous? We’ve been doing it for centuries!

  69. Very interesting post! How different things are…..

  70. “If you do not have a village and rely on Google, it can be confusing.”

    Love that!

  71. What a brilliant post idea! I loved this.

    I especially resonated with Nitya’s comment about all of the anxiety about making the “right” parenting choices. We are a culture that prizes high integrative complexity in almost every field, so it’s no surprise that parenting ends up being such a humbling experience for so many of us.

  72. Great post! I’m an American living in the Netherlands for just over 10 years. My children were born here in Amsterdam and have never lived in the states. It’s interesting reading the comments of moms who’ve gone the other direction.
    I’ve definitely heard about the culture of different parenting theories and getting kids into the “right” schools and such. While I realize the extent of this must depend on where one lives and the different backgrounds, I’m quite happy to be raising my children here in the Netherlands. I don’t want to feel pressured to decide if I do “attached parenting” or have any other title placed on the way I choose to raise my child.
    I also like that Dutch children, apparently, have been found to be the happiest in the world. I think I can safely say my children are very happy. Which, wherever they’re being raised, is really the most important. Right? Happy and healthy:)

  73. My parents moved to the States from Switzerland when my sister and I were very young, and even though that was a couple decades ago, I think much was the same. I can remember certain things– like the casual slang or Southern accent we were picking up– that my mother really tried hard to “correct”. I think she was still pretty attached to the “proper” and formal culture in which she’d been living. At the same time, my parents were very hands-off and allowed us to make many of our own decisions at a time when many American parents are becoming helicopters– middle/high school years. I think this is also European in a sense because childhood doesn’t seem as drawn out there. Altogether, great article! Really fun to read as my husband and I consider raising children abroad.

  74. People usually see their own culture’s way of parenting as common sense, but I’ve never felt that way about the US! And now that I have one baby (and one on the way) I am often baffled and confused about how stressed, anxious, and worried parents are about making the wrong choices for their child. I try to remember, my job is to raise a competent adult not give my kids perfect childhoods. I think that takes a lot of stress off -so does knowing that they wont remember much until they’re 4 or 5! I LOVE LOVE reading about parenting around the world. Thank you!

  75. When I was pregnant, my partner and I watched the film “Babies” and afterwards both felt so relieved. We learned right away that there is no right way to be a parent. You have a responsibility to grow that attachment through love and care because that is what keeps your child alive and thriving. After that it is up to you, what you feel, and what you and your co-parent agree is your style.

    That being said all these motherhood posts are great fun to read and so informative. I really do feel for the mothers that have doubt and worry because its inevitable when you care so much for your little one!

  76. I thought this post was very informative but also slightly depressing. Other than a few positive posts everything else made Americans sound like we were all anxious and OCD; which some of us are not. I find it very interesting when reading about American moms living abroad in other countries they usually talked about how great the food was and overall how amazing it was to experience a new culture but I found this post to be kind of culture bashing. I found it to be a close-minded view of lumping all Americans together. For example, I do not put my kids to bed until 7:30 and 8:30 ( 6 month old and 3 year old) but my neighbor’s kids go to bed at 10 pm. No big deal. She has a different work schedule then me, whereas I have to be at work at 7 am. Not everyone puts their kids to bed at 7 pm. Other than colorful sippy cups, there wasn’t a lot of positive things said about parenting in the U.S. I’m sure living in South Carolina as opposed to a big city like New York though has its own set of differences. Oh well…

  77. Jo,
    I just read an article today about the “religion of parenting,” and how hard it is becoming to love one’s spouse (as though one must choose either or, and that love must therefore be a finite resource). While these are both touchy subjects, I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter:

  78. I love this series! Caroline did such a good job with the interviews! :)

  79. I’m not (yet) a parent but the Motherhood series is one of my absolute favorite things about your blog. It’s so fascinating to read about the differences between cultures. Thanks for posting!

  80. I love love love this series. It’s interesting to see what other people think of our American ways. Not too bad. It really enjoyed this one. :] // ☼ ☯

  81. Yup, not much of this surprises me… it is very similar here in Canada. I have an interesting perspective because my parents are European (and I spent part of my childhood living in Europe but mostly in Canada)… and I am now married to an English dude… so I can definitely see all the different perspectives. I hope to raise my future kid somewhere in the middle of all these theories/over protectiveness ideas etc. I do like the idea of not pandering to a child as much… I don’t want to raise a spoiled brat with bad table manners.

  82. C says...

    love these posts!

  83. Great post! I love reading all the differences between country’s customs.
    I like to hear someone else’s point of view also. So often, it’s the other way around.

  84. I love that you did the reverse! This is great!

  85. I love that you turned the table around on this one Joanna! I get surprised by a lot of this parenting phenomena as well, and I’m born and raised here in the US! It’s refreshing to hear moms talk about the peculiarities of our culture without judgement.

  86. These are my favorite types of posts, getting insights from other cultures. My husband and I would love to live abroad for a while once we have kids, just so we are not too stuck in one culture’s way of parenting.

    Also, regarding babies napping outside in prams: I lived in Germany a few years ago, and one morning I was out for a run and saw just that: a baby sleeping in a pram outside of a row house. The house’s door was closed, and no one was around. I ran to the end of the block and kept looking over my shoulder to see if someone had come to get the baby. I finally decided if, once I’d circled home, the baby was still there, I would do something. But the baby and pram were gone! Later as I related the incident to my German friends, they were completely perplexed about my concern. “What would someone do to the baby?” they asked. “They could steal the baby!” I said. “And then what?” they responded. They just didn’t see any harm in it at all!

  87. the comment from the woman from the Netherlands about people not helping to stop a child who was running ahead – it is sad what a litigious society we have become that people are so hesitant to step in.

    I enjoyed reading about the differences in this cultures vs. U.S.

  88. I love the observations about how “anxious” and “theory driven” we are here in the US, so true. This entire series is such a wonderful antidote to that!

  89. This is SO interesting. Even though I’m not yet a parent myself, I really enjoy reading about how it’s done all over the world. It’s nice to have that lens to look at our own country too.

  90. This article was great, very informative. And – Gemma Burgess, your child will be just fine without pre-school. There’s no rush, after all, and not everyone can do everything before their peers. Better to have a good life.

  91. This is wonderful! It is always so fun to be introspective, and to get a good view of ourselves. I definitely agree with many of these observations. I can see things about our culture and my own parenting that I love (respecting and explaining to our children), and that I want to change (divisiveness and judgement about parenting styles). Wonderful addition to the series!

  92. This is such a great post. I am Italian but I am raising my girl in the UK and I find SO many differences compared to Italy. we tend to be over-caring and over-protecting. On the other side, here mums take things really easy. Sometimes too much for me. Still, there’s a LOT to learn from child care in different cultures.