Motherhood

Best of: Parenting Around the World

Motherhood Around the World

For the past six years, we’ve featured a series called Parenting Around the World, where we talk to mothers in all different countries about what surprises them most about raising children abroad. It’s one of our favorite blogging experiences, and we’ve visited places like Sweden, Japan, Northern Ireland, Abu Dhabi and Congo. We’ve also talked to mothers from other countries about what surprises them about parenting in the United States.

Many of you have reached out asking for updates, and we’re so glad you love it! For a few reasons, we’re taking a quick break from the series this year, but we’ll be back in full force next summer. And, of course, we’ll still be continuing to post about parenting every week. Thank you so much for reading, and here are 12 of the best quotes from past interviews:

Parenting Around the World

Motherhood in Kenya

“Because we have a national park in Nairobi, we can go on a game drive whenever we want. Zebras, elephants and rhinos are all typical animals for our kids. At four, Claire can tell the difference between a gazelle and an impala and can spot a giraffe from miles away. I remember once when visiting our family in the U.S., someone asked Claire to name an exotic animal. She thought for a while, and then said, ‘A squirrel!'” — Tara, 20 Surprising Things About Parenting in Kenya

“Our kids go to public school in Rome. One cool thing is that everyone gets a school lunch; there’s no option to bring a brown-bag lunch. They serve all the kids a primo (pasta), secondo (meat or fritatta), contorno (vegetable) and dolce (fruit or gelato). That’s the Italian way! I also liked that Sabina’s first-grade class learned all about Turandot, the opera, and were actually part of a production, sitting in the audience but using special props and singing little pieces at the appropriate times.”
— Molly, 15 Surprising Things About Parenting in Italy

Parenting Around the World

“Pretty much every town in Iceland has a geothermal outdoor community pool that is open year round. After school, we’ll walk to the pool, no matter the weather. Locker rooms have high chairs for babies to sit in while their parents shower, and every pool has water toys 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.” — Mary Frances, 15 Surprising Things About Parenting in Iceland

“When Hugo was two, we had a parent/teacher conference with his daycare. The teacher said, ‘He needs to learn to stand up for himself more. When other kids come up and take toys away from him, he just lets it happen.’ I was like, well, isn’t that just sharing? And she said, ‘He needs to either take the toy back or fight. We teachers can’t fight all his battles for him!’ I was laughing inside, because it was SO different from how we were socialized as children. In the U.S., we were taught that you have to share, you have to compromise. In Germany, it’s all about self-sufficiency and standing up for your rights.” — Luisa, 20 Surprising Things About Parenting in Germany

Parenting Around the World

“When we first got to Mexico, I would walk behind my family so I could watch passersby turn, look at us and then jump and squeal. It happened over and over again. I finally asked a friend, who confirmed to me that people were pinching each other! Apparently, when Mexicans see a redhead, the first one to pinch a friend gets a wish.” — Naomi, 10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Mexico

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

Parenting in South Korea

“Something I’d never imagined was the intense attention to keep laboring women and their partners well fed! Immediately after we checked in to the birthing center, we were presented with an extensive menu for lunch, even though I was already six centimeters dilated. For lunch, I got to eat a giant cheeseburger between contractions. They even served me an easy-to-digest chicken congee dish when I was in serious despair, about an hour before push time.” — Elise, 16 Surprising Things About Parenting in South Korea

“Picture books have very adult humor and can even be quite dark. For example, Irish author Oliver Jeffers’s books are hilarious, but most of the time my kids can’t figure out why. There are also a handful of books my husband and I have gotten from the library that are a bit too disturbing for the kids. Whatever by William Bee is the story of a father who shows his child all sorts of cool things and his child just says ‘whatever.’ Then on the last page, while the father is showing the son a tiger, the tiger eats the son and the father just shrugs his shoulders and says “whatever.'” — Tiffany, 11 Surprising Things About Parenting in Northern Ireland

Parenting Around the World France

“Watching my girls become French has been surprising; in fact, it has taken my breath away. On rare occasions, I worry that I am losing them somehow — a feeling I didn’t foresee. It feels strange that my children will have this trove of cultural knowledge that I cannot ever know natively. I am an immigrant and they are natives, a curious divide. Even down to their expressions: French kids often pout with their mouths when they’re listening. When my girls do it, I’m like, ‘Why are you making that face?’ And I look over at my French husband, and he’s making the same face.” — Emilie, 14 Surprising Things About Parenting in France

“I’ve found it hard to make friends here. Back in Brooklyn, you would meet a mom on the playground and tell her everything, even problems with your husband or kids. It made me feel like, “I’m not alone, everyone is going through similar things.” Here, if I am open, I get strange looks. But really, everyone is going through similar things — they just don’t share it in the same way. People really draw a line between public and private.” — Yoko, 10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Japan

Parenting Around the World Wales

A Welsh town called Llanfair-pwllgwyngyll-gogery-chwyrn-drobwll-llan-tysilio-gogo-goch.

“Kids are outside all the time, either in the fields or the playgrounds, often on their own. The general parenting vibe is: Get on with it. Like, get on with that climbing frame that’s ridiculously high and you can easily break your neck on, you’ll work it out! That mentality has also helped with our daughter, who has autism. Back in London, at the playgrounds, strangers could be a bit frowny if she was having a meltdown; whereas here children are generally pretty loud and wild and feral. She attends a mainstream school, and her friends watch out for her; it warms my heart.” — Bethan, 13 Surprising Things About Parenting in Wales

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

Parenting in South Africa

See the full Motherhood Around the World series here, if you’d like. Thank you!

P.S. Trying out slow parenting and six words to say to your child.

(Top photo of Wales by Bethan Griffiths, bottom photo of South Africa by Bongi Hill.)

  1. Rachel says...

    I love this series. I live in Canada, as a French Canadian (Province of Quebec). It would be interesting to compare American motherhood way and Canadian motherhood way, or Quebec way!

  2. Amanda says...

    I look forward to this every year! I used to “save” them when my babies were little and read them in the middle of the night while nursing. Can’t wait for the return next year.

    • Jo says...

      I did this too! I had already read them all, but went back and read again during late night feedings

  3. Danielle says...

    I feel like I write this on EVERY single one of these posts, but I would *love* a book of these stories. I would buy it for every SINGLE baby shower forever forward.

    • Kelly says...

      YES! Please make a book happen, Jo!

    • Kalli says...

      Please, please, please!

  4. Karissa says...

    I love this series and am so looking forward to it returning next summer!

    Another idea that I’ve thought would be interesting is similar interviews but with people who have lived in different regions of our own country. Like a Coast to Coast exploration of American parenting. Our country is so gigantic, that it often feels like the different regions are like their own countries with starkly different ways of doing things. It would be interesting to read about how much parenting varies by region state-side.

  5. Tshego B says...

    Its just a tiny bit once in a while and everyone turned out fine! Our moms never gave us the whole bottle :D Aaaand its only gripe water that’s used, no one is using brandy/ vodka or anything like that…

  6. lisa henry says...

    I’m so sad the series isn’t coming back till next Summer!! I love it!!

    • Sylvie says...

      Agreed! I don’t even have kids but this series is one of my favorite reads.

  7. Victoria says...

    I love this series and don’t mind waiting! I hope the next round might involve Guatemala. That is where my boyfriend is from and although we don’t have children, we’ve discussed about living there (either part or full time) in the far future (possibly/probably after kids). I’d especially love to hear about the language barrier, as in many parts of Guatemala people can speak in a mish mash of Spanish and whatever Mayan language there is in their region (my boyfriend speaks K’iche’ for instance).

    Either way, I know it will be worth the wait next summer! :)

  8. L Goldsmith says...

    I am a mother, but far from traditional in every sense of the word. I have two teenage sons who live thousands of miles away from me and whom I haven’t seen in over three years. I have two bonus sons, gifts from my second marriage. And finally I have two little ones that I live with. Three wildly different ways to parent and yet the only way I’ve been able to mother equally despite the distance, despite time, despite biology, is to love unconditionally and to love patiently.

    • Ks says...

      How beautiful. You sound like an amazing person.

  9. Ll says...

    Whoa maybe it’s a cultural thing but if someone gave alcohol to a baby where I live, people would call child services.

    • Katie says...

      Same. I highly recommend against giving alcohol to a baby. This can be damaging. Cupofjo should have looked at the medical research before posting this. Its dangerous!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      they’re giving the TINIEST dab, though — not like a cocktail! :)

  10. Ashley Prillaman says...

    I LOVE this series! And while I totally understood opening it up to locals…It makes sense that it’s people traveling or newly living in these locations (since they have the outsiders perspective and it is an American blog). Love both ways you did it and can’t wait for next summer! It must be so hard to source all these wonderful ladies. Love all you do, gang!

  11. Lindsay Anthony says...

    Same here!! :)

  12. Noel says...

    I love this series. I’m not a mother, and I’ve always thought I didn’t want kids. But this series has opened me up to the idea of having kids. Maybe it’s not kids that I don’t want, maybe it’s just that I don’t like the way most parenting is done in the US. This series has been so helpful in showing that there are many, many different ways of raising kids. Perhaps having kids won’t be so bad if I have the courage to do things a little differently.

  13. Cali says...

    I’d love to read updates from the parents in these articles. It’d be interesting to hear how their perspectives change as time passes and the world, at the micro and macro level, changes.

  14. Breanna says...

    My husband and I love these! They have really helped give us a new mindset on certain things with our two kids (4 and 1). Im not sure which country, but they leave their babies in their strollers outside while the sip coffee indoors. It made us realize, kids/babies are quite resilient. Also, we are all in the same boat of raising children!

    Thank you!!

  15. Jenn says...

    I love this series! I recently met a British mom who had each of her three kids in a different country due to relocations for work—Ireland, Vietnam, and Germany. I was fascinated listening to her (hugely varied) stories of her pregnancies, deliveries, post partum recoveries, and early day of parenting. She lives in the States now and experiences culture shock here all the time as well. Such interesting stuff! Can’t wait for new countries and new mom stories.

  16. Emily says...

    What’s great about living in America is that anyone could be carrying a gun and could shoot you and your family. And if any of you get shot, it’s highly likely you’ll have to go bankrupt because of the cost of healthcare. Reading this series makes me awfully sad and highlights how living in America is really really awful. I’ve never been more depressed about being a parent and raising children in the United States as I am today.

    • Jillian says...

      Agreed. I’m so sad that my baby will someday go through active shooter drills in his schools.

    • I share your sentiment, Emily. :(
      These posts inspire me to move abroad. The work visa is the thing that holds my family back. We keep trying to find a company that will sponsor either me or my husband.

    • Katie says...

      Absolutely the same. There are locking doors at the schools and daycare, but someone could just wait for kids to go out on the playground. Both of my children’s playgrounds would be like fish in a barrel for a shooter.

    • DW says...

      Same. Was/am hoping COJ will address gun control here soon. Would be especially poignant on motherhood Mondays. As a new mom I am so deeply saddened and infuriated that I have to worry about my child or one of his parents dying in a mass shooting.

    • NM says...

      Agreed… not much more to say.

  17. sommer says...

    Please, let me have a do-over delivery and eat a giant cheeseburger and easy-to-digest chicken congee pre-push time.

  18. AJ says...

    I would prefer to read interviews of mothers who are local to each country. Surely these women would be more qualified to speak of parenting in their own countries, rather than mostly expats (American/European) women who happen to be living there as temporary residents. I think it’s time to pass the microphone.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      We did a mix last summer of expats and people born and bred there. The thing about interviewing someone born there is that they’re not always aware of the contrast — they don’t realize that something or other in their country is different from here because it’s natural and normal to them. That was our approach going into this — to be able to show the differences from the United States. But we like and see the benefits of both approaches. Thank you!

    • E says...

      This an American-based site, with (I assume) primarily an American audience, many of whom are women who happen to be mothers. I’m certain that there are many wonderful parenting blogs written in other countries with the perspective you seek. No one is forcing you to read this content, and if it doesn’t suit you, you’d be welcome to find other options rather than criticize the amazing work presented here. Maybe it’s time for us to stop pretending that every single blog post, every movie, every song, every book, every piece of art, every everything will be inclusive and appealing to every single person; it simply isn’t possible. I read every word of the Parenting Around the World Series and adored it, and I neither have nor want children.

      Team Cup of Jo: you’re doing an incredible job under ever-more-difficult circumstances. Please keep up your wonderful work. We appreciate you more than you know.

    • J says...

      I’ve seen this argument made time and time again over the course of this series, and I’ve never understood it. This is an American blog and they get American women to write about what is surprising about living in other countries. That’s the concept. It makes sense and it works. Keep up the good work CoJ team. I love this series and can’t wait for it’s return!

      Signed, a very faithful Canadian reader who feels no need to write about motherhood in my tiny coastal community as nothing “surprises” me about living here.

  19. Jill says...

    It’s so exciting to see this roundup of quotes, including one from six years ago when Sarah and I were able to share about our experiences living in Congo. I wanted to point out that the photo following the quote attributed to me (actually an anecdote from Sarah!) is, I believe, a photo of Bongi Hill and her son, Lukhanyo, from another Motherhood Around the World feature about South Africa: https://cupofjo.com/2018/08/parenting-in-south-africa/. It would be clarifying to add a caption ensuring she gets proper recognition for her story.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes, the photo credit is at the bottom, it was the closing image of the whole story (versus an image above your quote). So nice to hear from you! Thank you!!!

  20. Hanna says...

    This has been my favorite ever CoJ series ever! I still remember summer of 2013 when I’d look forward to Monday mornings because of this series! I totally felt a connection with the Mama Congo gals and sometimes wonder where they ended up…

    When breaks, interruptions, etc. like this happen it makes me think about all the work that goes into something like this series…something that can easily be overlooked when you are a regular reader of a blog. I can only imagine what a big undertaking it is to produce content like this and to do it well. Can’t wait for next Summer!

  21. Neely says...

    Really sad that this won’t be happening this year. It’s my favorite CoJo series!

  22. Kate says...

    I have loved this series too! Quick question/suggestion: I noted that you call it “Parenting Around the World” yet all the interviews are with mothers. What about extending this to include interviews with fathers and/or mothers and fathers together (or mothers and mothers/fathers and fathers…whatever the parenting makeup may be). Just a thought! Thanks as always for your thoughtful and inspiring stories!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we focused on women because this is a women’s lifestyle site, but we would be open to dads! (in the same way we show a house tour now and again with a guy:)

  23. Katherine says...

    I have to say that this series is the best -ever- thing on COJ, except for the article on the grief of losing a child by Kate Suddes. I hope that it is prioritized above other, still good but not THIS good projects.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you! yes, it takes an enormous amount of scouting and reporting on the back end, so because we’re short staffed this summer, we didn’t want to do it in a hurry. so we’ll be back next summer!

    • Laura says...

      @Johanna –a good friend of mine just moved back to the States after living abroad in China for a year; her son was born and spent his first 2 years of life in China. Email me if you would be interested in her contact information…she has shared many surprising stories with me over her time there :)

  24. Kim says...

    I have missed this series, it’s one of my very favorites. If you need a traveling writer to interview subjects, ahem, I’d love to give it a whirl!

  25. Nathalie says...

    oooh, I love this series! And somehow I missed the Mexico interview – can’t wait to read it now; it feels like I’m opening a present :-)

    • Anna says...

      The Mexico interview was truly my favorite! I immediately followed Naomi on Instagram just to keep up with her beautiful life – her insights and photos are so charming.

  26. KS says...

    The 4.4% alcohol in gripe water is legit 😀. If you knew anyone who grew up in mountain towns of himalaya India and never got a spoonful of brandy before bed for constant running nose, they have wasted their childhood.

  27. Nigerian Girl says...

    This is one of my favourite series on Cup of Jo. I’d love to see a Parenting in Nigeria post up here someday. I’m not a mum, but I do know more than a few amazing mums (hint hint). Happy to help.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we would love to!

  28. Hannah G says...

    I missed this series so much this summer! I went through a lot of the archives to make up for it ;) It is the most refreshing thing as a mom of a toddler to be reminded that there is no one right way to parent, and women the world over are raising beautiful, content children in a million different ways.

    • Sasha L says...

      Hannah, you nailed it. That’s exactly what makes this series so endearing.

    • cilla says...

      Hannah, you took my words. I am in the same shoes (todler-wise) and seeing a different perspective to some things is very beneficial.

  29. Sara C. says...

    I’m so glad this series will eventually be back – it’s by far my favorite!

  30. M says...

    As someone who has lived all over the world I have missed this series! Excited for it to come back next summer.

  31. Lauren E. says...

    I was admittedly sort of disappointed that this wasn’t new content, and then I reread every quote and enjoyed it just as much as the first time I read it! I love this series so much. Thanks for the reminder :)

    • Karen says...

      SAME!!

    • LIZ says...

      same same!

  32. L says...

    Ohhh, I would so love to see all of these features compiled into a book. There is so much richness, perspective, and solidarity. I’d give away at least a hundred copies.

    • Hannah G says...

      Same! I would give it to all new mothers.

    • Sara says...

      This is a beautiful idea!

    • Erin says...

      Great idea!

    • Stacy S says...

      I would absolutely buy this book!

    • FGB says...

      Yes!

    • Nicki says...

      Yes! Please pitch this idea to a book publisher if you haven’t done so already, I agree it would make a wonderful gift to a new parent. I’d buy tons.

      (Also a big yes to a “parenting in Nigeria” installment, from an expat living in Abuja. Though I have honestly enjoyed articles from places I haven’t been to just as much as those from countries that I’ve lived in myself. Every single one is beautiful.)

    • Karissa says...

      Yes!! This is a fabulous idea, and a wonderful gift idea for new mothers.

  33. Stephanie says...

    Excited for this series to return! I love learning about raising kids in other cultures even though I’m not a mom. Just love hearing firsthand stories of other cultures in general. I think it would be interesting to interview women (mothers or not) who moved somewhere else and the things they noticed.

  34. Kayleigh Kavanagh says...

    This is my favorite series! Can’t wait for it to return.

  35. Ahhh I’ve missed this series so much! So, so good. Especially loved the anecdotes about Turkey and the Congo.

    Jealous of the food laboring mothers get in South Korea. I was absolutely starved for a good two days at Mount Sinai with my first. Then they kept bringing me meals with pork despite my requests for “kosher” meals. What I wouldn’t have given for a cheeseburger! Haha

    • Gemma says...

      I was so starving in Mt Sinai too!! Could not BELIEVE how bad and scarce the food was. I was frantically Yelping and Seamlessing, and begging my husband to bring more bagels from that place on the corner. How on earth can anyone get her milk when she’s not being fed?! Good Lord.

      My first was born in Zurich and the hospital gave me three huge three-course meals, plus giant snacks, every day. I stayed seven nights and wanted to stay more. It was the best. Oh man. I would have another baby just to stay in that hospital again.

    • Gemma right?!? I’m glad someone understands! I am delivering at Lenox Hill this time legit because there are better food options nearby. I WILL NOT BE STARVED. hahah.

    • Thankfully, I think evidence-based medicine is (slowly) snaking its way through the US when it comes to eating in labor. I went with a midwife practice in north Jersey over delivering in the city (mainly because the idea of sharing a room postpartum horrified me) and I ate lunch while my labor started. Labor and delivery still sucked but at least I wasn’t hungry on top of that!

    • Nicole says...

      Just want to start off by saying I’m not a mother so I don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about! but my close friend just gave birth and was saying the same thing, how she didn’t get to eat for like two days in the hospital, but they told her it was because of the possibility of needing a C-section that they didn’t feed her. I wonder if that’s true?

    • Shannon says...

      I think that’s true but I’d really like to know how many people have experienced complications from eating in surgery/C-sections. (The easy thing to say is: not nearly as many – if any!) than who have died from gunshot wounds!)