Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on August 5, 2019. And we’re so excited to be returning our Motherhood Around the World Series next summer!
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. Here are 12 of the best quotes from past interviews…
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
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.)