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Parenting

What 7 American Moms Learned About Parenting While Living Abroad

Mothers share what they found different, from postpartum customs to attitudes toward kids.

The role and identity of a parent differs in many ways around the globe.

So for Mother’s Day, HuffPost chatted with a handful of American moms who are either currently living abroad or who have lived abroad while raising kids to see what they learned about motherhood traditions and what surprised them about parenting in different parts of the world.

Check out their insights below.

Starr Session Varga ― Hungary

Starr Session Varga is the blogger behind Black Girl in Budapest. She and her husband moved from Los Angeles to Budapest, Hungary, in 2017, and Session Varga gave birth to their first child last year.

She said she especially loves the amount of attention parents are able to give to their kids in Budapest, noting both Europe’s generous paid maternity leave policies and the support she gets from her community.

“I love the mommy community here in Budapest,” she said. “From ‘Mommy cafes’ to mommy-and-me classes to even receiving help with your stroller from total strangers while getting on and off public transportation. When I land in America, I never get offered help when I’m with my baby.”

Sasha Romary ― France, Singapore and Germany

Sasha Romary, the maternity and postpartum consultant behind The Modern Mama, has been an expat mom in a few countries. She spent part of her childhood in Paris, moved back to the United States for college, and then returned to Paris, where she and her husband had their first child. She told HuffPost that the Parisian view of motherhood is that the baby “fits into your lifestyle.”

“The big idea in the U.S. is that everyone talks about how you have a kid, and your entire world revolves around said child,” she said. “In France, the mentality ― at least in Paris ― is, ‘I decided to have a kid and now they will mold into my lifestyle.’”

Or as the book “Say Bonjour to the Lady: Parenting from Paris to New York” puts it, “French children live in their parents’ home, American parents live in their children’s home.”

Romary and her family later moved to Singapore, where they stayed for less than a year. She received her doula certification there and learned about postpartum confinement, a tradition among Asian populations in which moms focus on healing the month after having their child. Writer Amy Chang, who documented her month of postpartum confinement on her blog, wrote for MindBodyGreen that the tradition has been modernized but that the diet during this month remains “the cornerstone of this practice.”

Romary also said grandparents in Singapore play a large role within the child care space. “As a baby, you are raised by your entire family,” she said.

Romary now lives in Munich, where she and her husband had their second child. Upon moving, she quickly learned parents were very hands-off. She once witnessed a child dangling from a jungle gym calling to her mom and was surprised by the mother’s reaction.

“The mom was maybe like 12 feet away, and she just looked at her saying, ‘I’m watching you. You’re fine. You can figure it out.’ And the kid totally did,” Romary said. “That little five-second moment kind of personified German parenting to me. ... She was like, ‘I’m going to help you grow in this moment and you’re going to figure this out.’”

Kate Prinsloo ― Switzerland

Kate Prinsloo, the mother behind the blog Mom in Zurich, and her husband spent two years in London before moving to Zurich with their two daughters. The couple has been there for five years and had a son there. Since living in Switzerland, Prinsloo has noticed a change in her parenting.

“I am so much more hands-off now that we live in Switzerland than I was in London or the USA,” she said. “Children walk to school on their own from age 4 in Switzerland. There is a big focus on independence and responsibility here. ... It was a shock at first to see such tiny children walking to school.”

Her kids also come home for lunch during the school day.

“They walk home for lunch every day, which was a surprise for me at first,” she said. “But I look forward to seeing them for lunch and find out how their school day is going. It’s these moments that I will remember about their childhood. I love the focus on family here.”

Gabriella Lindsay ― Mexico and Antigua

Gabriella Lindsay, a copywriter who shares her family’s story at La Vida Lindsay, moved with her husband and their three kids to Mazatlán, Mexico, in October 2016.

“Kids are adored and loved [there] in many ways that I didn’t really see in the States,” she said, adding later, “People would jump in and say, ‘Let me help.’ It’s sweet.”

Lindsay and her family have since moved to the island of Antigua, and she said she has noticed a similar support system with some parents there as well.

“It’s definitely an ‘it takes a village’ vibe,” she said.

Madeline Nash ― New Zealand

Madeline Nash runs the blog Bumblemom and documents her family’s experiences after moving from Austin, Texas, to Auckland, New Zealand, in June 2018.

Madeline Nash and her family moved from Austin, Texas, to Auckland, New Zealand, in June 2018.
Madeline Nash and her family moved from Austin, Texas, to Auckland, New Zealand, in June 2018.

She said she was initially surprised by the risks kids were encouraged to take, but that she has since embraced this parenting value.

“Kids are encouraged to explore and climb and discover their limits,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of parents say, ‘Well, if they can’t learn how to judge risks on the playground, where are they supposed to learn how to do that?’”

Candance Taylor ― Ghana

Candance Taylor, the mom behind Supermama Foods, officially moved to Accra, Ghana, in March 2012. She previously traveled between Chicago and Accra while her husband, who is Ghanaian, worked there. The couple welcomed their first son in the States, but part of his childhood was spent in Ghana. Taylor said she received “constant support” from friends, relatives and other expats, which made her appreciate her community’s values regarding families.

The couple has since moved back to Chicago and had another child. Taylor said “being around so many diverse black families” in Ghana, “all of whom had different types of families and ways of raising kids,” shaped her as a mother.

“It gave me such a different visual than what I had seen growing up about black families and really helped me feel a sense of pride that I believe we’ve carried back home with us,” she said.

Inez Moutarde ― United Arab Emirates and Switzerland

Inez Moutarde, the health coach behind the blog Fortynista, told HuffPost her experiences as a mother in the United Arab Emirates and in Switzerland have been very different. In UAE, she had her kids signed up for various classes and sports, but she took a step back when her family moved to Switzerland, which was an adjustment.

“Kids are encouraged to be independent from a young age,” she said.

“In Switzerland, if children fight, the parents rarely intervene so that the children can learn to resolve issues on their own,” she added. “That may sound like it makes sense, and on some level it works. ... But as a mother, that was something I had to get used to. It’s a fine line. At the end of the day I have to follow my own values in what I think is right even if it’s not the norm here.”

She also explained what it’s been like to see motherhood personified in different parts of the world.

“The one thing that is consistent across all cultures is that no matter what country you are from, what religion you are, what language you speak, mothers love their children and will do anything for them,” she said. “To witness that has been a truly remarkable experience.”