When I first arrived in the US in 2005, the American way of life didn’t seem that different compared to what I was used to in Denmark. I mean, we pretty much look the same — give and take a few blue eyes and blond hair. We watch the same TV shows. We eat the same food. We share the same values. But then, suddenly, as a mom, I slowly started to realize the small differences —especially when it came to parenting.

I was practically in labor when my husband asked me if I wanted to move abroad. An entire ocean away. Away from everything familiar. Say what? A million thoughts ran through my pregnant brain. In the end I, insanely, said yes: Yes to an exciting adventure! Yes to a new life! Yes to Seattle!

 

Eleven months and a baby later, we were on our way—leaving our families and a lot of tears behind at the airport.

 

The first three months were hard. It was October when we arrived, and the sky was constantly grey… After all, it was Seattle. I pretty much spent all day long alone with a one-year old baby. I went to every park within five miles, and I stubbornly walked everywhere with the new fancy stroller I had insisted on getting. I was not going to be a a soccer mom who spend all day driving my kids around. Let’s just say, that didn’t last. I have joined the ranks of soccer moms that shuttle my children from activity to activity.

There were a lot of Danish families in the area, so I would occasionally meet up with them and enjoy a Danish potluck ‘frokost’. Having a group of people from ‘home’ was great support in the beginning. However, as we settled in we started to socialize more with our new American friends.

 

We wanted to become part of the American culture. Isn’t that the point of venturing abroad?

 

We found the American people to be extremely kind. They’re never shy of a compliment, a helping hand, or a homebaked cookie over the fence. I’ve always felt pretty much at home, but the more time I spent with them, the more I learned about what to do, and what was accepted and what was not. That brought me to jotting down a few of my favorite dos and don’ts of Scandinavian parenting.

Don’t leave your child in a pram or stroller outside a store or cafe to nap. This is a big one. Of course, you can freely take part in this practice if you live in a place where it’s not too warm, and you own the property. But, be sure to let your neighbors know you will be watching your little one like a hawk. That is, unless you want social services knocking on your door. My neighbors didn’t say anything, but I saw the silent exchange of looks. I was quickly branded as the hippie mother, which luckily didn’t bother me too much though.

Don’t let your kid run naked at the beach. Unless you are ready to receive the disapproving looks that may follow. Most Americans would never let their little ones run naked on the beach. We may find this odd, but it’s simply not as accepted in the US as in the Scandinavian countries where we’re perfectly fine even if adults indulge in a skinny dip. Of course, I already knew this, but I was sure Seattle would be different (which to some extent it is).

 

I was determined that I – a Scandinavian mom, born and raised in the 70’s – was not going to succumb to these ‘silly rules’.

 

Then you get here and see all the other little kids in their colorful trunks at the beach. So, if you don’t want your kid to be the one with the public penis, you may want to bring a bathing suit!

Girl playing by the water © Scandinavian Living 2016

Don’t feel pressured to sign you toddler up for classes and weekly activities.  Your five-year-old doesn’t have to read BEFORE kindergarten or speak a second language. (Even though your toddler most likely already does). There’s a lot of pressure in the US to focus on results and grades, which sometimes comes at the expense of the organic process of learning and exploring. I still believe kids learn best from play, and on their own schedule. Don’t get stressed out if all your neighbors and friends are signing their little ones up for private tutoring to get ‘a head start’. Your kid will get there! Just stick to your own pace.

 

Do continue to let your kids explore on their own and learn from their mistakes. This approach to parenting could be seen as somewhat careless by many Americans. A few years back, I earned a lot of disapproving eyes because of my notorious Scandinavian Laissez-faire parenting style. I would let my then four-year-old go as fast as he could on his bike on the playground (with a helmet on) resulting in a big crash, blood mixed with asphalt running from his knees. My kids played with knives (though while supervised), climbed trees, and freely explored waters when camping and hiking. This is very Scandinavian. It’s not that we want our kids to get hurt, but we want them to explore and learn from experience. Helicopter parenting is not a common practice in Scandinavia. The Scandinavian way of parenting is becoming increasingly popular in the US, so this is a definite do.

Do keep speaking your mother tongue to your kids. Even if it at first seems to be a disadvantage in the early school years. They will love you for it in the long run. My son didn’t know a single word of English before he started preschool, and he never showed any interest in reading whatsoever. He’s now in 5th grade and reads like an 8th-grader!

Do stay true to your own values and gut feeling, but respect the cultural setting you’re in. Don’t swear (too much) and take a chill pill as needed. I recommend Blue Jeans from Pingvin Lakrids!

Boy on a bike © Scandinavian Living 2016

Do continue to let your kids explore on their own and learn from their mistakes, even if this approach to parenting could be seen as somewhat careless by many Americans. A few years back, I earned a lot of disapproving eyes because of my notorious Scandinavian Laissez-faire parenting style. I would let my then four-year-old go as fast as he could on his bike on the playground (with a helmet on) resulting in a big crash, blood mixed with asphalt running from his knees. My kids played with knives (though while supervised), climbed trees, and freely explored waters when camping and hiking. This is very Scandinavian—not that we want our kids to get hurt–but we want them to explore and learn from experience without constantly guarding them. Now that the Scandinavian way of parenting is becoming increasingly popular in the US, this is a definite do.

Do keep speaking your mother tongue to your kids. Even if it at first seems to be a disadvantage in the early school years, they will love you for it in the long run. My son didn’t know a single word of English before he started preschool, and he never showed any interest in reading whatsoever. He’s now in 5th grade and reads like an 8th-grader!

Do stay true to your own values and gut feeling, but respect the cultural setting you’re in. Don’t swear (too much) and take a chill pill as needed. I recommend Blue Jeans from Pingvin Lakrids!

Boy on a bike © Scandinavian Living 2016
CharlotteCharlotte is a mom, a wife, and an author—in that order. She’s originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, but now lives in Seattle with her husband and 3 kids: Alfred and the “twincesses”, Emma and Olivia. When she’s not “mom”, Charlotte spends all her free time writing what readers call compelling, fun, and loving stories. She has published two novels with a third one soon to hit the Amazon shelf.

 

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