- I’ve lived in London for 13 years, but people still assume I’m a tourist because of my accent.
- I’m always the loudest parent in the room, and it’s not intentional; it’s just my American-ness.
- Raising children in a country that is not my own allows me to discover new things every day.
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Growing up in Manhattan as the only child of a single mother who emigrated from Ukraine, I never felt truly American. I was always an outsider. So it makes sense that I’ve chosen to spend my adulthood abroad, in England.
After 13 years here, I feel more at home in my adopted city of London than I ever did in the US, even though most people assume I’m a tourist every time I open my mouth.
Now that I’m a parent, it’s hard not to compare what life with kids looks like in the UK versus the US.
It starts with pregnancy and birth
My friends in the US have had more pregnancy scans in their first trimesters than people here have throughout their entire pregnancies. You have two total on the publicly funded National Health Service (unless they’re particularly worried about something).
You can also have everything from electrocardiograms to diabetes testing to water births at no charge here. As someone who has experienced all of the above during my pregnancies, I’m fairly confident it would’ve cost me over $US50,000 ($AU68,335) if I’d had my four kids in the US.
I did pay out privately to get my kids the chickenpox vaccine once I learned that Americans were doing it, even though it’s not commonplace here.
Of course, there are things to complain about when it comes to child-rearing in the UK, particularly the prohibitive cost of early-years childcare. But free hospital and doctor’s visits, plus paid parental leave that can last up to a year, are all immense benefits for which I am grateful.
The language is the same, but it also isn’t
Even though I haven’t had to learn a new language to live here, babyhood brought a new vocabulary. Instead of bassinets, diapers, pacifiers, and cribs, in the UK we have Moses baskets, nappies, dummies, and cots.
I still feel as if I’m impersonating someone when asking my kids whether they want a salad with “tom-aw-toes” or hearing one of them shout “mum” (I always imagined myself as “mom”). Even ABCs aren’t safe: In England, they end with “Zed,” not “Z.”
While I consider myself shy, I can confidently tell you I am always, without fail, the loudest parent in any room, and on any street. This isn’t intentional, but I think my American-ness means my parenting style can best be described as “intense” compared with British parenting styles.
I’m always telling my kids how proud I am of them, trying to make our thousandth playground trip more exciting by pretending we’re doing an obstacle course or shouting for them not to speed too far ahead of me on their bikes and scooters. I often feel the stares, and the weight of expectation, from other parents.
Sometimes, it seems as if I’m being judged because of my accent. I do think my kids are expected to behave better than their British counterparts when we’re out and about because people are expecting the worst. Parenting is tricky enough, but it’s added pressure to represent a nation when you live abroad.
I need to make an effort to keep their connection with the US alive
My kids are more English than American, which is simultaneously fascinating and heartbreaking for me.
Since I don’t have family in the US anymore, we don’t visit as much as I’d like (the coronavirus pandemic has delayed our plans further), so I teach the kids about my homeland as if it’s an essential subject. We read American Girl books, listen to “Hamilton” on repeat, and cook sweet-potato pie with marshmallows year-round.
Parenting is an adventure. Being an American parent in the UK allows me to feel as if I’m discovering something new every day.