Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Third Culture Parenting – Parenting Outside Your Own Culture

I recently guest posted for Bringing up Brits on the topic of raising kids who were born in a different country to the one I was born in. I asked Meghan Peterson Fenn, author, expat and blogger, to reciprocate and guest post about life as an American bringing up children who are, in essence, British. What she had to say about parenting in the UK was an eye opener for me for sure. Over to Meghan......

Meghan Peterson Fenn

"Raising children can be difficult at the best of times. The way we parent is determined by many factors and our cultural environment and heritage are definitely important. I am an American mother raising my three children in the UK with a British husband. Because my children were born in England, I haven’t had the experience of bringing them up in the USA so it wasn’t until I visited my parents in my home country that I realised just how ‘English’ a mother I am.

The way I parent is greatly influenced by British parenting culture and although I try and put an American spin on some things, where possible, I am more of a British mother than an American mother.  Even though I did not grow up in England, nor am I a British national, the way I parent is certainly more English than American.

For example, it is not accepted to reprimand your child by spanking in the UK. In the USA, it is more accepted (spanking on the bottom – NOT hitting your child) and therefore more common and parents are not shocked when they hear of it or see it happening. I think it is actually illegal in the UK! It is also common practice to treat your child as an equal and as a friend in the UK. Parents are more tolerant in general whereas in the US, there are more definite rules and lines that children are not meant to cross and parents, in general are stricter than parents in the UK.

It is also not as acceptable in England to offer parenting advice to friends and family. This can be a real No No with some parents who take offence when offered suggestions or advice and view it as interfering rather than helpful. British people like their privacy and find it impolite to interfere. However, when asked directly, I’ve found they are happy to offer parenting advice. And similarly, when it’s done online where there is a layer of anonymity, British mothers are more open to giving and receiving parenting advice.

These are just a few examples of things I’ve come across while bringing up my children in Britain. What have you discovered? Are you like Amanda – British and raising children in the Netherlands? What challenges have you had regarding raising your children within a different parenting culture?

I very much consider myself to be a third culture parent and sometimes wish I had the strength and gumption to be more ‘American’ in my parenting style. But it’s hard to go against the flow especially when you want to fit in and make friends and you want your children to fit in and make friends as well. I know my mother thinks I don’t discipline my children at all and she thinks the British parenting style is far too relaxed. In the past, this has caused a few difficulties with our close relationship and has had a knock-on effect with her relationship with her British grandchildren.

There are those parents who parent however they see fit no matter where they live or what the parenting culture calls for. Look at the Tiger mother, for instance.

How much does our cultural setting influence the way we parent?  How does that effect our relationship with our children and our own families ‘back home’? I am also very influenced by my British husband and the way he parents. But I suppose that is another blog post topic altogether!"

If you want to learn more about Meghan Peterson Fenn, author of Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain head over to www.bringingupbrits.co.uk. You can read an excerpt from her Bringing Up Brits book here.


  1. This is fascinating! How funny that by thinking of how British and American people tend to raise their children, I would have thought it's exactly the other way round! I love the part where the British people don't offer their parenting advice to everybody, it is one of the things that drives me nuts with German and Polish people. I think you can pick and choose your parenting style even if it's not easy. And it's one of the things that I love about the Netherlands- it doesn't matter how I raise my child, everybody does it their own way.

    1. That is exactly what my response to Meghan was - the mantra of "children should be seen and not heard" that I associate with the British was what I had in my head from growing up there. The fact that the perception is that there is less disciplining than in the US was a big surprise!!

      I find the Dutch to be very laissez-faire when it comes to the parenting styles of others indeed - everyone does it their way and there is no judging or "advice" given.

  2. This is so interesting, thank you for sharing! As an American parent, I even find myself "annoyed" with other parents who offer unsolicited advice that starts off with "just wait until" or "it's best if you". I've gone directly to friends and family for advice or for any books they've read that might help me that present situation. I feel that at least it's my choice to take that advice or not. I just read another wonderful book I'd like to share with other parents if they are interested at all, called "Teaching Kids to Be Good People" by Annie Fox, M.Ed. You can check her and the book out on the website http://www.anniefox.com/. Thanks again for the post, I may have to check out "Bringing Up Brits", it sounds fascinating!