Monday, February 3, 2014

Guest Post Monday: Mom vs. Mum

I'm so excited to introduce you to Claire. She will be entertaining us today by sharing the differences in being a "mom" (US) and a "mum" (UK). I think she's hilarious and I think you will, too!

The differences between being a ‘mum’ and a ‘mom’

I am a British ‘mum, raised by a British ‘mum’ and dad, with a very traditional British upbringing, an ingrained British culture and a British attitude towards parenting.

Having been in the USA over the past 18 months, I have noted many differences between the British and American style of parenting. Sometimes I’m amused, sometimes I’m confused, sometimes I think certain things work better, and sometimes I struggle to get my head round stuff.  However, my coping mantra as a British expat in the USA is ‘one is right, and one isn’t wrong – they’re just different.’ :)

Parenting across the world will differ because of culture, or habits, or generations, so this is just my cheeky, observational look at the differences I’ve encountered between being a  ‘mum’ and being a ‘mom’.

1.       Sippy cups and diapers

It’s just a lingo thing, but when you’re raised on ‘cup’ and ‘nappy’ the two words ‘sippy cup’ and ‘diaper’ just won’t come out of my mouth. I can’t use them and I don’t know why. ‘Sippy cup’ is just weird-sounding  to my British brain – I think it’s the use of the word ‘sippy’ which freaks me out, and I think because I’m past the nappy stage (read that as my son is actually past the nappy stage) I have an innate refusal to adopt this word into my language base.

2.       Poop and pee and potty

Firstly I had to get used to calling the ‘loo’ the ‘bathroom’ in the USA, and then lo and behold I find that when talking to their kids Americans asked if they ‘wanna go potty’. A potty is something a small child sits on in the UK to ‘potty train’ and then we just call it the ‘loo’ or the ‘toilet’. And we don’t have an extra ‘p’ on our British ‘poo’ and we definitely say ‘wee’ instead of ‘pee’.

For example:
UK parenting
‘Off you pop for a quick wee then.’ ‘Nip to the loo, love.’ ‘Do you need the toilet?’
USA parenting
‘Does someone need to go potty?’ ‘You gotta poop?’ ‘Someone need to go pee-pee?’

3.       Leaving them home alone

Wow! I was really surprised about the laws for leaving your kids home alone in the state of Maryland, where I live.  Under Maryland law, a child must be at least eight years old to be left alone in a house or car. State law also says a child must be at least 13 years old to baby-sit another child. Generally, it is left up to the parent to decide whether a child who is at least eight is mature enough to be home alone. If they are mature enough and know what to do in an emergency, then cool.

Go and have a night out and be back by midnight, I guess. Pop to the gym and leave them watching Sponge Bob, or whatever.

This made me realize that I didn’t actually know what the UK law is on this. It reads thus: The law doesn’t say an age when you can leave a child on their own, but it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.
Use your judgment on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them alone.
  •  children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
  • children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight
  • babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone

Which all seems pretty reasonable.

In theory, in the USA, I can leave my son home alone in two years, which is pretty frightening, considering it’s concerning enough leaving him and his father home alone now and being confident that one of them knows how to operate the dishwasher/microwave/oven. ;)

4.       Tea or dinner or supper

I recently invited an American mom and her kids over for ‘tea’. This tea was at 4-6pm and I said I would provide the kids tea. What confusion entailed!

Tea – in the UK this is either:
a) for kids at about 5pm-ish; or
b) for those who are a bit posh, or at boarding school, or fancy an afternoon snack and wish to label it as something else, so it doesn’t really seem like you are [God forbid] snacking – and it consists of scones / crumpet / muffins / cake etc; or
c) for British folk who live ‘up North’ and which generally consists of having a meal on your knee in front of the TV (I confess to being a tea person every now and then….hang on, does this make it a TV dinner/tea….?) :)
So, I think, in the wake of all the Downton Abbey frenzy here in the USA, she was expected something similar to high tea, with sandwiches and scones and a teapot a maybe a butler, and she was very disappointed when I rolled out the spaghetti and cheese and jelly/jello for the kids. She told me that they wouldn’t be hungry because they had just had a snack, and I was confused, because it was my son’s tea time and he always has a meal at this time. Oh well, sod this, thought I, and promptly ate her kids’ food instead. :)
Just to add the confusion, in our house my son also has a bite of supper before bed. Such are the cultural differences across the pond.
5.       Birthday parties
I find birthday parties here seriously nuts. Nearly everyone that I’ve been to that isn’t at someone’s home I have to sign a waiver for. Seriously, this is how it works: no liability to the parents or venue, should Harry have a tumble and injure his toe/face/arm etc. They are all hot on the legal stuff here.
Birthday parties are hot to trot here too. Apparently, over the summer, in the rather affluent neck of the woods – read as bubble - in which I reside/observe) there was a lot of competition in the 11-14 girls’ birthday age range, with one girl having ponies trotting round her garden at her party and another had a frigging ZOO delivered!!!!! Really? Who cleared up the animal crap, that’s what I want to know.
So, no triangle sandwiches, no cheese and pineapple on sticks in the USA – oh no, I expect sushi or a platter of sliders for the kids’ lunch with these events, a celebrity appearance and a party bag containing Chanel.
But no, it’s either some potato chips and a cupcake (is this considered ‘tea’, I wonder….?) or pizza delivery here for birthday parties. And I say to myself EVERY time – ‘do not eat the pizza’, but invariably I do, and then I might as well wolf down that shop-bought cake too. Woe is me.
6.       Bed times
In the UK we love a woman called Jo Frost, who is called Super Nanny, and yes, I think she did come to the USA and try to help some American families with behavior issues and such like. She, along with The Baby Whisperer and Gina Ford, basically instilled in my generation, along with what we learned from our parents’ generation, that the evening is grown-up time and kids go to bed and read and sleep, and that is that.

Not so here, I have found. Kids generally stay up later, hang out with their parents and bed time is not so routine and regimented.  Children are seen, and heard! There’s no Victorian England mantra going on here.

This is something we’ve sort of adopted, but not necessarily out of choice. For us, it just seems to fit in with how we do things. If we want to live the American lifestyle – where we go out and the kids come too (which is often the case) - then our son stays up and does his thing and there are other kids to do that thing with most of the time. And then we all crash in to bed at the end of the dinner/party/whatever.

It has its pros and it has its cons, but I am guessing that there aren’t many USA parents who’ve heard of Gina Ford and her bedtime routine. She even tells you when to eat (and what), and by the end of reading the book I was even having a wee when Gina told me.  After a while, enough was enough.

The other thing to note with living in the States, is that when you send out invites for an evening party, you really have to specify if kids are invited or not, otherwise it’s expected that they tag along. Interesting. It fills me with great joy to see an invite that says ‘adults only’, because that means the babysitter gets to deal with the unofficial bedtime routine. 

7.       Eating out

Where I live, families seem to eat out more than at home. Much more. Like, on school night too! Gawd, you would not see this in the UK. Nope, everyone would be in and having a family meal and then it’s the bedtime routine (as outlined above). But restaurants seem to be made for families and kids, and I see them out and about having their meals together, and in a way it is kind of nice. We tried it at first, but we became pretty skint pretty quickly, so we’ve fallen back in to the British way of doing things. But that’s not to say that I don’t like the American way of eating out, because I do.

Put it this way – ooh, the looks and frowns and clicking of the tongue you would get in Pizza Express if you were out with a child under the age of 10 past 7pm on a school night in the UK. Unheard of, believe me!

8.       Juice box

All I have to say about this is that the juice box has a life of its own in the USA. It is more than a noun; it is a special thing and a serious object that is revered. To us, it is a simple carton of drink. But the juice box is held in high esteem in the USA and I can’t quite understand it. ;)

9.       Telling you 'you are awesome'

My son’s school gave me a list of praise words to use for him. These included ‘good job’, ‘great work’, ‘you are doing amazing’ (ugh) and ‘awesome’. If this was the UK, there would probably be a list of non-praise phrases to put the kid in his place, like ‘you’ve really got to pull your socks up’, and ‘stop mucking about and get your head together’, and ‘for Pete’s sake, just go and sit on the naughty step and think about what you’ve done’.

It’s like the ‘everyone got a trophy’ scenario. Not, not everyone wins in life and so someone will lose and it’s better to get used to it and toughen up, sunshine. There’s a lot of praise here that is banded about and sometimes I think kids hear it too much – everything’s awesome and I’ll tell you that, even when all you did was a ‘poop in the potty’.

10.   Getting Valentines cards for everyone

I had a list from my son’s school that had all the kids’ names on he has to give all of them a card, and if he wants to, he can add in candy and stickers. Well, I’m in charge and I don’t want to, thanks.
Ugh! This is a load of b*llocks, really it is.
Here’s why….
a) My son is not in training to be a Mormon and, although he is only six and currently not searching for a wife (or husband), as far as I am aware, I understand that polygamy is not legal in either Maryland or back in the UK. No need, therefore, to declare love for his entire Kindergarten class.
b) I think it’s quite character building for kids to get their hearts broken, no matter how young. Looks, it’s going to happen sometime, and when the gorgeous (but conceited and uptight) Gwendolyn dumps you for the handsome (but dumb and brawny) school quarter back (or fly-half, if we’re back in the UK) when you’re 15, son of mine, then at least you’ll have had some experience and you can handle it and get on with life, even though I’m sure you’ll still need some time kicking a football around aimlessly, looking dejected, with your hands in your pockets. Rejection, and learning to deal with it, is part of growing up.
c) I understand that the ‘love’ declared in these sweet (read as ‘sickly’) cards is all about friendship, but my son does hanker after one special chick, and to be honest, she deserves a special homemade card all of her own. That’s how it used to work in our day, am I right?! Damn straight I am! I will be encouraging him to make her a special card. :)
d) After card no. 8 my son will no doubt get bored with writing in them (there are like 23 kids of something ridiculous in his class) and then I will have to pretend to write his name out for him (oh no, there’s no anonymity or element of surprise and guessing who wants to win your heart on this Valentine’s Day). Doing this will make me extremely grumpy.
e) We will receive 23 cards back and I will put them in a pile for about 48 hours and then recycle them.
f) The kids will be high on candy and will be sticking stickers all over the house, which will generally be crappy for everyone.
So, whilst I shall do as I have been asked and purchase these cards and encourage him to write them out, all in all, I think enough is enough!
11.   Nudity

I recently wrote a very, very long piece about nudity and the differences between UK and USA attitudes. I still stand by it. You can read it here, but this is the crux of it.

I can only speak from my experience here on the East Coast of the USA, but so far I’ve witnessed a much more prudish, concerned and embarrassed reaction to nudity. My most recent experience was at the community pool. My son was so keen to get in the pool on a particularly hot day that he stripped off there and then at the side of the pool to put on his swimming shorts. The American friend whom I was with blushed, covered her eyes, then covered her three-year-old daughter’s eyes and waved a shocked hand at Harry’s bits. ‘Oh my,’ she exclaimed and was visibly distressed by this event. I just pulled up his swim shorts and made light of the matter.
Is this across the States? I don't know. But I do know I have a much more European outlook this hot topic!

12.   Baby showers

Well, this phenomenon is one that I don’t think I will ever partake in, because I don’t know anyone who is up the duff. It is slowly, but surely trickling into the British culture, I understand.  These baby showers were once the preserve of American housewives, but it is the latest trend to cross the Atlantic, with one in seven British women claiming they have attended one. Not me!
An American recently asked me how we got all our stuff for our son when he was born. I replied simply: ‘We bought it, our parents bought it, someone lent it to us, or we got it second-hand.’

There was no big reveal, no frilly wrapping, so three-hour unwrapping session and no pretend smiles as I laboriously opened gift after ruddy gift. Why would I want a party with all my friends there when I can’t drink and dance and have fun? Cupcakes and ‘diaper’ cakes and stuff I really don’t need and will probably return to the store anyway……? No thanks!

Baby showers: they make me thankful that my baby making days are over. ;)

So, those are my experiences so far and I’m sure I will encounter more confusing, amusing and bemusing differences as my son gets older.

My final thought is this: parenting is tough whichever side of the pond you are, whatever your culture, whatever your children are like, and however you were brought up. We can learn from each other and I will take away many things from my American experience, as well as continuing some of my British traditions, so perhaps at the end of the day, I’ll give my son the best of both worlds.

Whatever works, hey?!

Claire is a British expat writer and blogger who’s been in the USA for nearly 18 months with her husband and her son, aged 6. Based in Columbia, Maryland, she writes a blog that she likes to call ‘a little bit adventure, little bit stream of consciousness, little bit Bill Bryson’. The blog is an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek look at the amusing, bemusing and sometimes confusing cultural differences between Brits and Americans in the modern day – and Claire says that there are more differences than she had first anticipated, but all of them are part of the exciting experience of being in the USA.

Her blog can be found at

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  1. Awesome post! I love learning how things are done in other places :) I'm with you on the nudity thing...people freak about it over here in the US and I just don't understand why!

  2. You know when American's ask you what you are thankful for at TG? I always say "that we got rid of the bloody Puritans!"

  3. The 'leaving the kids home alone' thing is different state to state. In my state there's no real age minimum and various laws about child abandonment that make it very complicated. Basically, at the end of the day (and this would go for states that actually give an age), if it was believed that you left a child alone in either a dangerous situation, or you left a child who really wasn't able to take care of him/herself, you'd still be in trouble.

  4. lol I am a Brit too living in Maryland so can relate. The main thing I noticed is that many parents seem to say good job all the time. I saw a kid going down a slide and the mom said 'good job!' and I thought, isn't that just gravity? I don't think they praise like that all the time in the UK and I'm not sure if its a good or bad thing.

  5. That was a really interesting read for me. I don't know a lot about British Culture. I found this whole post quite fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Well,after reading that I found that half of me belongs in the UK and the other half of me still belongs here. We firmly enforce bedtimes (yay) and rarely go out to eat with the kids--and definitely not at night time!

  7. This was so funny! I think I use a little of both types of terminology, honestly!

  8. It's funny which methods we adopt, isn't it?! There's no perfect, one size fits all solution, that's for sure!

  9. Love it!! Sharing and then off to check out the blog. :)

  10. I remember being left at home soo much alone when I was a kid. I also grew up with a girl who literally raised herself all through high school while her parents lived in China.

  11. As Claire said, there is not one size fits all for how we do things. Off to check out.