What an adventure it can be, raising kids in countries you have no childhood experience of yourself! There are so many challenges, mysteries, and discoveries. But above all, there are lessons revealed, that would never have been unearthed, had you not taken that leap of faith, into the unknown of motherhood in a foreign country.
Having been born and raised in San Diego, California and lived there for the first 26 years of my life, I had my first two children in Denmark. Yes, Denmark! Rainy, cold and sometimes snowy or slushy Denmark. Thats quite a stark contrast from almost always sunny, San Diego – paradise. I quickly learned what a snow suit was, and the essentials for rain gear. But most of all I was privileged to discover first hand, the concept of ‘hygge’, particularly hygge as a mother.
Why Denmark and Why Malta? My family is Maltese – I am full Maltese (by blood, born in San Diego), and my man is a Dane. My man and I met in Malta when we were both living there (a fun, love-at-first sight story!). We made our way to Denmark, where we lived for 5 years, had 2 babies, and indulged in the life of ‘hygge’. We also became vegetarian in a land of hot dogs – go figure! At 8 months pregnant with our 3rd, we returned to Malta to begin our new journey of raising kids and small island life.
If anyone has been to San Diego, Denmark, and Malta, its fascinating how different these cultures are. A perfect example is: in Denmark our babes sleep in their barnevogn (prams) to take naps in the fresh air, and its totally normal to have them sleeping where anyone has access to them. They can be parked in the front of an apartment or while out eating lunch at a restaurant. In Malta however, well there is not much space for this practice to be had. The weather is too warm, and the idea of leaving a baby alone would absolutely horrify most! In San Diego, you would have the police called on you in a second and would find yourself behind bars for child neglect. Birth is a whole other story, I could go deep into the cultural differences of giving birth in both European cultures, but I will have to save that for a future post. Lets just say these places are extreme opposites in so many ways. Yet there is a movement between all 3 cultures toward accommodating the need of mother’s and children.
In all 3 cultures, I have noticed the needs of parent and child are more and more recognized in the public sector. For example, the malls between all 3 countries include play areas for children, and baby and mother restroom spaces, most accommodating breastfeeding space as well. Parks for children to play at are everywhere and the quality for these family spaces are increasing in quality. Indoor playgrounds are a thing of the present. In Malta, many restaurants are creating space for their own mini indoor playground – Denmark take note!! Considering the (opposite) weather of both these places, this is a must. Its funny that although these two countries have quite different weather, we parents still face many of the same needs.
Having said all of the above- the ONE, Most Significant aspect of being a mom in a country I did not grow up in – is the adventure of getting to know other Mom Friends. This is where Online Expat Groups have played a huge role in my own experience of settling down. In Copenhagen, I was a part of a really lovely American mom group established through Facebook. Frequent meet ups were planned at baby friendly places and if we could make it, we did, and if not, there was always next time. I received so much out of this group (including a best friend), that I had to bring an essence of this group to Malta, or at least try, if not for myself, then for other mommas too. In Malta, we have the group ‘Foreign Mommas Of Malta’. If there is one thing I can tell any foreign momma, it is to join a group of common interest mothers, and connect with a few of them. Normally these groups are quite big and we all are coming from various areas of the country. Find a few close by you, where you can easily do more frequent meet ups. Also, try to arrange or join in on whole group meet ups as often as possible. But the one or two close momma friends you make, can get you through those really tough times….
Reflecting back on this wild journey of traveling, living, and raising 3 babes abroad, the ONE thing that sticks out the most to me is this: You aren’t alone, or rather, there are so many of us out there, just dont be shy to say hi.