Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: USA

Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we head to the USA to hear about how a Polish Mama dealt with cultural differences, preserving her heritage and the challenges of making it work.

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them?
I write the blog Polish Mama on the Prairie, which is about Polish culture, history, food, etc. from a Polish Mama living in the Midwest.  I also have written contributing articles for Polish Texans, foodista, and other sites and am working on becoming a freelance writer, as well as hoping to help Polish Americans reconnect with their heritage.

I was originally born in Wroclaw, Poland while Poland was still under Soviet Communism.  When I was very young, my parents decided that for my future and safety, it was best to flee Poland and go as refugees to Austria, where we waited for US citizenship.  While I grew up in the US, my parents raised me the way they would have in Poland, but did instill in me a love for both countries and a thirst for knowledge and intellectual debates with others by having them with me from a very young age.  And I love them for it.  Eventually, I met my American husband and fell madly in love with him.  We married and had two beautiful girls together here in the USA.  So now, they are US Citizens but I can easily claim their Polish citizenship, which is actually something we are planning on pursuing very shortly, so that all their options are open for them.

(Polish Prairie Mama has 2 daughter’s aged 1 and 5)

Why did you have your children abroad?
I live in the US now and while my American husband wants to live in Poland, he refuses to learn Polish, thus making it impossible for us to move back to my home country at this time.

What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
The ability to be US citizens as well as Polish citizens is one nice benefit.  I also have my parents and brother here so I couldn’t imagine leaving them yet.  Plus, because I have been here for so long with hardly any Poles to interact with on a daily basis and many Poles I have met want to speak English to improve their host-country language, my Polish language skills are no longer on the level I would like.  It’s something I try to work on at home by myself.

As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
On one hand, I would cry because I wanted to be with my family, such as my grandmother, during my pregnancy.  On the other, the US is my home now. I never felt as torn as when I was pregnant the first time.  It was a real eye-opener to the complete picture of what it is for me to be an immigrant and how to blend both cultures in my life.

Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
One thing that really struck me as funny during my pregnancy was that when Americans would find out I was pregnant, they would offer me cakes, ice cream, jokes to eat as much as I want and constant reminders to take my vitamins and not be lazy during my pregnancy and yet sleep a lot.  The Poles would thrust green leavy salads and vegetables at me with extreme urgency and many reminders that I need my vitamins, not from tablet form, but from my foods.  They would also tell me to drink plenty of water, relax, exercise gently, and to remember to teach my children that they are Polish and what it means, including the language.

Something that struck me as shocking was when I announced I was pregnant, a woman who I am no longer friends with asked me “So, are you gonna raise your kids to be dumb Polacks like you, or are you gonna raise them to be American, like your husband?”  Considering I wasn’t very familiar with her, it was pretty shocking.  The rest of the conversation was me being dumbstruck and asking what raising a child in each way entailed, and ended with my just walking to a different room and not speaking to her anymore.

After my children were born, my in-laws constantly shoved candies, french fries and junk food at my children and their favorite phrase was “One French fry won’t kill them!” with almost an angry tone.  Many of my American friends felt the same way.  I have one true girlfriend who would come to my defense and point out to people that I was teaching my children moderation and that the reason I was in physical shape so fast was because I did the same and that children did not need such junk foods.  I really love her!

My husband for a while saw no reason for the children to go anywhere during the day.  Many other “friends” would make comments that “I have nothing but time” since I “just sit at home with the kids”.  I cook from scratch, it’s not an option, that’s how I was raised and that’s what I like to eat. I also believe that children should go outside a lot and that museums, parks, zoos, libraries, and other cultural resources are for children as well as adults and we go to such places very often.  My house is always clean but we don’t sit around the living room all day long.

My grandmother-in-law told me not to teach my children anything and it’s actually something I have heard a lot.  I should not teach my kids the ABC’s, numbers, how to spell their name, colors, shapes, etc. because I could teach them wrong, that “that’s what teachers get paid for”.  I’ve never heard of such nonsense before.

I also used Elimination Communication with my older daughter and plan to with my baby, just as my mother did with me and all the women on both sides did.  I use cloth diapers and am thankful to have an automatic washing machine and dryer, since my parents used one which you had to pour in the heated water yourself, crank, and drain and hangdry the diapers.  I get told often that it’s “disgusting, a lot of work, not worth it, and the wrong way to potty train.”  That somehow I will damage my children.

I also hug my kids a lot and hear that I will spoil them by loving them, such as when they are sick.

Sometimes, though, I think and hope that this isn’t an American vs. Polish thing, but rather, different parenting styles that have nothing to do with nationalities.

What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?Do what you feel your parents did right for you.  Let it roll off your back but when you feel it can’t anymore, sometimes just telling people that we all have different parenting styles and that you are sure others criticize that persons parenting style and that in the end, all that matters is that the kids grow up healthy and happy, it’s all that matters.

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Want to share your story? Get in touch: ameena@mummyinprovence.com

17 Responses to Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: USA

  1. I know that a lot of things in the U.S. suck but seeing it through an immigrant’s eyes just magnifies it. I think it’s funny the patriotism people have and an obsession with “buying American”. To me, American equates with fake and disposable. People try to put your kids in throw-away toxic clothing and want to feed them toxic artificial food.

    Polish Mama, good luck getting him to learn Polish! Men are just so stubborn. 😉

    • mummyinprovence says:

      Thanks Janine – I have no experience of the USA so your insight adds to this post.
      There must be some good things about having kids in the USA?

      • Thank you so much for letting me share my perspective on your blog!

        You know, I should mention some benefits, no? I have met some AMAZING people in the US, from all walks of life and different cultures. I have some American friends who are “true-blood” and who I know would lay down their lives for my kids, including my husband’s cousin and the girls Godparents. For that and that alone, I would say I’m glad I live in the USA. There are other benefits, but to me, that is one of the most important things to have in life, no matter where you live. 🙂

    • I am rather offended by this commentary. I have lived in the US since I was 4, being born in Poland. People in the US want to buy American to support American workers and businesses. Just because a mother chooses to use disposable diapers doesn’t mean she’s a bad mother. Have you thought of the environmental impact of all the water/electricity/gas, etc. that is used in washing all those diapers? How about all the detergent and bleach used? As for toxic food–there is an issue of too much “fast food” in this country, but bad parenting is bad parenting and isn’t only done in the US.
      If so much “sucks” in the US, why do so many people want to immigrate here??

      • Hi Gala617, I’m not sure exactly where you are seeing that anyone is saying so much “sucks” in the US. I was simply sharing what I’ve experienced in my own circle of people here in the US.

        I agree, some in the US want to buy American made and support American workers & business, as you say. But I think Janine brings up the point that not all do. It also depends on where you live in the US. My friends and the people I know live and bleed Walmart, and have no problem choosing “Made in China” or elsewhere over American made in order to save money, etc. That’s just how it is in the area I was living in.

        I know nobody is saying that cloth diapering has to do with good or bad parenting, but rather personal choices. I chose to use cloth diapers personally. Btw, I don’t use bleach…

        Regarding the “toxic food”, I believe Janine is referring to the overuse of preservatives, fillers, additives, coloring, GMO, etc. and the controversial companies, such as Monsanto, not just “fast food”. In which case, I can tell by her comments that she, like many, is frustrated by the options involved when avoiding such foods for health reasons/concerns. I don’t think she means “The US sucks and I hate it here.” If she does mean that, well, all I can say is we are all entitled to our opinions, I suppose.

        In my answers, I merely was expressing frustration about being criticized roundly for my parenting choices and, by some, being called a racial slur for parenting the way I chose to, even though some of my parenting style has nothing to do with being Polish OR American, but simply my personal choices in parenting. I am sure, as a fellow Pole, you can understand and empathize how hurtful that can be to someone and how I would feel.

        No, to me, it doesn’t summarily “suck” living in the US. There are advantages and disadvantages, just as there are living anywhere else in the world. I hope that such conversations can be had openly, honestly, and mutually respectfully.

        • My comments were specific to Janine. In one paragraph she states “a lot of things in the US suck..” and then “American equates with fake and disposable”. I know this is going off-topic, but posting such comments on a blog that is run by someone with no experience with the US and Americans, I felt I had to defend. I am Polish/Russian by blood and birth. But American by all other standards.
          To get back on topic–your thoughts and concerns about parenting could have been written by most mom’s and dad’s no matter their race–trying to raise good/healthy children is a universal concern. I mean no disrespect by any of my comments, and hope they are not taken that way.

      • I certainly don’t think that America sucks in every way. We have the most important freedoms, including free speech and freedom of press, and the “American Dream” of being able to make yourself into whatever you want still holds true. I really feel as though the only limit on success here is yourself and how hard you are wiling to work.

        That said, you have to work really hard to eat and shop well here. There is junk food being served in school cafeterias – Did you see that bit on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution where grade school children couldn’t correctly identify a potato in its natural form, but only as a french fry?

        Similarly, when you shop for non-food items, disposable items are heavily marketed. I do believe in personal accountability, but our culture really pushes the idea that it’s better to use something that can be thrown away than something you “have to” reuse. That’s disgusting! As for diapers, I won’t apologize for that comment. Modern day disposable diapers are filled with toxic chemicals, including ones that have been banned in other products and that have caused chemical burns in babies. It is insane that parents still use them, but the marketing is just that good and that prevalent.

        (BTW, washing cloth diapers requires minimal detergent and no bleach!)

  2. I can’t believe that woman called you a “dumb Polack!”

    • mummyinprovence says:

      I found that outrageous!

  3. Lots of things in America sucks as well as anywhere else! You can say that lots of things in America is great, as well as anywhere else. It depends on who you are and what you expect from people around you and from yourself.
    If you want to use disposable diapers nobody should be judging you because you toxicating the environment. If you want to use cloth diapers nobody should be accusing you for using to much watter and too much detergent.

    I want to point out that cooking from scratch, and using cloth diapers don’t make you Polish, or European in general (or Eastern European). It is a little hard to find a good recipe where literally everything is made from scratch. There is many recipes that call for “Yellow Cake Mix” “Brownie Cake Mix” etc where on Polish cooking websites (books) people still are more loyal to making EVERYTHING from scratch.
    I cook and bake from scratch not because I’m Polish but because it tastes better and it’s MUCH healthier. I even make my own body lotion! Is it because I’m Polish!?! Of course not! It’s because I like to know what I put ON and IN my body. I know so many Polish girls who actually don’t know how to cook a potato. Being raised as a Polish doesn’t mean you can cook well.
    I know a few American moms who uses cloth diapers. I do not know any Polish mom who does that (not talking about you Polish Mama:-), and my mom)!!! I bet there is many who still use cloth diapers, but I’m just saying I don’t know any in person.
    I really think that those things have nothing to do with nationalities but rather with different parenting styles. I really do. As well as spoon feeding your baby. A few weeks ago I read a blog post that Polish moms spoon feed while in America they don’t do that. Is that so?! So maybe there is an American or Polish way of potty training!?
    The people that says that Polish are stupid are dumb as dumb you could be.
    I bet that most of them even don’t know any Poles.
    First of all their knowledge comes from jokes only. Very impressive! Second of all they don’t know where those jokes come from. From nazism. So if they think that Poles are dumb do they think that the only right race is white with blond hair and blue eyes, and that all Jews/gay/sick/old/brunette or red hair should die…
    Polish Mama, you should ask her about Kopernicus from Torun or John Paul II or if she knows where Poland is or who are it’s neighbour? Actually those kind of people aren’t worth talking to and wasting your breath on. Seriously. When I first came to US I was asked if in Poland we have computers in homes and if we have Internet connection. And showing how smart that person is he asked me if we can speak English in Poland… Like I wasn’t standing in front of him using, not perfect but not terrible at the same time, English. I was even asked if we have Thanksgiving in Poland!!! AND WHO IS DUMB!!! I’m asking!?
    My husband wish he could speak Polish…. but he is too lazy to learn. That’s all to it! I’m afraid that my daughter will end up speaking very poorly in Polish because it’s only me who speaks Polish at the house.
    I want to homeschooling my kids, and believe me or not it’s not very Polish way of thinking (and it doesn’t make me an American either), but Polish person will never say that teacher get paid for teaching his/her kid so he/she won’t do that at home.

    Ok, sorry for my deliberation. I hope I didn’t offend anybody.

  4. Oh, Polish Mama, I want to offer your a virtual hug! It seems as though you have come up against a lot of opposition with regard to your personal parenting choices, and I’m so happy to hear that you’ve stood your ground and kept doing what you believe in (I love to be reminded of this lesson, because it is something that I struggle with, especially when it comes to sleep issues.)
    Anyway, I’m Canadian, I live in Japan, where my baby was born, but I spend a lot of time in America, and I can report that there are like-minded Americans who embrace a more natural parenting style, but they tend to be concentrated on the coasts and in little collage towns like the one which I often visit. So. You’re right to say the resistance to your choices is not an American thing, but rather a thing that just happens to occur in the circle / region where you happen to be.

  5. Maybe I am a bit of an immigrant in my own country? We practice attachment parenting, cook from scratch, etc, and I usually refer to my family as counter-culture in the US. 🙂

  6. People like to offer opinions on parenting techniques everywhere in the world. As you said, the trick is to ignore them and get on with doing it the way you think is right. A lot of times, I believe they offer their opinions because they are looking for affirmation that they made the right choices.

    Regarding the American issue, I am an American from New Jersey living in London. They difficulty with making generalisations about the US is that it’s a huge place with a big population. I can assure you, as Erica said, that not everyone is the type of American that Polish Mama describes. I really wish people would stop saying “in America” and be more specific about exactly which part of America they are talking about. New Jersey is quite a different place from Texas, for example.

    Anyway, I wish you all the best of luck!

  7. Valerie P. says:

    I don’t understand why some people who come to this country feel like they have to complain all the time. And why do so many long to go back to their countries? When things were bad in your country you abandoned her, now when things are good you want to go back. Move on – the past is the past – teach your children about their future -not YOUR past.

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