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'Having young children abroad is stressful'

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What is it like to have children abroad? Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
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US citizen Lisa Ferland moved to Sweden in 2012 and after finding motherhood in a foreign country both stressful and rewarding, she's now sharing her experiences with the world.

Already a mother-of-one, Lisa Ferland, 32, had her second child in Sweden, after relocating to the Nordics with her husband. She found herself fascinated by the cultural differences between her home country and her adopted one and decided to write about them. 

Later, the project evolved to include 24 different stories from various international parents about raising children in foreign countries. The Local spoke to the writer about the end result -- a book called 'Knocked up abroad', which has just been released. 

What inspired you to write the book? 

I had one child in the US and one child here in Sweden, and I was blogging about the differences between my two pregnancies. My friend, who was pregnant at the time, said ‘you need to write a book about this.' 

I only have my two experiences and as interesting as those are, I thought it would be more interesting to look at a wider range of countries -- to say 'okay, how exactly do different cultures affect the recommendations for pregnancy and child birth'. How does that impact a foreigner? 

Who is your book aimed at? Can it appeal to a wider audience than just other parents who have children abroad? 

I think everyone would enjoy it. I think it's probably more relatable for women, because there is a lot about pregnancy and I think any woman who wants to be pregnant, or has been pregnant will relate to these feelings. 

The book has three sections: those who are pregnant abroad, those who have given birth abroad and those who are parenting abroad. We actually have two fathers presented in the book as well. One discusses parental leave in Sweden and how that is different from his home culture and then another who quit his job when he and his wife moved to Switzerland and became a stay-at-home dad is featured. The culture in Switzerland is not like it is here in Sweden so he had a very different kind of experience there. 


Lisa Ferland believes everyone would enjoy her book. Photo: Sandra Jolly Photography

Did you see any differences in the men's experiences and the women's experiences of having children abroad? 

The biggest difference was that both men were American and coming with their very, sort of, American mindset of not necessarily being the primary care taker of the children, and that was a unique role for them the to fill [in their adopted countries]. 

I think in a lot of cultures the woman is often expected to be the primary care taker and she takes all of the responsibility in terms of naps, snacks and, everything related to the family. 

When the dads have to take that on full-time, they are faced with all those challenges the mothers usually go through but for which they never really feel appreciated. 

What would you say are the biggest differences between having children abroad and bringing them up in your home country? 

Raising a family and having young children is automatically going to be stressful and it requires a lot of patience and understanding. And then when you have the layer of not necessarily understanding the language, not understanding the culture which is expected of you as a parent -- that adds an additional layer of possible stress and miscommunication. Things that should be simple are not and you have to take into account things you would not have to have to in your home country. For instance the citizenship implications of having children abroad if there are any, and extra paperwork you need to file that you may not have expected. 

Some of the writers in the book experienced major changes in their healthcare, their insurance coverage changed and they had to take that into consideration. 

What are the highlights of having children in Sweden? 

For me personally, I think a highlight of having a child in Sweden was without doubt, the long term parental leave. Being able to have the culture understand that you are not expected to go to work while you baby is still dependent on you. 

Everything in Sweden is great - with the availability of highchairs, baby seats everywhere and changing tables in every restroom, free rides on the bus if you have a stroller...people understand. All these little things add up to a very family-friendly society. It makes your day easier. You might not think it makes day-to-day life easier until you go someplace where it is not like that and then you're thinking ‘oh this is really hard'. 


Ferland thinks Sweden is a very family-friendly society. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Story continues below…

What have you learned from talking to others who have also had children abroad? 

The reassurance that even though we all go about pregnancy and childbirth differently, there are so many different ways you can experience it -- we all have the same worry in common. We all want our child to be healthy in the end. 

What's next for you? 

That question is kind of like after you have just a baby and people ask you ‘so when are you going to have another one?'! 

I think what's next depends on the interest in this book-I'm hoping there's going to be a lot of interest in this book. I plan on opening a submission section on the website for people to submit their own stories, because I think there are a lot of interesting stories out there that I haven't heard yet that deserve to be heard. 

And if there is enough interest in another edition or a follow up project -- I would be open to that!

Interview by Emma Lidman

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