Living | 03.05.2016

The weird and wonderful ways mothers love around the world

Mother, mum, mama, madre, okasan, nënë, ahm, mor, mare, ma. The word for mother differs from country to country, but in the vast majority of the world's languages it begins with the letter M.  

UNICEF estimates that an average of 353,000 babies are born each day around the world and there are 255 births around the world every minute, or 4.3 births per second. For most of the mothers giving birth to all those gorgeous bubbas, it will be the best day of their lives.

Despite the varying names, the role of mother is the same in most cultures around the world. Invariably, motherhood is about loving, accepting, nurturing, guiding and valuing your children.

But the way mothers perform their important role differs greatly depending on cultural context. With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday, we take you on a whip around the world to find out how different mothers do their jobs. No one way is the right way, and some of these observations are generalisations. But it’s interesting to observe the different ways motherhood has evolved in different parts of the world.

We all want the best for our kids – we just have different ways of showing it.

1. Australia — Aussie mums are generally very affectionate and highly encouraging and praising of our kids. In the olden days, we gave our kids a lot of freedom, but these days we can be a bit OTT on safety. We like our schedules and place a lot of emphasis on regular sleep routines (as much for our own sanity as the children's wellbeing). We marvel at anyone who can get their kids to sleep from 7pm to 7am. 

2. Spain – Las madres in España would be horrified to think poor Aussie kids are in bed by 7pm and missing out on all the fun. They’re not as concerned with getting the kids to bed early as they are with allowing them to hang out with the family till all hours drinking bucketloads of sangria.

3. USA — American mums return to the workforce as soon as the baby's head is crowning, due to work commitments and the need to start saving immediately for their child's college education. The US stands as the only high-income country and one of only three countries in the world that doesn’t provide national paid maternity leave. In terms of mothering styles, American mums react and respond to the child’s needs as soon as possible, feeding and changing the baby when he or she cries and expressing warmth and love through plenty of physical affection and praise. 

4. Japan — In contrast, mothering in Japan is more proactive than reactive. Japanese mothers try to anticipate their babies’ needs before he or she cries, leaping ninja-like into the nursery to change a nappy before the kid even does a wee. As Japanese babies grow, they’re encouraged to become more independent. Japan's Imperial family trace their ancestry to Omikami Amaterasu, the Mother of the World.

5. Peru – The role of the mother is highly valued in Peru and in some families, the mother is the head of the household and instrumental in keeping the family together. As well as Mother’s Day, indigenous Peruvians celebrate the gifs of Mother Earth, who they call Pachamama. If you really want to offend someone in Peru, curse their mother. Works every time.

6. Sweden — This might sound cruel to Aussie mums who are used to a warm climate and shudder at the thought of our babies being out in the cold, but Swedish mums like their kids to nap outside. Of course, they’re bundled up and warm, but even in the thick of winter when its colder than the north of Westeros, Swedish parents leave their kids outside in their strollers to nap. Even if its pouring with rain, they’ll leave them outside a cafe (with waterproof covers on the pram) rather than bring them inside with all the germs. They say children sleep longer in the fresh air and believe it’s good for their immune system.

7. Norway — A 2015 Save the Children report rated Norway as the number one place to be a mother in the world, due to high levels of support and health care. Mothers in Norway are lucky to get almost a year of paid maternity leave, so they get some lovely bonding time with their babies before they tell them to pack their little bags and toddle off to daycare at the ripe old age of one. They see it as healthy for their kids to be in daycare so they can go back to work, and they aim to create independent children. They don’t mind a bit of risk at school and feel that if a kid hasn’t climbed a tree by the age of eight, there’s something wrong with the parents. 

8. Kenya — Pregnant women and new mothers are treated like goddesses in Kenya. They never have to stand in line, wait for a seat or carry anything. Breastfeeding is the norm and public breastfeeding is actively encouraged and welcomed. Why any of these things are not the norm everywhere in the entire universe is a mystery to us. It's not cool for kids in Kenya to address elders by their first name. Instead of saying Mrs Smith, you call a woman by the name of her first-born child. Aw, sweet. 

9. Netherlands – Dutch mums are considered the most relaxed mums in the world. These queens of maternal chillaxing are not into pushing their children too hard and prefer to focus on plenty of rest, good food and a pleasant environment over academic success. Kids parties are simple, the children aren’t held up as a reflection of their parents and there’s no expectation they have to be the best to succeed. Dutch mothers view birth as a natural part of life and the Netherlands has the highest rate of home births in the world. 

10. China — Chinese mums aren't expected to DO IT ALL, like they are in many Western countries. Help from extended family in raising the children means mums are consequently quite relaxed. However, Chinese mums do worry about success and stability for their children and can be a little obsessed about their kids studying hard and getting a good job. When it comes to poo and wee, they go back to being remarkably relaxed. No potty-training stress required — they simply put their chubby baby-butts into pants with a big split in the crotch and let them poo and wee on the ground. No need to rush a squirming toddler to the toilet or pollute the planet with a multitude of disposable nappies. 

Have you observed any ways of mothering that differed to your own culture while travelling that you found particularly quirky, unusual or successful? If you're a mum, how would you describe your own mothering style? We have one Age Defiance Pack valued at $350 to give away for Mother's Day to one lucky blog reader. We will email the winner and announce their name on our Facebook page on Friday May 6.


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