Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 185

USA vs UK parenting

Oooh, this could potentially be a very explosive minefield, since nearly every comment about parenting anywhere at anytime raises hackles….

But, hey ho! It’s a cultural thing, and therefore something that is part of living out here. You see, there is a difference that I, and many of my Brit friends based in this part of the USA, have observed in our parenting styles.



It can be best described thus:

UK parenting
Strip ‘em down and get them undressed at the pool
USA parenting
Keep them entirely covered or dress them inside for the sake of modesty

UK parenting
If you’re having fun and are content, a little aspirational and basically being a kid and doing kid things, have a personality and a mind that’s your own, that’s great
USA parenting
You got to be on the swim team , play violin, be top of the class in math, be a cheerleader and speak Mandarin and I will run you to every single after-school class that there is and complain at step class how whacked out I am, but how much I love my kids (as they are the central reason for me being and existing) and how all these activities are improving every aspect of their lives to make them better human beings, and possibly one day President

UK parenting
Sure, hold your horses, and I’ll talk to you when I’ve finished talking to the grown ups
USA parenting
What is it, what’s wrong?

UK parenting
Hang on a minute, cheeky chops, what did you say?
USA parenting
Ethan Jr, that is disrespectful and mommy is sad that you have behaved in this way

UK parenting
My son/daughter has a really active imagination and loads of energy, which is wonderful
USA parenting
My son/daughter conforms wonderfully to the school ideology of what a good student should be and if they get too boisterous there are always child psychologists, special tutors and pills for that

UK parenting
Off you pop for a quick wee then
USA parenting
Does someone need to go potty?

Anyway, you get the [tongue in cheek] idea. And I do not mean to OFFEND anyone, or say that the UK parenting style is right or wrong, or that all US parents have this style of parenting, or that everyone in the UK parents like that, because they don’t (I’ve seen lots of styles), and I am no model parent AT ALL, it’s just that I have noted a type of parenting out here that I had not really come across before.

The Huffington Post gives a good low-down on parenting styles, and comments that there are four parenting styles, one of which is American Dreamer, which is probably what I am referring to:

27 % of parents – have high aspirations for their children – and invest in pouring themselves fully into their families’ futures – are the most aggressive about making sure their kids get ahead – and invest heavily in providing opportunities to give their children a competitive advantage down the road.

Parenting: the toughest job of all, no matter what country you live in!

Parenting: the toughest job of all, no matter what country you live in!

A wealth of expat experience

Toni has lived in the USA for 23 years and is an expat expert. Here she shares her tales of USA life and gives some sage advice about living here.

Toni’s Tale

I came to the US from England in 1990 having married an American in London. (That old story). All my family are back in England; my husband’s family is here but very small and scattered all over. I have three children, all born in the States – ages 20, 17 and 10!

When I first came over I was in Organization Development and Training, but gave that up when my older two were little. I now spend my days writing books and columns for various web sites, as explained at my web site – I started a charity in 2009 to help fund a school in Ghana and that takes up a fair bit of time too. (



You’ve been here a long time – do you feel more American or British? Are there any British traditions you still uphold?
I have been blogging about this recently ’cause although I still feel British, I’ve been away from the UK for so long that there’s now a lot that is unfamiliar. The knowledge that your country of origin has moved on without you is very weird. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel American though; there are a lot of things embedded in the culture here that I will never get my head around – like the right to bear arms, which basically means that no matter how bad gun violence gets, people will never really accept limitations on the right to have a gun. And I swear too much for Americans!

I still eat a lot of British stuff like Marmite, Branston pickle, egg on toast etc. It’s quite easy to buy British food here now. You have to be very careful with what looks like genuine Cadburys chocolate though, as some of it isn’t made in the UK and definitely tastes funny.

Yey, marmite!

Yey, marmite!

What has changed in America most significantly since being out here?
When I came here there was no Internet so, like everywhere else, the ease of doing stuff is so much greater. At the risk of becoming political, this country is even more conservative than it was when I arrived. I think a lot of Brits assume that Americans are swinging, partying, wild people where in fact I find them to be quite reserved in some respects. (I am in the mid-west you’ll have to remember). The politics though, has gone to such extremes that sometimes it feels like we’re going backwards. Only this week the Supreme Court of Iowa deemed it OK for a dentist to fire his assistant (of 10 years) because she was so attractive that he and his wife were worried that he would be tempted to have an affair with her. (

When you go back to the UK what do you think has changed about it?
There’s a lot of stuff that’s changed about the UK. For a start, where I’m from (Tyneside) is almost unrecognizable and I get lost every time I get in the car. The UK ha a much more cosmopolitan feel to it than it did when I was there; It’s difficult to explain really, and it’s probably because people are traveling farther afield and more frequently. A lot more outdoor cafes etc. which you’d only ever see in France and Italy etc years ago.



What things frustrate you about the USA, and what do you love about its culture?
As I mentioned above, the politics really frustrates me, but I won’t bang on about that. It also annoys me when I hear Americans announcing that the US is the most democratic, most powerful or something like that, nation on earth. Obviously not all Americans think like this, but a lot do and given that a very small percentage even possess a passport, it makes me want to demand to know how they reached such a conclusion when they haven’t seen anywhere else.

On the plus side, I have tried to embrace the “can-do” attitude of Americans. Their mantra is “What’s the worst that can happen?” so they’ll give anything a go. When I finished my new book I took that approach in seeking press reviews and a surprising number of people agreed to review it.

Name three things that you miss about the UK
Only three??? Hmmm – friends and family (that counts as one by the way); British telly (including the ads); pub lunches.

Pub grub

Pub grub

If you could change any laws in the USA what would they be?
How long do you have? I’d definitely do something to curtail access to guns – and I’d do it at a federal level so that every state had to comply.

I would require everyone to have health insurance so that people can’t just opt out and expect everyone else to pick up the tab; for those who can’t afford health insurance, I’d make sure they had access to decent health care and medications so that no one had to choose between food and prescriptions.

And finally (for now) I’d put a cap on the money that can be raised in political campaigns. I weep when I see how much is raised and spent on advertising etc. There is a lot of poverty in this country and those hundreds of millions could be better spent elsewhere. The money issue also makes the whole election process open to all sorts of bribery and corruption on a scale that would shock most Brits.

What top tips do you have for Brits in the US?
There’s a lot that is different so my general advice would be don’t be surprised to experience some culture shock and also not to have a clue what people are talking about. Yes, we both speak English, but American English can be very different from British English. Another tip would be not to assume everything British is correct and the American way is wrong. That’s a sure way to piss off the natives and in fact, some British words have moved farther from the original root than the American version.

If you’re here for a short period, make sure you travel around as much as you can. This country is absolutely huge and the variety in topography is amazing. You can have any type of holiday you want right on the doorstep.

I’m part of a team of writers giving tips to Brits in the USA at the BBC America “Mind the Gap” web site.

PS. I’m thrilled to have a new book out on Amazon – “The Stress-FreeGuide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”. It’s exactly that, and my aim is to help students who can’t afford the big consulting fees, to understand the US college system, the application and visa process, and a little bit about college life here. Even more thrilling is it’s already received one 5 star customer review.

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14 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 185

  1. Same here in Germany as the UK mentality that you describe. I am DISGUSTED at how US children are growing up. Some albeit isolated examples, just from my friends: A friend of mine had the police show up at the door, as a neighbor had called them because the children were…wait for it…..CLIMBING A TREE! The horrors! Another friend, due to the well-intentioned, but overly broad law in NJ “Anti-Bullying” was forced to go to 5 hours of family counseling because her child called another “Four Eyes”. Once. The parents complained that it was bullying. Really? And my last, also related to the Anti-Bullying law is a party. For 7 year olds. In NJ, one can not have a party with less than the ENTIRE class of 7 year olds. Not even after school hours. Another friend got a note home that if they actually did have the party, this would fall under AB Law, as other children´s feelings would be hurt, and this would go on the birthday girl´s school record.
    My heart bleeds for the future of my country.

  2. The fact is the American Dreamer parents tend to be the loudest and most aggressive about getting what they want for their children so they stick out don’t they? And also remember another parenting style is to constantly give the children choices instead of just saying “This is the way it is.” Sometimes you have to do things you have no choice about.

  3. Andy says:

    The parenting thing was brilliant. Thanks for that, it’s just what I needed on a Monday morning when I didn’t feel like coming to work 🙂

    Thanks also to Toni for her view of the US from a UK point of view. This part:
    “although I still feel British, I’ve been away from the UK for so long that there’s now a lot that is unfamiliar. The knowledge that your country of origin has moved on without you is very weird. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel American though; there are a lot of things embedded in the culture here that I will never get my head around”
    said it so much better than I ever could, and sums up my feelings and attitude perfectly.

  4. Patricia Dent says:

    Amen, Toni, Amen. I have been in the USA for many years – it is not the country I came to. Going backwards on many fronts. Quite disturbing.

  5. Jane says:

    Oops I didn’t realise that stripping off at the pool was not what the locals do. Much easier though.

    “Aspirational” is such a British word. I had never heard it before living in the UK and it is used so often there.

  6. Sad the way some US kids are raised. Same is true for England, though, it seems. I live in Slovakia. What is it with the British lads drinking our cheap beer, puking it up on our streets, singing at the top of their lungs (under my window at 3 AM), ripping the flowers out of the planters, and then hopping their flight home. Granted, the US kids can’t find Slovakia.

    Not sure what’s worse…

  7. These are extraordinary! Victoria, I need you to write a piece for my blog about the differences between European and American education! Email me on!

  8. This just saddens me. On so many levels.

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