The West isn’t America

Family relations across the western world

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Unlike America, most Icelandic families are “unconventional”

People got to figure out what is best for them, but I don’t think there is a one-size fits all. And I think it is an all too common mistake to draw broad generalizations about about the West based on American experiences. America is by Western standards an outlier in so many regards.

My experience living in the US as a Norwegian and visiting various American families is that they are indeed stressed out, in a way we are not. Work hours a long in America, vacations are short and there is basically no maternity or paternity leave while child care isn’t built out like it is in Nordic countries. In Norway there is much more acceptance and understanding in the workplace that you got to leave work early to pickup your kids in childcare. In the US it seems they will view you as not taking your job serious if you do that.

I live in a separate city from my parents and I down drive, but when I grew up I spent lots of time with my grandparents, so I didn’t feel like I missed out just because we where a nuclear family. We have usually visited my parents a lot and my wife’s parents come visiting from Canada staying weeks at a time.

For me this is a pretty happy balance. In my experience older children and parents easily drive each other a bit nuts if they stay under the same roof for too long a time.

One is also product of your culture. Norwegian culture is very private and I really cannot deal with being around a lot of people for an extended period of time.

You mention divorce, and again I think the US is a bit of an outlier. There just isn’t very good support for single mothers. And due to the combative American legal system divorces often turn quite ugly. Divorce is not setup to be a confrontational legal case here. Women are also often stay at home which really weakens their situation when divorcing.

I think in Nordic countries people tend to divorce on far friendlier terms and more committed to making things work out for their children.

“70% of all Icelandic babies are born out of wedlock and Iceland is home to one of the highest divorce rates in the world.”

An interesting outlier at the opposite end of what family life represents in say Sri Lanka would be Iceland where almost nobody is born to a married couple and where divorce rates are the highest in the world. Yet is is also a very well-adjusted culture and like other Nordic nations it scores high on happiness, human development rankings etc.

Here is an perspective from an American living in Iceland struggling to grasp what seems like a complete contradiction to him about how society should operate.

So to sum up my take on this. I don’t think the issue is about nuclear families or multiple generations living together. It isn’t even about the West. What this is really about is that America is an outlier. America is a society which has worshiped capitalism and consumption above almost all else. Should we be surprised that Americans are not all that happy with their lives including their family life?

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Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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