If your Instagram algorithm is anything like mine, American families living abroad have been having quite the moment lately. And I’ll fully admit I have fallen hard for the chance to get a glimpse into how families abroad are living. Whether it’s getting a look at a Parisian after-school snack (chocolate and a baguette?!) or fantasizing about the real-life wonderland of a Danish playground, it’s all too easy to get sucked into an endless scroll of wanderlust.
Getting the chance to view parenting styles worldwide, where children have completely different childhoods than kids living in the United States, is incredibly fascinating. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch these videos with a certain amount of jealousy. And how could I not? It’s difficult to watch families abroad speak on things like subsidized childcare when a year of daycare can cost upwards of $15,000 a year in the United States.
To learn more about the fascination behind this video trend, I spoke with Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst.
Why is there such a fascination with American families living abroad?
“From a psychological viewpoint, U.S. parents living abroad can be captivating to watch because it gives viewers a window into an alternative lifestyle they may [have] only dreamed about before now experiencing themselves,” Patel says. “There’s also vicarious living at play here [of] watching these parents raise their children in another culture — which can both educate and inspire viewers.
Patel explains that there’s a certain amount of curiosity that comes with seeing how other cultures live, something that has become much easier to do through social media apps. Getting to view these cultures from the perspective of Americans abroad makes the experience all the more relatable and interesting.
Of course, along with the culture, there’s also a fascination in seeing what citizens are provided in other countries. Patel explains that the videos “allow viewers to witness state-provided daycare services, healthcare coverage or benefits not offered within their home country — an experience which often highlights disparities within healthcare or childcare systems within America itself.
In fact, many American moms living abroad with larger social followings seem to gain traction by making content that directly compares life abroad versus in the U.S. One example: Aly (@usa.mom.in.germany) is an American mother living in Germany who has created Reels comparing the two countries on topics like pregnancy resources and daycare. Her Instagram Reels have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, showing the widespread appeal of learning how life in America compares to abroad.
Is it wrong to feel so jealous?
For myself, I know that a major factor in watching Americans abroad on social channels is a sense of jealousy (something I’m embarrassed to admit). Living in the U.S., I cannot imagine ever feeling safe enough to let my child ride alone on the subway at a young age — but that’s exactly what kids in Japan are able to do.
Ten years ago, my social media jealousy may have stemmed from someone getting to go to a fun concert I was missing out on. Now, my biggest FOMO is from watching an American in Sweden talk about their 480 days of parental paid leave while the U.S. has none.
When I asked Patel about my feelings on watching these videos, she reminded me that this feeling is common with any type of social media. “It can be easy to be intimidated when viewing social media content depicting seemingly perfect lives, particularly parenting and family lives. But remembering that social media often presents a selective version of reality can make one jealous; each situation comes with its own set of downsides and challenges that should not go overlooked when looking at these posts,” Patel says.
She continues, “Though feelings of longing or envy might arise when looking at those living abroad, it’s also important to recognize there may be trade-offs associated with living abroad, and sometimes it might not be the right choice for everyone … [try to] focus more on appreciating what good aspects of our own lives rather than comparing ourselves against others.”
So, while the trending videos may have me Googling “how to move to Norway” once a day, I have to stop and remember that, as with any social media, it’s built on a fear of FOMO. And since I don’t see myself getting the opportunity to move to a new country any time soon, I’ll instead focus my energy on appreciating what I have.
Well, that and advocating for Paid Family Leave while we’re at it because that’s something no one should have to miss out on, no matter what country.