Cross-Cultural Love Is Harder Than Raising Kids

couple washing car and flirting

She's Swedish. I'm American. How different could it be? Very.

Cross-cultural relationships can be tricky. You know how men are supposed to be from Mars and women from Venus? Well, in a cross-cultural relationship, men are from an asteroid shooting past Mars and women are from a previously undetected moon circling Venus.

As mentioned before, my wife is from Sweden, and I am from the United States. Culturally, Sweden is probably as close to American culture as anywhere else in the non-English-speaking world. How different could it be? One Love, Two Cultures: Making It Work

(Don't answer that.)

To give you an example of our cultural differences, when Americans say, "let's hang out next week," this is more of an opening to a potential lunch after two more phone calls and three more weeks of on-again, off-again planning. When a Swede says, "let's hang out next week," he means "let's have lunch Tuesday, and can we write that in our calendar now?"

These things matter when you are married and are making plans. And they matter even more when you have kids. The seemingly small differences suddenly loom large. How will we dress our kid? What about sleep training? What qualifies as fast food? Are we comfortable with babysitters?

The cross-cultural friction started immediately once we had kids. Just a few weeks after I moved to Sweden for the first time back in 2004, my wife and I went to a party and had a little too much to drink. We proceeded—on the subway ride home—to get into a fierce fight on a topic of seemingly absolute importance to us at that moment:

Whether we should pay for our kids' college education.

In Sweden, college is free. Or at least the tuition is. College kids take out low-cost student loans or get jobs to cover their living expenses. And while the kids might still live at home, but they're usually not getting cash from Mom and Dad. In America, of course, I started thinking about saving for college about 10 years before I had kids. It's a central feature of family life. To a Swede, this is crazy. Pay for college? Support a 21-year-old? Never!

We still haven't resolved the issue. We talk about saving for retirement. We talk about saving for the children's future. But we do not talk about saving to pay for college. I'd like to think that my wife and I have managed cross-cultural parenting pretty well. Rather than winging it, we continue to make conscious decisions on how we want to raise our children. But sometimes, the differences seem too large or inscrutable. Why One Dad Embraced A Reversal Of Gender Roles

I just hope my kids want to study in Sweden and not at some private school in the U.S. 

Or maybe they will be amazing athletes and get scholarships! I should enroll them in a sports camp right now.

Or not. My Swedish wife would hate that.