Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Raising kids in the US is a whole different ball game

The relentless materialism that surrounds our family here is reminiscent of where Ireland was headed during the boom, writes Kitty Clark.

Tue, May 15, 2012, 12:56


The relentless materialism that surrounds our family here is reminiscent of where Ireland was headed during the boom, writes Kitty Clark. 

When I moved to the USA eight months ago, I figured I was pretty well prepared for my life here. I had spent two summers au pairing for American families, I was married to an American, and many of my friends were American too. I loved my American in-laws and was ready to raise my two kids as Americans.

Yet my life as a stay-home-mother in the States is nothing like what I thought it’d be. American mothers are different from my fellow mothers in England and Ireland. Their parenting is different. Schools, birthday parties, even a day at the park is a whole different ball game.

When we first arrived, we looked at a lot of potential places to rent in the leafy suburban neighbourhood we were to make home. Most of these houses were lived in at the time and the one thing that struck me was the attention given to the children’s rooms. The houses and apartments were in different styles, but in each, the children’s rooms were decked out like a Pottery Barn showroom. Nursery rooms meant plush bedding, matching curtains, and often, personalised rugs. Bathrooms had towels with the kids initials embroidered on them.

Alarm bells should have gone off, but I was eager to get settled, eager to make friends. I said yes to every invitation that came my way. It was only when an invite to a ‘Gender Reveal Party’ came through my door that it began to dawn on me that there might be more cultural differences than I had initially thought.

A gender reveal party is where the doctor writes down the sex of a baby at the scan, doesn’t tell the parents, but gives them the information in a sealed envelope. The parents give the sealed note to a selected baker, who bakes a cake and ices it in white icing. The parents get busy planning their blue-and-pink themed party and invite lots of friends and family over. At the party, the cake is cut, revealing either blue or pink icing and voila, we find out the baby’s gender.

Three months after the gender reveal party, I got the baby shower invitation. Showers were cropping up by the time I left Dublin, and were big when I lived in London. They were usually casual affairs, but here, a baby shower is like mini-wedding, with formal invites, RSVPs, favours on tables and of course, the gift registry. Forget the days of picking out a nice little outfit for baby; in America, you are told what to buy and where to buy it.

At birthday parties, there are cupcakes and a birthday cake from Magnolia – the ‘in’ place. None of the mothers bake here. I made cakes for both of my kids’ birthdays and people couldn’t believe it. At home, all of my friends make their children’s birthday cakes.

A party here isn’t a party unless it has a clown or a magician or some form of ‘entertainment’ for the kids. It reminds me a bit of the bouncing castle days of the Celtic Tiger. Kids then had a lot, but even the most spoiled Celtic Cubs would have nothing on the kids in my neighbourhood.

I take my three year old on play dates and her friends don’t just have a few Disney dolls; they have every one of them, their entire collection of dresses, DVDs and the complete wardrobe of dress-up accessories. At a birthday party last weekend, I counted eight doll-buggies in the basement, all owned by the birthday girl.

I am still waiting (and hoping) to meet the child that is the exception.

The level of indulgence here is, quite simply, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I recently overheard a woman telling a furniture sales person, with frustration, that she couldn’t buy a bedside locker because her eight year old daughter still hadn’t decided what ‘style’ she wanted her room in.

If you’ve ever wondered what life might be like had the Celtic Tiger continued to roar, it might well be like this. But Ireland has crashed back to reality and I know people there are returning to a simpler way of life. I think of my friends at home in Dublin and I can’t imagine any one of them indulging their kids like this. I can’t see them fretting over matching bedding and pelmets for an infant’s bedroom or instructing me on what I should buy for their baby. And I can’t hear any of them asking their kids what they feel like for lunch.

For me, it is this common sense approach to parenting and to life in general that I really miss. It seems like a small complaint, and it is, but I’m already exhausted by the relentless materialism that surrounds my family here every day.

I can’t help imagining how different my children might turn out had we stayed in Ireland. Given the economic crisis we don’t have that choice now. Having my in-laws here is wonderful and I know that there is more opportunity for my children here in the States than in Ireland. I just need to keep remembering that for now.

More on Kitty Clark’s life in America can be found on her blog –