Caroline Wurtzel/Romper; @annieineventyrland; @the_lykke_charm/TikTok

The American Moms Abroad Who Are Milking It For TikTok

Ex-pat American moms love sharing aspirational content about their new European lives — but what gets left out?

Annie, an American mom of four in Denmark, leads a pretty idyllic life in the heart of Copenhagen — or at least it looks like it, based on the one-minute glimpses we get into her days on Instagram and TikTok. She takes followers along on cargo-bike rides to pick up her kids, on museum tours, and to the pastry shop, and edits the short snippets into narrative series with provocative titles like, “Things that are normal I’m scared to tell my American friends.” Posting under @annieineventryland, she jokes about her “sad, beige” life, noting that one of her biggest parenting problems is the dandruff Copenhagen’s hard water has given her kids.

Annie’s most popular posts describing the Scandinavian art of baby naps—outside, in the stroller, in all weather — have drawn a lot of media attention. While some American moms may feel their envy bubble up (along with a strong dose of worry over the potential danger of leaving your baby outside all alone), older moms might remember the Dane who was arrested and temporarily lost her child for doing so in New York City.

In her reels, Annie uses a judgment-free tone to discuss the differences she’s experienced while raising kids in both countries. Her preference for Denmark’s kid-friendly policies is clear. With her TikTok persona, she explores the conundrum at the heart of modern-day parenting: millennial moms who want a functioning social support system and have found that lacking in the US.

Watch enough of these videos and it’s easy to start believing that life on the other side of the Atlantic is markedly better, especially amid the mounting frustrations of American mothers. It’s expensive to give birth in a country with no established maternity leave; rare to find affordable day care; impossible to balance work and raising children without letting a few balls drop, and that’s not to mention school shootings.

“We have four kids and no car and we love it.”

Many of the comments under these short videos give you the sense that there are a plenty of young parents itching to jump ship. And while TikTok as a platform is not set up to accommodate nuance — there are few mentions of how much new immigrant must pay into a social system before they can benefit from it — for some, life is better over there. “I'm privileged in plenty of ways,” says Sarah, a British mom living in Sweden who says Annie’s posts frequently end up on her explore page. “But it's weird to see these benefits stripped of any context other than, ‘well, you have to pay more taxes.’”

Sarah, who gave birth in Sweden after her partner landed a job there, noted that many of these “American Mom” videos are devoid of context about local issues and reflect a white, monied perspective. “I always remember looking up the Google reviews of the hospital where I gave birth. It had a five star review from someone with a Swedish name and a one-star review written in Arabic.”

She notes that expats who arrive for work and have bureaucracy smoothed over by a relocation agency might not be aware of the racism and classism existent in Scandinavian policies. Denmark’s immigration laws, for example, were revised after the arrival of thousands of refugees in 2015 to require a not-insignificant salary for a work visa or sum of assets for family reunification visas (they are again under revision after complaints about their discriminatory nature).

Still, those controversial policies don’t stop the American Moms from sharing — and capitalizing on — their aspirational European lives. Aly, who met her German husband while on a five-week tour of Europe, posts under about her decision to raise her family in Germany. “Overall, we decided that the strong social system in Germany would ultimately benefit our family the most.”

Aly, who was parenting alone in the US before moving to Germany and having kids with her new husband, details the social system in her TikTok videos, pointing out the more humane family leave policies in Germany. There, either parent can get paid leave up to the first 14 months of a child’s life, home visits by midwives during the initial ante-natal period are covered by health insurance, and state-supported childcare programs are billed on a sliding scale according to income, making them very affordable in most places. Though she acknowledges that there are imperfections in the German system, she doesn’t go deep into the policy debates currently raging in Germany over those programs: how few men actually take part of that postpartum leave, the way that low pay and healthcare cuts have led to a midwife shortage, the near impossibility of finding a daycare spot for kids under three in some cities while others, like the university town of Tubingen, have reduced their hours to provide only half-days due to a personnel shortage.

Neither of these moms lets on to an uncomfortable truth: everything about their lives, and their ability to raise their children abroad, is subject to the whims of fickle bureaucracies and the men they are married to.

For her followers, 90% of whom are based in the US, that extra context may not be necessary — or what they’re interested in. As Aly’s bio makes clear (✨Criticism + Advocacy = Change✨), she’s on TikTok to advocate for change to US policies, not to get you to pack up your things. “Without action, (criticism) is just complaining,” says Aly, whose link in bio directs you to Everytown and the National Coalition to End Child Marriage. “The changes I’m most invested in portraying all surround improving the social system within the USA to support children and parents better.”

Yet for some immigrants to Europe, this portrayal can feel a bit off putting, given what it leaves out. Neither of these moms lets you on to an uncomfortable truth: everything about their lives, and their ability to raise their children abroad, is subject to the whims of fickle bureaucracies and the men they are married to. Paid family leave, for example, is not accessible to non-EU citizens until they’ve paid into the social system for several years. At the same time, as one recently repatriated mother told me, reshaping your life around your husband and his career can be a dangerous proposition. You can lose everything, including your children, when your husband decides, as this mom put it, that your “services are no longer needed.”

Kat, another mother I spoke to, discovered that the hard way after she split from her husband when her child was young. Forced to reckon with an unfamiliar legal system in a language she wasn’t yet fluent in, she found herself in a tight spot. “To be honest, I was overwhelmed with having to divorce in a foreign country without my family around.”

Though she retains joint custody and permission to work in Germany, she’s in many ways still dependent on the whims of her ex. While the pair had initially planned to move to her native New Zealand before their child started school, the plan became moot once they split; now, Kat has to request his written permission any time she wants to leave the country—even for a family funeral. “The ability to make decisions about where I am has been completely removed from me. And it's taken me a lot of time to actually come to peace with that.”

Of course, few young couples think of these contingencies in the early stages of their lives together. “Like most people when they get married, you know, you’re not thinking about the end. You just hope it doesn’t happen to you,” said Heather, an American mom living in Bavaria with her German husband.

Maybe the same Pollyanna-ish perspective that convinces a person they will never get divorced has TikTok viewers imagining their lives would be perfect if they just immigrated to Northern Europe. “It’s super niche content,” says Heather, who used to blog about her experiences immigrating to Germany. Blogs, she says, allow more room for caveats. “It feels like there’s some missing information there. Not that anybody’s going to see a TikTok and pack up and try to move their life.” (Or are they?)

Yet it may be better to view the American Moms less as advocates for the expat life than as documentarians chronicling their adventures in a new country. “These accounts remind me of that first year in Europe,” said Kat, who admits that stories of the difficulties one faces abroad don’t make for aspirational content. “There’s this euphoria, especially among Americans, and everything is so different. So how do you measure it? You have to measure it against what you know.”

That was the case for Ilana, who started her @the_lykke_charm account in the early days of the pandemic. Relatively new to Denmark, to the working world there, and then, to motherhood, Ilana says she wanted to be the source of information that she herself had been missing. “I follow a lot of American influencers but I didn't have a source to go to for kind of the equivalent in Denmark.”

At the same time, Ilana consciously chose not to turn her account into a mommy blog starring her son. “I didn’t want to use him for content or feel like he was the face of my page. I felt like if people are following me, I want it to be for me.” Now friends with a number of the other American Moms in Copenhagen thanks to the connective powers of social media, Ilana talks a lot less about motherhood and more about the culture shock of being an American making a home in Denmark. And that immigrant’s perspective has drawn a lot of Danes to her account.

“One thing that’s been great about social media is actually being able to interact with Danes probably more than I do in my real life,” says Ilana, who is married to a Dane and speaks the language at an advanced level. Though she admits to ignoring the more negative comments and having great conversations about things like how to dress a toddler for the harsh winters, she also wants to set the record straight for her Danish followers with misconceptions about Americans. “I see a lot of judgment here about Americans in general and as a teacher, I have to say, it’s not their fault. “You know, the education system is failing them,” she says. “Every system in the US is failing Americans.”

Courtney Tenz moved to Germany in 2005 on a Fulbright, where she researched women's narratives of assault during the war. She continues to write at the intersection of conflict and culture, covering women's rights, the arts and European travel for Artsy, The Art Newspaper, Marie Claire, The Cut, and more. Sometimes, she sends dispatches via her newsletter, The Intangibles. Most of the time, she is very tired.