I learned to let go and have confidence in my children and myself.
Parenting in Europe, specifically in Spain, is much more relaxed than parenting in the United States. In the time we were in Spain I learned that letting go, relaxing and having confidence in your child is one of the most fundamental and basic building blocks of parenting. We went to Ciutadella Park one afternoon and the children were allowed to run around without having their parents hover over their every move. If a toddler confrontation broke out it was finished almost as soon as it started in the first place. I learned in our time there that little intervention allows for maximum joy for both the parent and the child.
Toddler brawls and helicopter parenting aside, I also embraced publicly breastfeeding my infant. Mothers freely feed their children from the breast when the time calls without wondering if they are getting the side eye or wondering whether or not they are offending someone by nursing without a cover. I enjoyed feeding my son in public no matter how it was done because I felt comfortable and encouraged through the process.
I learned that eating donuts on a park bench is just as nice as touring the Sagrada Familia.
If you’ve never had a donut in Barcelona, pack your bags and go now. Forget Dunkin, forget Krispy Kreme and embrace the best donuts you have ever had in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Sure, there are all kinds of international cuisines and tapas you can enjoy in Spain during happy hour and long after, but seriously, these donuts are LIFE. Every morning my four year old son and I would take a stroll from our apartment to Chӧk to order from 30 different kinds of donuts.
We would pick a bench, kick up our feet and enjoy the quiet morning together without the TV, without the phone and without distractions. Would I have done this on my own or with my husband had we traveled without our kids? Maybe, but there was something truly special about spending time one on one, eating a delicious donut and talking about whatever came to his mind (mostly Legos and of course, donuts).
I learned that Catalonia offers so much more than happy hour specials.
The Catalonian region is known for its luxurious hotels, glistening sea, rocky shores and beach side tapas, but there is so much more worth exploring; I wouldn’t have explored the museums nor would have I signed up for a kids tour through Casa Batlló had it not been for my little explorers. We were guided through Casa Batlló by Gaudí himself (okay, it was just an actor) and listened to the history of the world renowned and architecturally revered building while playing and laughing along with the tour. I may be a kid at heart, but it was truly one of the most imaginative learning experiences I had through our entire four months of traveling through Europe. Kid tours or options for children are offered quite frequently throughout Spain, and if museums aren’t what you are looking for there is plenty of street entertainment for the kids. We often stopped and allowed our four year old to play with giant bubbles or get lost in a puppet show in Las Ramblas.
I learned that when I slow down I see so much more.
I found while traveling that when I had the kids in tow I saw so much more than when I was off alone. Instead of breezing by the shops we made more stops to peep through the window and see what toy or piece of chocolate was teasing us from the inside. We took more water breaks and enjoyed the scenery or took our time climbing up a bell tower and stopped to appreciate the ancient steps we were walking along.
I had conversations with parents, locals and other travelers in city parks and got to know more cultures by just speaking to another person who had a child the same age.
I learned more about the history of Spain by constantly answering questions my child asked.
I was constantly being asked questions by my child and I felt it was important to answer with as many facts as possible, so I too was learning about cathedrals, statues, archeological sites, historical buildings and famous churches. Sure, I was still exhausted at the end of each and every day, but I felt more fulfilled knowing that I was diving deep into Spain and coming out a different person in the process. I can read all the books in the world, but when I teach my child about his surroundings I find that the lesson can be more meaningful.
I learned that nap time is the best time.
Okay, so technically I knew this before going to Spain, but the Spanish really drove home how important an afternoon siesta is. In the cities we visited not all the shops would close down during the quiet time, but the streets were thinner and the people more relaxed in the late afternoon. It makes it a little easier to coax a four year old to bed when he sees that lots of other people do it, too.