1. I have become more hands off.
Here children are given a different amount of freedom than children in the United States. Instead of hovering over children at the park, it is quite normal to guide them to the playground and head off to a café nearby to have tapas and beer or wine with a friend. When the children need their parent they go to their parent instead of the other way around. This way, children are allowed to work out their issues among one another and often squabbles over who had who’s ball is settled much faster as opposed to when parents get involved.
2. I have more trust in strangers.
In the United States there is a mutual understanding across the board that you don’t intervene with another child’s behavior. If it isn’t my child, I’m not going to discipline them, especially if the other child isn’t my friend’s kid. Totally understood, but here in Spain it is a little different. Nolan, my four-year-old son was running on the beach and a woman tapped him on the leg and shook her finger at him. Normally I would be offended, but here it isn’t just okay, it’s normal. Similarly, I was nursing my 9-month son on a park bench and another child’s grandma was petting his head while telling me how cute he is. Boundaries are different and strangers don’t always mean danger.
3. I have more faith in my oldest son’s independence as a four year old.
The new freedom I give my son has worked in mysterious ways. Suddenly I’m okay with not holding his hand as he crosses a street because I see he is looking for the signal change and watching for cars on both sides of the road. Instead of fussing over washing his dirty hands, I watch as he makes the choice for himself, goes to a fountain and washes the sand off his hands before he leaves the park. It turns out the more choices he makes for himself, the happier he is at home.
4. Everything is about patience.
Patience is the goal with every parent who wants to grow as a mother or father, but traveling and living abroad with children really is about patience. You have to be patient with the transition they are going through and acutely aware that the tantrum they are throwing might not be about the piece of candy they want, but really about adjusting to their new surroundings. When we are out and about in Spain we don’t have a car. Everything is on foot or by metro and this can be quite daunting when my child is having a full blown tantrum. I have to stop, think about why this is happening and adjust my behavior to end it as quickly and effectively as possible in an alley I’m not familiar with or on a road I don’t know well.
5. I have become more in tune with their natural needs.
Spanish parents don’t adhere to quite the same rigorous schedule as American parents do. The parents I have met here just go with the flow and allow their child to dictate their own sleep schedule. You often see kids sleeping in strollers at any time of day from infants to five-year-olds. I have learned here that my kids will sleep when they’re ready, and that doesn’t always have to be the time I want them to go down. I’m more flexible in this way, and it makes life a little less chaotic.
6. I have learned that home is where the heart is.
When I live abroad without friends or family I have seen every day of my life, I quickly learn that home is where the heart is. For me, home is where my kids and husband are. It doesn’t matter if we are renting a house in Barcelona, riding on a train to Madrid, or exploring the coast and staying in hotels; as long as I have my kids and my husband I feel home.
7. I have realized I am no longer the same parent in Spain, and it feels so good.
Not only am I not the same parent I was before I left for life in Spain, but I’m not the same person. Life in Spain has slowed me down in the best way possible. I look at life differently and from a more understanding and aware place that accepts all situations without resistance. I have learned to adapt better to situations and now know that I cannot control every aspect of my life nor can I control every aspect of my children’s lives. It is freeing, beautiful and feels so natural to change into this person. I wouldn’t change a second of it.