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How to Parent Like a Spaniard

Travelling abroad with children

Spain might have a king, but the kids are the ones who truly rule the country.

Little ones are an intrinsic part of everyday life. And life seems to revolve around family.

We lived in Madrid for four wonderful years. Yet, the cultural differences never ceased to amaze me. Especially when it comes to parenting. I’ve seen my share of toddlers casually peeing behind trees and school-aged children being greeted daily by their parents with candy at school pick up.

Should you want to parent more like a Spaniard, here’s what you need to practice:

1. Expand the concept of “child-friendly”

Kids are welcome anywhere and everywhere — museums, restaurants, cafes, shops — and playgrounds crop up around nearly every corner.  There’s no such thing as “kid-friendly”. Virtually nothing is off limits.

Don’t be surprised to see small children dining at three Michelin star restaurants or running around royalty-worth wedding ceremonies. Most Spaniards don’t even bat an eye. The few that do dare to growl at the rascals are invariably met with a nonchalant shrug by the parents.

2. Redefine “late”

Putting the kids to bed earlier than 8:30 p.m. might be considered a form of child abuse by some…

Spain, and Madrid in particular, has a thriving late night culture.

Forget dinner at 6 p.m. (or 7 or 8 p.m…) Restaurants typically open their doors at 9 p.m. And most people don’t show up to eat until closer to 10 p.m.

But that’s never stopped families from bringing little Juan out for gambas.

On weekends and in the summer, you’ll likely find parents with strollers and tireless toddlers stumbling down the streets at 1 or 2 a.m.   

3. Go bar-hopping with the kiddos

Not quite ready to embrace the late dinner concept? Join the locals and go bar-hopping (“ir de tapas”) in the early evening.

Since meals start so late, locals often go bar hopping and eat tapas, small plates, between the time they finish work and dinner. And — you guessed it — kids are welcome!

4. Don’t stress about those greens 

Spaniards are very serious about their gastronomical heritage.

They might be known for molecular innovations such as chef Adriá’s olive spheres and vanishing ravioli, but the average Spaniard is not particularly open to change or attuned to the latest healthy eating trends.

More often than not, fried croquettes, ham and tortilla (potatoes and eggs omelette) make for a perfectly balanced meal. Perhaps with some olives thrown in for some green…  

Add “chuches” (more candy!) for dessert, and you’re all set.

5. Rely on the grandparents

Who needs a nanny when you have the grandparents close by and willing to give a helping hand?

It is very common to see the grandparents taking care of younger children in Spain. They pick them up from school, bring them home for lunch in the middle of the day, help them with homework and stay with them late until parents get back from work.

6. Your family is your village

Families tend to live closer in Spain. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are very much part of a child’s life. And those ties are nurtured with love and (fierce) dedication.

La abuela makes cocido (stew) every. single. Sunday. Tía Carmen insists on knitting sweaters for the whole family. The cousins live three doors down and show up to every birthday party (with or without an invitation).

Sure, everyone is in everyone’s business, but your children will have a strong support network for life.  

How to Parent Like a Spaniard

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(2) Comments

  1. Laura

    Well, it seems to me that you have indeed appreciated some things but stayed in the shallow side. “Late” I sometimes, not the usual, the same applies to children a 12pm. Yes, it is not going to kill your child if once he comes to dinner with you. Same with greens. Do you seriously believe that Spanish children are in any way unhealthier / more fat than other children? I would say quite the opposite. Again, their average food is usually quite well balanced, there is just no need for everyday ‘organic broccoli soup with soy sprouts’. They have to learn to eat and most importantly enjoy every food.
    Grandparents: there are a lot of women who have their children soon and in this case have young grandparents. If they enjoy being with their grandchildren, which nanny is going to be better than that?
    I honestly think that especially these days with lost values and strong individual trends, we should copy more of the family and community sense from the Spaniards. Then again, just my opinion. Best, Laura

    1. Patricia Monahan

      Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your comments. The intention was in no way to offend! It was supposed be a light, humorous post. Just as I’d joke “want to parent like an American? Put your child in bed at 6pm and feed him chicken nuggets and fries”. 😉 Of course I don’t believe their life-style is unhealthier. Re the grandparents, I think we’re both saying the same thing. It would be wonderful to have the grandparents nearby and rely more on our families. This is probably my favorite aspect of parenting in Spain, where your family truly is your village.

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