7 Things I Learned About Parenting While in Europe
Having married a beautiful man from Spain (Mallorca, to be exact), I knew that I was signing up for many unforgettable trans-Atlantic adventures. From 2013-2018, these trips were full of late nights out with friends, backyard BBQs, discovering new beaches, and lots and lots of alcohol.
And then, on February 7, 2019, Baby Jasper bounced into our lives. As we packed for our first trip to Spain as a family of three, I knew this trip would be different. I committed to doing everything possible to mentally prepare myself for this new experience. But then I remembered I had a newborn at home and did absolutely nothing.
Taking a three-month-old to Europe is not for the faint-of-heart. A quick summary of our outbound journey:
- 21 hours total travel time
- 2 flights
- 3-hour layover
- 7 pieces of luggage
- 1 cranky baby
The journey could be considered a success (unless you're referring to the German luggage handler who had to hold my baby while I figured out how to collapse our stroller on the tarmac at Munich International Airport). When we arrived in Mallorca, I was (very) dazed and (very) confused after being awake for the preceding 27 hours.
After such a harrowing voyage, we were lucky to be surrounded by family and friends almost immediately. Our apartment is located in the same building as Miguel's mom and sister so our support system was always just a stone's throw away. We rarely walked ten steps through town before being stopped by someone wanting to get a look at our beautiful newborn baby. It was incredible. It was exhausting. It was overwhelming. And, after a few weeks, I decided to (finally) mentally prepare myself for the trip.
I decided to let almost everything go from our first three months of parenthood in Canada. I wanted to learn what raising a baby was like it Mallorca. And, let me tell you, I learned a lot.
Life does not have to revolve around your baby all of the time
North American parenting is often dictated by the schedule of the children. If parents want to go out for dinner, you better believe that it has to work with The Schedule. Oftentimes, new parents are house-bound for most evenings due to Baby's strict bedtime routine.
In Mallorca, things were more flexible. If Dad planned on meeting friends for dinner, Baby will often come with. That's not to say that children aren't a priority; they are. But it always felt like they weren't the only priority. Parents would schedule their weekly plans and their children would simply come along.
Upon getting settled in Mallorca, one of the first things I noticed was how children were welcome everywhere. I remember being out at a bar at 10:30pm and spotting at least a handful of other families with children in tow (and sometimes their dog, too!). In Mallorca, public spaces are open to everyone.
You don't need to read 35 parenting books in order to be a good parent
During our first few months of parenthood, we were inundated with parenting advice and "recommended reading." I felt like I couldn't keep up. Not only that, but many of the books and articles would offer conflicting advice. There was always a new parenting trend that I'd never heard about. It was exhausting and disheartening. I can feel inferior without reading a single book!
Fast-forward to life in Mallorca and everything just seemed more simple. There was never any need to over-complicate things. In our three months there, I don't think I saw one parenting book. That's not to say we didn't receive advice; we did. But the advice never felt overwhelming. It was to-the-point, easy-to-understand tips and wisdom. The advice sounded more like wisdom that had been passed down from generation-to-generation. It was refreshing, manageable, and helpful.
Listen to, and observe, your baby
Listening to, and observing, your baby certainly aren't uniquely Mallorcan parenting techniques, but things felt less rigid on the island. Baby is hungry? Feed him. Baby has been napping for over two hours? Let him nap. Baby wants to drive the car? Okay, not yet.
Parenting felt very in-the-moment and designed to meet the unique needs of the baby. There never appeared to be a strong philosophical underlay to the ways in which parenting was practised. We took cues from our child to help point us in the right direction.
Babies can adapt to anything
In a period of three weeks, Jasper slept in 4 different beds/bassinets/cribs across two continents. With the exception of the sound machine, there was little consistency in his nighttime routine. And, you know what? We adapted every single time. Sometimes it took a couple of days, but he would inevitably settle into his new environment. His adaptability was a surprise, especially after repeatedly reading that babies needed consistency in order to thrive.
In Mallorca, it's not uncommon for children (including babies) to stay out well past 11pm in the summer months. We would walk around the village on any given night and see countless strollers. Peek your head inside and you will likely see a sleeping baby. And, if your baby happens to start crying uncontrollably? You just head home a little earlier than usual (like 11:30pm).
Babies have an infinite number of "aunts" and "uncles"
One of the most beautiful experiences of the past six months has been watching our child bond with both of our families. The best part being that this child was being showered with love and affection in three different languages.
In Mallorca, everyone in the community plays an important part in a child's life. Our close friends were considered Jasper's aunts and uncles. In many parts of Europe, grandparents often play an integral role in helping raise their grandchildren. Families in Mallorca tend to live close in proximity, so it was common for us to have a meal (or two!) with Jasper's extended family on any given day. In reality, grandparents aren't just family, but secondary caregivers. I was nervous about the lack of privacy this would result in, but I loved it. There was always an eager set of arms that would care for our child when we needed a break.
Babies wear cologne
Including Jasper. Not every day, but often enough that I will always remember the scent.
Babies love paella
Okay, this one's just a joke. He hasn't tried paella… yet.
I can't predict the long-term impact on my parenting as we settle back into life in Canada. But, after a month back on North American soil, these lessons are still influencing many of our day-to-day routines.
The biggest lesson to come from our first family trip abroad has been this: let it go. The reality of travel is that things are different. Embrace that. Let go of the comforts of home and welcome something new. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.