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Columnists > Barry O'Leary

Barry O'Leary

4 Things I've Learnt Since Being An Expat Dad

  Posted Monday May 15, 2017 (01:57:36)   (6831 Reads)


Barry O'Leary

I’m a dad of two lovely Spanish kids. I say lovely because that’s what they are 90% of the time, the other 10% they can be complete devils. I enjoy being a dad, and the longer I am one, the more I love it. I enjoy the responsibility of bringing them up, seeing them laugh and smile, picking them up (and at times dropping them off) at school, and helping them make dinosaur shapes with playdoh. I even see the benefits of being woken up early at the weekend, otherwise I’d just waste the day.

I’m quite a hands on dad. I can change dirty nappies, get up and make a bottle (okay, maybe not so much anymore), get jumped on and punched when necessary, and also have a firm word when I need to.

As our kids are only 3 and 2, there’s still so much to learn, but I like to think my being an English teacher and my interaction with kids all day has given me some pre-training. I think I can handle the different ages (from 7 upwards anyway), so I’m hoping I can do the same with my own kids. I’m dreading the double teenage spell though.

So, what exactly have I learnt while being an expat dad?


Language Timothy

I thought it was going to be a lot easier to raise bilingual kids. Before I was a dad, I heard lots of stories of Spanish kids refusing to speak to their British or Irish parent in English, being embarrassed because their parents were speaking English in public, and also having a rebellious phase when they would completely ignore their English-speaking parent.

It’s definitely much harder than I thought. I wrote an article recently on the difficulties of bringing up bilingual kids (look at my previous articles). But since then I’ve sort of mellowed out a bit. My son can tell the difference between the languages now, and I know he understands me, but rather than getting frustrated when he doesn’t speak English, I try to play the fool and get him to tell me what he said in Spanish, in English. At the moment it works, most of the time, but I know that sooner or later he’ll just turn round and tell me I know what he means, and to stop getting him to repeat everything in English.

I do feel sad at times when I see him advancing so much in Spanish, and less in English, and I wonder whether he will ever get to the level of a kid raised in an English speaking country. I have my doubts.

My daughter is starting to speak more English too now, the other day she said the numbers, after me, of course, and she’s starting to pick up the colours. I have a sneaky feeling she’ll be a little bit better than my son, but only because she’s more into music and singing, and I think she’ll get into it that way.

It is a battle though, and at the moment I’m keeping my cool and just trying to teach them what I can. It’s difficult as during the week I don’t see them loads.


Becoming multi-skilled

I don’t actually remember the conversation when we decided it would be a good idea to have another baby so close to the first. I’m guessing it was still in that easy stage, before my son started to walk (fall over) and speak (shout), and he was always cute and funny, and never moody and naughty.

We basically chose to have twins. Having two kids at such a young age was a nightmare. The logistics of everything: from going to the supermarket with our giant pram, flying back to the UK, and meal and bath times took days of planning in advanced. We were forced to become multi-skilled. My wife already was, but I find it difficult putting keys in a door and opening it just after, so imagine what it was like trying to handle two kids.

Now it comes naturally. Bath times are a doddle. I can feed both kids with my eyes closed, and can even carry both kids down the stairs, if I have to (not a great idea though with marble floors). I can even tidy up an entire living room full of toys in under 2 minutes, with the much unwanted help of my kids.

The other day I imagined having another one. I guess I would if we could afford it, but such is the life of an expat English teacher in Spain. But then I think, do we really want to go through all the sleepless nights, the teething, the milky burps, and all while trying to control the ones we have? Not to mention my poor wife being pregnant again. No thanks; two is fine.


How to integrate more with the local community

Having kids forces you to become more integrated with local community (even if you don’t want to, joke). I actually feel a lot more integrated in Spanish society now that I have a couple of kids. I guess in a way I have been forced to; just like some parents force their kids to be friends with their friends’ kids.

We know quite a few parents in the area now and often when we are out and about we bump into people we know, all the while trying to find kids that ours will get on with. I’m also speaking a lot more Spanish (out of the house) so that’s improved, or at least getting back to the level it should be.

I have also struck up decent friendships with other expats with kids. Sadly, when people I know without kids ask me out for a beer, I normally decline. Firstly because I won’t see my kids as much, and secondly, managing children the morning after a night out with a hangover is hard work.

The future with kids looks bright though, and making more friends just got a bit easier.


I’ll always worry about the education

This seems to be a familiar topic, and maybe one that deserves another article in the future, but I think I’ll always worry about my children’s education while in Spain.

There are 3 types of schools you can chose from: publico, concertado (mixed between the two, and you have to pay), and privado. Our kid is in a public one, and although he’s happy there, I’m not overly impressed with his classmates. They all seem quite rough and boisterous. The problem is he gets dragged into the messing about and we’ve noticed a change in his ways. I’m hoping it’s just a lad thing. To be fair, when I was a kid I remember fighting a lot, so maybe it’s normal. Yet again, I have my doubts.

I don’t feel all that positive about the general school system in Spain anyway. How some kids stay with the same class throughout their entire education system, and there are no ways of separating levels - this isn’t true in all schools - is beyond me.

I guess it’s tricky because I had a pretty decent education, and just want the same for mine. The fact my son is only 3 and is at school is a bit much as well.

All in all though, if you’re an expat over here in Spain and want to have children, or want to come over with your children, then do your research and find a decent area with lots of families and plenty of schools to chose from; that way you can change the school if you need to.

If you’re um-ming and arr-hing about having kids as an expat, then I’d say just go for it. Sure it’s hard work, costs a fortune, and is stressful, but you feel more complete and that bond with your kids is magical.


Barry O'Leary
Barry O’Leary has been an expat in Seville for nearly ten years. When he’s not teaching English, he describes how he sees life in Spain on his blog A Novel Spain. He has also lived and taught English in Brazil, Ecuador, Australia and Thailand and travelled around the world in the meantime. His non-fiction travel literature book, Teaching English in a Foreign Land, about his adventures as a TEFL teacher, has sold over 2,500 copies.
 
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