I made it through the first year and my hair still hasn’t gone grey. My son was one last week, it’s amazing how the year has flown by, but at the same time I’ve learnt loads being an expat Dad. A lot of what I was worried about before the birth was true: we had a lot of sleepless nights, the first year is expensive, and it’s easy to get poo on your hands while changing a nappy. However, there are a few things that I wasn’t expecting being an expat parent.
Life goes on
Everyone says that your life changes; and it does, but not as drastically as you may think.Sure, the first couple of months are madness while you get used to having a baby in the house, working out a routine, learning how to wind him, and becoming an expert at making a bottle of milk in less than two minutes at 4am.
After that initial shock, I’ve found that life tends to carry on as normal. I still go to work in a reasonably decent state, less tired than I thought I would, but our son sleeps through, luckily. I reckon I put on a couple of kilos as I had less time for the gym and running in the first year, but now that he’s in more of a routine I’m back down the gym again and getting back in shape. I’m writing a lot less, only 7 or 8 hours a week compared to 15, but we organise our day so we both get time to ourselves as well as quality time with our son.
Of course we go out a lot less in the evenings, travel has become a distant memory, and if we have any spare cash then we normally spend it on him rather than us, but it’s a small price to pay for the joy we get being parents.
Interfering old Spanish grannies
Spanish grandmothers seem to think it’s fine to come up and rustle my son’s hair or squeeze his cheeks. One even pulled his dummy out just so she could see him smile, which he didn’t, thankfully. I’m not talking about his grandmother either, just any old random lady in the street or in the queue at the supermarket.
I’m not sure how you feel about this, but I find it a bit odd. I’m all up for a quick chat, a smile, a wave, or even a flash of their false teeth, but I don’t really want them wiping their grubby, germ-stained hands on his face. I was chatting with my vet about it and she said just to tell them he has a virus or something. I used to tell people that my tiny westie dog bit, just so that I could take her out to do her necessities without it taking half an hour.
The problem is I’m not sure how to handle it. I don’t want to seem like a monster, battering away old grannies as they reach into the pushchair. I was thinking of putting an electric wire mesh, but that could get messy. Does this happen in your country? Any advice?
I had this problem in Thailand. Not because I had a son, but because I lived on the outskirts of Bangkok and Thai people generally stared at me as if I had come from a different planet. Now it’s happening again when I take my kid out in his pushchair. I’m not sure whether it’s because Spanish men are so macho and it’s a woman’s job to take out the baby, or whether people are surprised that someone so young and handsome looking (joking by the way) has a baby boy, but I’m sure I wouldn’t get the same funny looks back in England.
Don’t get me wrong, I have noticed a lot of Papa’s walking about with their babies. Most seem comfortable, but now and then I get a look that says ‘We should be down the pub watching the football’ or ‘I’m only doing this because the wife is at work.’ I guess I feel a bit self conscious on my own, especially on Sunday when families are walking about, or if I walk past women on their own with their babies. Some just stare at me with a puzzled look as if they are thinking ‘Why doesn’t my husband take out our baby on his own?’
I reckon it’s a macho thing though. Spanish blokes are far too tough to be seen out walking with a pram and making goo goo gaa gaa noises, or singing Marry Poppins’ songs.
Feel more at home
After nearly a decade I’m starting to feel more at home in Sevilla. I’ve never been a huge fan of this city. You can see in my other blogs that I’m certain there are better places to live, but after having a son here, I feel as though part of me belongs here too.
I have a lot of great memories in Sevilla: meeting my wife and getting married, family visits and having some excellent friends over the years, but now my son is half Sevillano it makes me think twice about moving.
I guess it’s the responsible feeling you get being a Dad; worrying about where to live so he has a decent education and upbringing. I’m sure there will be issues at school because he will tend to be different to the local kids, or maybe not who know? Either way, perhaps it’s time to really settle.
Love being a Dad
Here’s my sensitive side coming out, but I do love being a Dad and it’s better than I imagined. I love having that responsibility of looking after my boy, giving him his night time bottle, reading him stories and playing cars. It’s been a fun adventure the last year and as each day goes by I realise how lucky we are to have such a wonderful boy.
This year we managed to get a holiday down by the beach and watching him playing in the sand and sea was amazing. Seeing him growing and changing every day is the best part. We forget how small and tiny he used to be. We are both enjoying it so much that another is on the way!
So if you’re living abroad and are wondering whether to have a baby or not, I’d say just go for it, sure there will be issues as it’s not your home country, and it will be a lot different to how you were brought up as a kid, but it’s such a great experience that I’d recommend it to anyone.
How about you? Are you an expat parent? How are you finding it? Leave a comment below.
Barry O’Leary has been an expat in Seville for nearly ten years. When he’s not teaching English, he writes a blog A Novel Spain which is about how he sees life in 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 adventure as a TEFL teacher has sold over 2,500 copies.