Free Range Parenting in Spain

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by TyLean Polley

It’s been nearly five months since my family moved from Luton, England to Paterna in Valencia, Spain. Settling in took longer than we expected as we didn’t anticipate the bureaucracy that we were about to step into. Now that the dozens of trips to various government offices are out of the way, we are finally starting to feel like we can relax and enjoy our new home and family life. 

I’m an avid fan of satire news programs, so with the weight of Spanish paper-pushing off of my shoulders, I treated myself to a lazy day of catching up on some of my favourite American news comedy shows. There was a story about two children in Maryland who were walking home from the park when a police officer picked them up and detained them for six hours without even contacting their parents. What was their offense? They were kids in their own neighbourhood without a parent following immediately on their heels!

I heard a new phrase in this news segment: Free Range Parenting. I thought to myself, “what the hell is free range parenting?” A quick google search showed that it’s basically normal parenting, just like my husband and I had growing up, before the media convinced every parent that their children would be abducted if they left their sight for one minute or become homeless drug addicts if they weren’t pushed into school with four hours of homework every night from the time they can sit up on their own.

That was when it clicked for me. This is why we moved to Spain! Of course, I knew why we were moving here. It was a long-term plan that took several years to come to fruition, and a lot of thought was put into it with an incredible myriad of factors. One of the more heavily weighted factors was family life, and more specifically, the sort of life our children would have. We wanted them to enjoy their childhood and have experiences, not be pushed into a life of incessant classroom schooling in preparation for their adulthood careers. Afterall, how can they make informed choices about the lives they want to pursue without some sort of exposure to what the world has to offer?

It’s somewhat depressing that we have come to the point where we have to invent new terms and phrases for the way we were raised compared to how we raise our own children. I didn’t even know I was a free range parent until someone told me that I’m doing it so dramatically differently from everyone else, but in a way, having that label has somehow validated the instincts we were already following.

Life in Spain is pretty good! My husband is making less money, but our cost of living is so affordable that we are actually more comfortable than we were England. His workload is much less strenuous and his job much more enjoyable, which means the evenings and weekends truly are family time again… not a game of tag while either my husband or I look after my son while the other gets some work done. We can go out to a restaurant and have a meal… not only because we can actually afford it now, but because we aren’t looked at as horrible human beings for bringing our son who is running all over the place. Everyone’s kids are running all over the place, and – amazingly – our son is calm and quiet by comparison! 

Where I most notice the cultural difference is when we go to the gigantic park a few blocks from our home. (As opposed to the smaller parks on practically every street corner). We are pretty laid back parents by British standards and mostly just let our son get on with whatever he fancies doing, which is usually playing with his cars and trains. When we are at the park, however, we see just how uptight we are by comparison! We are practically hovering over our son compared to the other parents lounging on park benches, chatting to friends, whilst their children throw rocks at each other.  I’m sure we’ll loosen up over time and won’t look so anxious, but I find it wonderful that – for the first time since we became parents – we are surrounded by people who let kids be kids. 

14th May 2015

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