I got pregnant three months into a relationship with the man I thought was the one. At that time, living in two different countries felt like an adventure. He was in London and I was in Madrid. I’ve lived in seven countries since I was 24, but I finally settled in Spain, with no intention of leaving – a big first for me.
For the first time, I found my tribe in the writing community. I was building a house, not putting another pin on the map. I realized that Spain is where I live my life to the fullest. I went to writing clubs and open mics, participated in a 48-hour film project, attended my friends’ performances.
I loved the lifestyle and yes, the sunny weather. The plans were always spontaneous – whether it was a cheap three-course menu, the famous long Spanish lunch with unlimited wine, or a weekend trip to the countryside.
It was so different from my hometown in England that when I visited I had to book friends weeks in advance, plans were often canceled by rain. The days are longer in Spain too. If shops and cafes are open until 9pm, 8pm is too early for a dinner reservation. A day’s work still left plenty of time for a social life. I was hardly ever at home and I never had a TV.
My new partner was excited to move to Spain
Fortunately, or so I thought, one of the many reasons my new boyfriend was The One was that he loved to travel, and his work often took him to New York, Europe, and Asia. Best of all, her lifelong dream was to return to Spain after spending her early 20s teaching English in Barcelona.
He was fluent in Spanish, could cook excellent paella and loved Spanish wine. There was no question about where we would live, and I quickly found a larger apartment for us in the trendy La Latina barrio.
Although I returned to the UK with him during the latter part of my pregnancy and birth, we both wanted to start family life in Spain. The Spanish love children, especially babies, and it was easy and fun to take a baby out to lunch or enjoy tapas on a sunny terraza, even into the evening.
Spanish life has become difficult to enjoy with a baby
But the baby became an active baby and my husband continued to work abroad, I was left alone most of the time. It became difficult to meet friends or engage in any writing activities. The long Spanish day now dragged on.
When we decided to move to Girona, seven hours away on the other side of Spain – unthinkable for me a few years ago – I felt like I was saying goodbye to my old life anyway. I didn’t think I had any friends there and it didn’t matter that my partner was 80% away.
A year after we moved, we had our second baby. Ten days after the birth, my husband returned to work abroad.
It turned out that the lack of friends did not matter.
When I left, moving to the UK with my nieces and nephews seemed like the answer to finding the perfect path to single motherhood.
If I wanted to be with my kids, I was stuck in Spain
That’s when I learned about the Hague Convention, an international agreement between most countries. According to the Convention, custody of children should be decided in the country where the children normally live. The retention regulations of that country, not your home country, govern the type of retention agreement in place.
Most importantly, neither parent can move the children home (or abroad) without the other parent’s permission. I discovered that returning home would be legally classified as child abduction and the UK courts would return me to Girona.
My Spain-loving ex was never going to move back to the UK, and so I couldn’t either – at least not if I wanted to be with my kids.
Advantages of raising a child in Spain
Raising my children in Spain has its advantages. Publicly paid childcare effectively starts at the age of three with nursery school. Children enjoy a three-course, healthy lunch for €5 a day or $5.40. On weekends we have lush nature within a 5 minute walk to our apartment in the city and 45 minutes walking distance to numerous beaches.
Spain has a community attitude to raising children and children are welcomed in almost every bar and restaurant, strangers on the bus become part of the extended family watching your children grow up. My now 6 and 9 year olds are trilingual – English, Spanish and Catalan – and will even be eligible for EU passports after Brexit.
Despite all this, I often wish I was in the UK with family support nearby; my ex only hangs out with guys on alternate weekends and one night a week. Girona is beautiful, but it lacks the vibrant, cosmopolitan community of Madrid. Since my ex isn’t gone, the joint custody agreement binds me here as well.
Am I counting the years until I can go? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy them while I’m here.
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