Dutch bedtimes in a Spanish schedule

I guess most of us in the North of Europe know that life down south has a different schedule in terms of work, eating times, going out etc. It is pretty well known that Spaniards for example have dinner quite late (in Dutch standard the “quite” can be replaced by “very”) but I had never realised what this means when you have kids.

Soon after arriving in Spain I noticed that when going out for dinner it was not weird at all to see kids (and not just older kids, definitely also babies and toddlers) until really late in restaurants and tapas bars. Children running around until midnight when the parents are having a drink and a bite is the most normal thing in the world. I was always thinking that for my Dutch standards it was a tad bit late for those kids but now that I have a baby myself it gets even more challenging to keep up some sort of a social life without turning our bichin into a night owl.  Continue reading “Dutch bedtimes in a Spanish schedule”

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To co-sleep or not to co-sleep?

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Co-sleeping, or sleeping with your baby in the same bed, is another topic of great difference of opinion between the North and the South. I have to say that before the bichin was born I didn´t really have an opinion on this and also hadn´t given it much thought.

In preparation for his arrival we placed the little bed next to ours with the idea that it would probably be for the first few months but until the bichin was actually there we didn´t think much further. When he was there it kind of happened naturally that he often slept between us and also because he was born very small and therefore needed a lot of feeding sessions, once I had mastered breastfeeding laying down it was also the most convenient option so that he could eat and we would both fall asleep in the big bed. Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 12.43.31In addition he was not an easy-sleeper so if he would fall asleep (hallelujah!) next to us or on top of one of us we would definitely not risk this scarce peaceful moment by lifting him to his own crib.

But the whole concept of co-sleeping causes quite some controversy across cultures. In Spain it seems pretty much accepted and a normal thing to do, I just know of one person who told me she found it scary to sleep with her daughter in the same bed and therefore would get up every 2hours for night feedings (respect for the discipline, every freaking 2 hours). In the Netherlands on the other hand, I did not share this info too much unless I was being asked directly because reactions were often shocked. I know co-sleeping is getting more and more normal also in Northern Europe with the whole attachment parenting trend but in my circle it was still seen as something pretty risky, scary and also as spoiling the kid. “Aren´t you afraid you will roll over him?” “What if you squeeze him?” “Why do you want to take the risk, this is dangerous?” “You will spoil him, he will never want to sleep alone in his own bed like this”

Maybe if you would have really asked me before the bichin was born, I might have thought it could be dangerous but honestly, since he was born I never considered it risky at all. It was summer and super hot so there were no blankets involved and we put the feeding pillow on one side, but also I would always notice if he touched me or came closer etc. so I never felt like I would not notice it if I would “start to roll-over”. Some say it´s mother´s instinct but I guess it has more to do with how deep you sleep and you can be the only judge of whether it is safe or not. So I am definitely noScreen Shot 2016-03-22 at 12.41.44t saying that everybody should just start co-sleeping, but do decide for yourself if it feels good and if you feel comfortable. And if you do, take the necessary preparations to do it safe but just do it no matter what other people might think or say (there is loads of info out there on do´s and don’t´s for co-sleeping. For example, you should not do it if you´re drunk…no shit Sherlock, I would have never guessed. No seriously, there is some good info online on how to co-sleep safely).

I personally really liked it and not only because it was convenient for night feedings, what cuter way too wake then by a tiny hand touching you? We´re now 8 months in and the bichin still sometimes sleeps with us. Generally, he starts in his own bed but a lot of mornings if he wakes up too early or if he has a fuzzy night we get him in our bed to at least get some more sleep for all three of us. And spoiled or giving him bad habits, don´t think so, obviously he loves to sleep with us, he sleeps better and wakes up giggling while grabbing your nose (which can be less giggly for yourself but ok) but he sleeps much more often in his own bed and doesn´t have any issues falling asleep there.

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Photo credit: Eyecandy Photography UK via Visualhunt

Photo credit: HoboMama via Visualhunt

 

“Working” from home?

Working from home is not a very common concept in lovely Spain. I could write a book about the office culture of “if-you-are-not-visible-behind-your-desk-in-the-office-you-are-not-working” but let´s just say that they still have a long way to go before flex working can really get a chance here. Part of this is due to the fact thScreen Shot 2016-03-21 at 11.48.12at a lot of people get more evaluated on hours than on output, however another big part is also because  “we” remote workers screw it up for ourselves and therefore the concept of “working from home” is more seen like a joke and definitely not as real working. Some people use working from home if their child is sick or if they don´t have a sitter and on these kind of days obviously not too much gets done.

Despite of being in a Spanish company I have the luck that my team is pretty northern-European and therefore working from home is the most normal thing in the world. The mindset is that as long as the work gets done they don´t really care when and where you do it. (Obviously there are certain tasks you need to be in the office for, and especially in Spain some stuff needs to happen face2face if you really want to achieve something) So of the 4 days my workweek consists of I usually work 2 days from home. A lot of my Spanish colleagues think that if I am working from home I am actually taking care of the bichin and make statements that I am so lucky that I don´t need to arrange childcare for those days. But seriously, only if your baby is a serious napper and gives you some long sleep stretches during the day you have something to work with, otherwise I don´t think you will do a lot of actual working. The average naptime of the bichin is 30minutes so if I would be home alone with him, not much work would get done. And that´s fine if it´s one day every once in a while but not if it´s 50% of your workweek. I mean you definitely get more efficient after having a baby (try showering, getting dressed and somewhat presentable, putting the laundry and unloading the dishwasher in that half hour nap) but not that efficient that I can do a full-time job in my two office days.

So also on the days that I am working from home either his dad is home and takes care of him (every day until midday) or he is at his grandparent´s place. So in the mornings my breaks often involve some nice cuddling and shit still gets done. Win-win.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 09.18.33However, I have to say that since I got back to work the mute button on my phone is my new best friend because even if I am in a different room on a conference call if Lucas is really screaming then this won´t be missed by my colleagues. And although shit gets done I still don´t want my Spanish-minded colleagues to think that I am not really working but just babysitting. (Although my direct team knows that dad is doing the care still if they hear crying on the background they immediately ask if we need to reschedule the call or if I want to go to the bichin and call them back afterwards)

And then there are always the exceptional moments that during a workday from home dad has to quickly sneak out for a call or for some paper work (mind you, in Spain we´re not that digital yet that bank errands etc. can be done without the actual paper work and going to the bank in the 3hour time slot that they are open) and that requires some planning. The fun part about babies is that they don´t really do planning, so although he might take a nap every day at 10am and I know I will be home alone for an hour so I plan my concall at 10 that will of course be the day that it will take until the end of the concall to make him sleep. So if before I thought I had quite a challenging job, on some days I am taking it to a whole new level now: try making a baby sleep while he is trying to pull the headset out of your ears (let me know if you need tips on how to put on headsets with having the least possible cable visible) and the glasses of your face while him having to be quiet the moment you need to unmute yourself and making sure you at least get the main highlights of the call…..

A different type of guilt

The guilt of working mothers is a well-known phenomenon and something that a lot has been written about. Guilt about not being home enough, leaving your baby behind, not being able to dedicate enough time or attention etc. etc. Therefore the end of one´s maternity leave is usually being feared and every day that passes bringing her closer to that first working day makes mommy more and more nervous and already pre-guilty.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 13.35.13What I have noticed in Spain is that people also don´t let themselves ease into it or getting used to be away from the baby meaning that the end of the maternity leave will indeed be a very brutal change from 24/7 together to working a fulltime job away from home.  I remember that when I was pregnant I read a message on Facebook from a friend of a friend (you know this annoying thing where your newsfeed is full of updates of people you don´t know but that your friends have liked) basically describing in 4 paragraphs a complete breakdown because it was time to get back to work and this would be the first time in 6 months that she would be separated from her baby…. The only thing I could think was how the heck it was possible that she hadn´t left her baby for 6 freaking months. I mean, seriously? But hey what did I know, I didn´t have a baby (yet). However now that I do have a baby I probably understand it even less. Really, 6 months and not a moment for yourself, not a quick visit to the supermarket, not some me-time in the gym (which is probably more like touching a machine and then running to the sauna), not a coffee (or wine) with your friends-without-kids, nothing?! I am surprised that meltdown didn´t come earlier than the day she had to go back to work! Life as a new mom can be quite intense and those little moments for yourself (yes, I am calling going alone to the supermarket a moment for yourself now) kind of keep you sane.

Although I don´t think stay-at-home-mom is something for me (I do envy stay-at-home-moms sometimes but I just don’t think I could do it plus I really like working. I imagine my mom thinking now “you think…. I KNOW  you could not do it”) the last month of my maternity leave I did start counting the days and dreading the day I had to start working again a bit. But it wasn´t guilt, I guess it was more because it went by so fast (16 weeks is nothing!) and especially the first months are quite tough so the real enjoying starts a bit later. So basically when the real fun started I had to go back to work. But it has always been mixed feelings: sad to leave him behind but also somehow looking forward to “do” something again.

So when it was time to get back to work, I didn´t feel the guilt that I had heard / read so much about. Maybe it´s because I really enjoy my job or that I think it´s important that children also have working mother role models so I never had a doubt whether I would go back to work or not. (What did probably also help is that my job is quite flexible so I can work from home a few days a week where I can sneak out once in a while to cuddle the baScreen Shot 2016-03-14 at 13.36.08by and that the dad is home all morning so we just had to drop the “bichin” at his grandparents for a few hours in the afternoon, there is no childcare involved (yet))

So no guilt about being a working mom, but I guess there was another type of “guilt”. The guilty pleasure that a day in the office suddenly felt like a day of vacation: I could enjoy my tea for as long as I wanted without interruptions (or at least not baby-interruptions that make you forget your tea altogether only to come back much later to an ice-tea), I could take a real nap for an hour in the train commute, I could have a whole day of grown-up conversations (no gu-gu, da-da conversation) and suddenly being busy at work felt like peanuts compared with the multitasking / never-ending pile of to-do´s at home.

Actually at the moment of writing this I am at the airport, about to board a plane to London. A business trip for a few days, the longest I have been away so far from the IMG_4070.JPGbichin. Was I sad when I had to cuddle him goodbye? Yes. Will I miss him? Hell yes! But do I feel guilty to be away? No not really, I know he will be perfectly fine with his dad at home. So when they are having their guys-time I will just make the most of this trip by not only going to my meetings for work but definitely also having some nice dinners with loads of wine with my best friend who happens to live in London. Perfect combination forall of us I would say.

The myth of the pink cloud

We all know the famous “pink cloud”, this place new mothers are supposed to be on when they finally have welcomed their newest family member in the world. Most stories from newbie mothers are usually quite black and white: they are either on a huge pink cloud where everything is so beautiful and amazing (= the large majority) or they have a postnatal depression. There doesn´t seem to be anything in between and I think actually most mothers are, especially in the beginning, somewhere in that grey in between area but don´t dare to admit it. It is as if the motherhood clan made a deal that we don´t share the bad stuff and all keep up the appearance about how lovely everything is and how perfect our new life is. But seriously, who are we trying to fool?

Of course there´s the occasional jokes on “Make sure you sleep enough now because after you gave birth you will not sleep in for the next 18 years” or the message that life is going to change a bit with the arrival of your baby. Also books and the internet are full of pink cloud info but why is it that very few mothers are honest and admit that it´s also quite hard? I mean I was obviously expecting a change in life but, call me naive, I was not prepared for how radical this change was going to be and how much life would change.

Why don´t we just admit to each other that motherhood also can be freaking hard, that your whole life will be upside down and that although you´re very happy with the arrival of your little one (ugh, before starting this blog I had the intention I would never write about my “lo” or my little one, failing already..) that there are also many moments in those first weeks where you have more tears of desperation than of happiness…. A bit of expectation management would be good here!

I mean “yes haha i won´t sleep in anymore for the next 18 years” but somehow this little joke does not really cover the feeling if for weeks (or months..) your longest stretch of sleep in a row is 2,5hours and there´s no outlook that this will get better anytime soon.  And let me tell you, the combination of the recuperation of giving birth (auwww!) with serious sleep deprivation, stitches and no clue why you´re baby is crying this time is not my definition of a pink cloud. Also somehow when hearing all those pink cloud stories, (again you can call me naive) I had a bit more glamorous image in my mind than myself in a jogging pants and a pyjama shirt the whole day (and that every day for weeks) without energy or much time to shIMG_3945.jpgower or to make myself look somewhat presentable. Or when the black circles under your eyes start to touch the floor and someone manages to say that you look a bit tired (ehm yes, i have a baby, that´s my natural state of being now) or asks whether he already sleeps through the night (look at me, that´s your answer right there) you just wanted to punch them.

Also the complete lack of rhythm and activities those first weeks was something I was not prepared for. I used to pack my days with lots of activities / useful stuff and to-do´s so all those days that just fladdered by a bit where actually nothing really got done made me quite nervous sometimes. That feeling that you didn´t do anything today and your to-do list is getting the same size as the pile of laundry that is also waiting for you (and both of them seem to double in size each day), and that day after day after day.

Or the desperation that when breast feeding finally seems to be established but just hurts so much that you´re crying every time your baby starts eating (which, yImage blogay lucky you on that pink cloud there, is 8-10 times a day in the first weeks). Yeah yeah, it´s very special you can feed your child and it´s really the best for him (another great point of discussion and of unwanted advice you will get plenty of!) and those mother-child moments during the nights are soooo precious, but honestly I had to force myself through some very painful weeks before the “fun” started and when you haven´t slept for days you much rather prefer to leave that “precious moment” for the next morning and just sleeeeep.

Anyways, don´t get me wrong I was in love from the first day with our little “bicho” (yes, we´re calling him insect) and after a few months I was definitely on a pink cloud but looking back I just wished someone had warned me a bit and would have had the guts to tell me what it´s really like. The pink cloud is usually there, just not immediately. Let´s just all be a bit more realistic with each other and stop thinking that we need to keep up the appearances of our perfect happy life of new motherhood. What if the motherhood clan makes a new deal to be honest and admit that while it´s of course one of the most beautiful and special things that can happen to you, it´s also FREAKING HARD?

 

 

 

 

 

 

RRR vs CCC or Dutch vs Spanish style

Like many new parents I have to say that the first months with a baby I did not have a clue of what I was doing: everything was new, you are getting to know each other, getting used to this new rhythm (or actually, complete lack of rhythm) and basically just do something. Of course there are a lot of how-to books out there but I did not belong to the category of pregnant ladies who fanatically start reading everything there is to read about how to pass your days with a newborn.

Apart from the fact that I did not have time for it, when people started recommending me books I also realised that even if I would have the time to do some hardcore baby-studying I would first have to decide which side I was on… Because opinions on how to raise kids are a world apart between the Netherlands and Spain.

I guess every culture has some kind of one-liner on what is important when educating your offspring, and in these you can already see the immense difference between both countries. In the Netherlands it´s all about the 3 R´s: Rust (peace&quiet), Regelmaat (regularity / consistency) and Reinheid (cleanness). So tight schedules, consistency and strict routines. On the contrary in Spain they have the 3 C´s: Cariño (affection), Calor (warmth), and Calostro (food, lots of food). Or, a lot of clothes (even if it´s really warm outside and you walk around in a T-shirt, babies are always overdressed: sweating away with a hat and packed in a winter sleeping bag), loads of eating on demand and lots of time in your arms.  In summary, it´s basically choosing between “cold/distant and efficient” and “warm/close and spoiled”. Or choosing between no schedule at all and not being able to plan your own day versus a strict daily planning with consistent eatinScreen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.24.04.pngg and napping times (but, complete stress when something or someone comes and screws up your schedule. E.g. no more spontaneous trips, visits etc.). Choosing between letting your baby cry in her own bed until she falls asleep “so she learns how to sleep on her own” versus having your “baby” sleep on your chest or at least in your bed until she´s 18 (ugh, I don’t like either of them). Choosing between a strict visiting limit in the first weeks of 1 visitor a day between 14h-15h or having a party in the hospital just hours after giving birth where even all the friends of your parents show up and loads of other people you did not invite.

As mentioned above the first months we just did something and went with the flow. However, after a few months of n0 rhythm whatsoever I decided it was time for some Northern-European influence, or at least some sort of a schedule for eating / sleeping (so we could also have a little bit of our life back).  This decision was not always well received here in Spain (“baby´s are not robots, thScreen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.16.21is is not science”) and the most extreme input we got was from the nurse during one of the monthly check-ups: “but a pregnancy is 18 months, 9 months inside and then 9 months outside. You should see yourself as a kangaroo who walks around with her newborn in her pouch”. A kangaroo, really?! Also, if a pregnancy is supposed to be 18 months, can someone please tell the government that a maternity leave of 16 weeks might be a bit short… Or should I just take him to work in my “pouch”? I have to say I also got a reaction from the other extreme, one of the directors at work claimed that “kids are like dogs, you can teach them anything”. Ok….

Anyway, at that point I started reading a few books and of course the famous Gina Ford was recommended by friends as the bible amongst baby books (guess which country this book recommendation came from ;)). After just a few chapters it was clear that this was not my thing: Gina sounds like some sort of arrogant baby-Taliban  with her super strict routines and schedules  (actually very much in line with the dog comment, it´s like training animals) where feeding / sleeping can´t be 5 minutes off, where no travelling or spontaneous outings are allowed (or only if you can schedule them in nap time) and everything that might seem off with your baby is due to the fact that you don´t follow her routines to the letter (Yeah right!). Also her whole pro-letting-them-cry-alone-in-the-dark approach did not appeal to me. (Last week a U.K. colleague told me Gina doesn´t have kids of her own…Ah! That explains something!)

Honestly, after 7 months we´re still just doing something (so for fellow newbies out there: don´t despair, it´s normal!)  but we did find some sort of rhythm / flexible routine that works for us. As for RRR vs CCC, I am still in an identity crisis and can´t relate completely with either of them. Many “experts” claim that you need to be 100% consistent with whatever route you choose however I think we´re doing quite fine with our mix of cold/warm-Dutch/Spanish style parenting!

 

 

 

Family reunions in the hospital

When I was still pregnant one of the biggest cultural surprises I got was about when to call the family when you´re getting into labor. What for me was “normal” (and as far as I know common practice at home and therefore what I was planning for) is that this was something between the soon-to-be parents and that you call the rest of the family and friends with the news after the show is over. But in Spain, this tends to work a little different.

On different occasions I had already noticed that somehow hospitals here seem to be more of a social gathering place than the functional place I consider it. If a relative or good friend is in the hospital than that´s reason for the whole family to sit together in the hospital the whole freaking day. Food is brought and everything is done to make sure that the sick person won´t be left alone for a second. Also for long operations the waiting room seems to be the new living room of the entire family. (Something pretty different than what I was used to from at home where there are very strict visiting hours and they will call you when an operation is (almost) done so you don´t have to sit for hours and hours in the hospital). When I had some small complications during my pregnancy I experienced this don´t-leave-the-sick-person-alone-rule hardcore: schedules were made so that every part of the day was covered.  On the one hand very sweet and of course a lot warmer than the strict visiting hours in the north, but on the other hand one needs some time alone sometimes to be able to rest etc. so it ends up a bit stressful. (So yep, I have to admit I ended up making up fake visits in order to have some hours for myself: “No don´t worry to come back after lunch, my friend Carol will come in an hour so it´s all covered”)

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 21.23.53A same sort of practice applies when someone gets into labor. The expectation is that you call your family BEFORE going to the hospital so that everybody can gather there. (I don´t know who is included in everybody since in the end my labor went way too fast for calling anyone let alone to have anyone make it to the hospital but i imagine all families having some kind of phone scheme to spread the news. You know, the ones you had before the mobile / WhatsApp era when your hockey training got cancelled due to bad weather: the trainer would call the first two persons on the list who in turn would call two other persons and so the news would spread quickly through the whole team) Although I had a very quick labor, I was expecting an hooooour long process (everybody knows the horror stories of 32hour of giving birth…) so I seriously could not understand WHY you would go to the hospital already so soon. I mean, what are you going to do waiting for 14 / 20 / 25 / 36 / …. hours??? In my northern-European mind a complete waste of time and so not efficient! So I was very firm in that we were not going to call anybody before, but just after the whole process when the baby would be here. Obviously this “cold” attitude of
Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 21.24.19mine was not always received well…..

Anyways, in the end the discussion was not relevant because it all went so fast but I already imagine myself with future births in the family as the only one who stays at work or at home to do something useful whereas the rest of the family is having a 24h picnic in the hospital waiting room.

(Image from: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnvar/20120624/DC29626)

Throwing it out there is scary!

After a lot of internal debating, here we are: my very first blog post. Iehh, yes I am really doing this!  Just fyi, part of this discussion with myself kind of went like this:

  • When you were younger you really loved writing stories and little books. Don’t deny it, I found your folder with handwritten stories in your old room.

Yesss, but maybe I didn´t do anything with those stories for a reason. Besides what should I write about?

  • As a brand new mommy that just went back to work every day is a new adventure of trying to keep calm amidst complete chaos. And all of that in a country that is culturally pretty different than yours, plenty to write about don´t you think?

Ok, but who wants to read about my daily struggles or observations as a Northern European “guiri” in the South? I mean, why would you read that?

  • Well, your friends and family keep asking you how motherhood is treating you, how you´re managing with full-time work and a baby, how it is to live far away from your own family etc etc. Just see it as an update that you only have to write once.

……………  

I am still a little scared to throw it all out here and sort of putting my life online but hey, let´s just do this. So here we are, my online “diary” as a working mom trying to organise two busy schedules (yes, we´re really high-fiving at the door when taking turns) / the house (unbelievable but even with a baby the house is already a mess 24/7, what will happen when he gets older?!) / m19b5aa185c52931c0ba8f5660d44a373y body (where the f do i find the time to go to the gym?? Or cook healthy?)/ life in general…

Don´t worry, this is not going to be the typical baby blog where I keep smooching about how beautiful life as a mother is, the huge pink cloud I am on, how fantastically everything is always going. No way! We Dutchies are known for being direct (or “feared” according to some of my colleagues ..) and in addition I think there are already loads of blogs out there if you want to read about “pinky-everything-is-perfect-motherhood”, so that´s also how I intend to write about it because let´s be honest, this is sometimes also freaking hard!

Stay tuned for a real first post next time!