17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

This week’s Motherhood Around the World interview features Adrienne, a freelance writer who lives in Madrid with her partner Juan Carlos and one-year-old daughter Ellen. Here, she shares 17 things she found surprising about raising a child in Spain…

Adrienne’s background:

During college at the University of Virginia, I spent my junior year abroad in Seville. I lived with a family and fell in love with Spain. After graduation, I wanted to go back to Spain before it was too late. I went to Madrid, thinking I’d stay for a year. That was in January 1999! I taught English and worked in advertising and opened a restaurant and became a sommelier… one thing after another. Now I live in a quiet area of Madrid with my partner Juan Carlos and our one-year-old daughter Ellen.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On loving the city: Madrid is not as dramatically beautiful as, say, Paris or Barcelona, but the more you get to know it, the more beautiful it becomes. There’s no area you wouldn’t want to walk through; it’s all wonderfully safe and easy. Madrid doesn’t have any blatantly tourist-only areas, the way other big cities do. All the neighborhoods have locals, and I love how all the monuments and homes and restaurants are mixed together. I also love it because Juan Carlos is from here.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On having a bilingual partnership: Juan Carlos and I met at a bar. I was with a friend who had a Chihuahua. I thought Juan Carlos was looking at me, but apparently he was looking at the dog. Now, two years later, we have a daughter; he doesn’t speak English, so he speaks Spanish to our daughter and I speak English. He has learned some phrases from me, though — he’s a good mimic. He says “poopy pants” and “whoopsie daisy” and things like that!

On having babies later in life: Many people we’ve met here had their first children at 36, 37, 38. We have one baby — I’m 40, and Juan Carlos is 44, and that’s really typical here. A lot of it has to do with the economy. People study for a really long time here. In the recent past, if you got a degree, it could take eight or nine years. They just changed it so all of Europe is unified, so it takes four to five years now. It’s common to live at home while you’re in college, so people live with their families until they’re in their 30s. Everything starts later. A low birth rate has been a problem in Spain because of that.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On baby perfume: Babies here wear perfume. They called it colonia. We have four bottles of it that people have given us as gifts. It’s light and smells a little like baby powder, but I think it’s just vile. It’s also really common here to pierce your baby’s ears as soon as she’s born. People also always think Ellen’s a boy because her ears aren’t pierced.

On grooming practices: Some people believe that if you cut babies’ eyelashes they’ll grow back thick and full. My friend’s mom keeps telling her to cut her baby’s eyelashes, although my friend won’t do it. People also say that if you shave your baby’s head, it makes their hair grow back full and voluminous.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

My first meal home from the hospital — lots of Spanish ham and cured meats and artisanal cheeses.

On pregnancy (and ham): When you get pregnant here, one of the big things is the toxoplasmosis screening. I heard about it a million times before I got pregnant. It screens for a parasite that lives in uncooked meat and pork. It’s fine for a healthy adult, but if you’re pregnant, it can be really dangerous. Everyone is always asking, have you done the toxoplasmosis screening? If you haven’t had it, you can’t eat any cured ham while you’re pregnant, and that’s a huge tragedy for the Spanish population. My doctor said, if you freeze the ham first you can eat it, but that’s not okay with people. You can’t freeze it; ham is the national jewel. It’s like the #1 tragedy of pregnancy that you can’t eat ham.

When you give birth, there’s a tradition where friends and family come to the hospital and bring you the same amount of ham as your baby weighs. I was excited to get 6 1/2 pounds of ham.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

My midwife and doctor told me that once I started dilating a little bit, one of the things I could do to move my labor along was to go out and eat a ton of crustaceans, as they contain prostaglandin. So we went out for a huge seafood meal the night before checking into the hospital!

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

The key to our hospital room.

On giving birth: There’s a free public health system in Spain that’s excellent. But because I chose my own doctor, I went with a private hospital. It was a religious hospital; we had a stern old nun come around and ask what we wanted for dinner, and not give us one crumb of bread over what was allotted to us. When I was packing my suitcase for the hospital, we forgot to pack diapers and wipes and the important things for our child, but I packed jerky and a large amount of food!

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On maternity leave: You get four months paid leave, and after that there’s a thing called la hora de lactancia (or “feeding hour”). There are different options to choose from — for example, either parent can take one hour off each day until your child is a year old, or you can take it as an extra two weeks, more or less, at the end of your maternity leave. You usually get five weeks of vacation in Spain, so many people will take the four months of maternity leave, then tack on two weeks of lactancia, and then take their five weeks of vacation, so you can basically get six months off.

On the typical workday: Workdays are super long here. People often go to the office around 8 a.m. and don’t come home until 8 p.m. That said, it’s not uncommon to go into work, then leave to have breakfast, then come back, then go out to lunch. When I moved here, my first job had a 3 1/2 hour lunch break! But instead of getting out at five, I got out at nine.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On late-night dinners: Hardly anyone goes to restaurants before 9:30 p.m., and it’s common for people to be seated much later. Restaurants will be serving dinner at midnight on a Tuesday. One of the great things about Spain is that kids are welcome anywhere, anytime. When you go to a bar or restaurant, you’ll find everyone, from babies to adults to old people, even late at night; there’s a lot of integration in this society. I love that. There’s been a lot of talk about changing the clock here, but it hasn’t happened yet.

On long meals: When you go out on a weekend, you don’t really see the tables turning. If you reserve a table for the night, it’s yours. Sobremesa, which translates to “above the table,” basically means the time you spend talking after a meal. It’s wonderful. You sit around, you have dessert, then coffee, then a digestif, then a cocktail. You could do this at home too: someone comes over for lunch at 2 p.m., and you do a sobremesa and it’s six hours.

On sharing plates: Tapas, or small plates, are the way people eat almost every day. You share everything; you’d never order your own entree in Spain. Traditional tapas are cheeses and Spanish ham, and you have regional dishes — for example, in Galicia, the huge thing is boiled octopus covered in paprika and served over boiled potatoes. But because Spain is the center of haute cuisine — with many Michelin starred restaurants, and the whole molecular gastronomy trend — you also have a bunch of modern places doing creative tapas.

Food definitely equals love here. Every single family get-together revolves around a meal. And each holiday also has its traditional dishes. New Years is always shellfish and grapes. You eat 12 grapes to ring in the new year, in sync with the chiming of the clock tower. You madly scramble to gulp down 12 Spanish grapes, one at a time, for good luck, on the countdown to midnight. It can be a challenge as the grapes here usually have seeds!

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On nightlife: Spaniards love to go out. You always say, “Let’s go for the penultimate drink,” or the penúltimo. Even if everyone knows it’s actually the last drink. Because you never really know!

Wine and beer are such an integral part of eating. People here don’t actually drink sangria. They drink Tinto de Verano, or the red wine of summer. It’s red wine over ice, either mixed with sweetened fizzy water or lemon Schweppes.

There aren’t many non-alcoholic beverage options. In the States, there are a million options — iced tea, cranberry spritzer, mocktails. In Spain, you can have non-alcoholic beer or juice (the options are usually so boring, like orange juice or pineapple juice that’s not even fresh) or soft drinks or water.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On the family unit: In many families, both parents will work because the economy has been so bad, so they rely really heavily on the grandparents to help take care of the kids. Everyone seems to love children here. My friend went to a restaurant in the south of Spain and asked for a high chair, and the waiter said, that’s what grandparents are for. He wasn’t kidding, he was totally serious. Another friend of mine gave her Spanish in-laws a high chair because their son was going to spend a lot of time in their house, and the grandma was like, what a great idea! We always just had the grandparents hold our baby!

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On conflicting dietary advice: The official guidelines for kids’ foods here is completely different than in the States. When Ellen started eating solids, our pediatrician’s instructions completely contradicted things I’d reach about in the States. It said “Do not give your baby peaches until they’re older because they might be allergic. Do not give your baby spinach because it’s gassy.” In the States, that’s one of the first things people give babies! In Madrid, around seven months or so, you start giving babies a little olive oil and ham. The conflicting advice was doing my head in, so I threw it all at the window. I asked a pediatrician friend in the states, who said, anything’s fine but honey.


On washing and drying: We live in a small apartment, like most of the housing in Madrid. When I go back to the States, I really miss having a bidet, because it’s the best place to wash your feet in the summer. We have a washing machine in our kitchen, which is normal here. But there are very few dryers since utilities are expensive here. In the older apartment buildings, you might have a line going out of your kitchen window going over to your neighbor’s window, and each of you get a side of it. There are a lot of IKEA drying racks, too. We have one on our terrace.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

On sweet greetings: You always say hello or goodbye when going into shops or restaurants, even elevators. It doesn’t matter if nobody’s listening! It’s really nice. In Madrid, instead of “adios,” they say “hasta luego,” or see you later, even if you’re never going to see them again.

On looking ahead: I’ve never really contemplated moving back to the States until I had Ellen. Now that I’m a mom, I yearn to have my family close by. So the answer is, I have no idea what the future will bring. It is exciting and also terrifying at times. A clear direction would be helpful, but at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever known where the hugely varied things I’ve done would lead me, and if Ellen is the result of all of the little, and at times wavering, decisions that I’ve made along the way, than I’m more than satisfied. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

17 Surprising Things About Parenting in Spain

Thank you so much, Adrienne!

P.S. The full Motherhood Around the World series, including women living in Turkey, Australia and Abu Dhabi.

(Family photos courtesy of Adrienne; Madrid city and landscape photos by Lisa Limer/Conde Nast Traveler)

  1. My husband and I regularly used to feed both of our children in our laps. A high chair is a lovely convenience, we used that, as well. But it’s fascinating to know that most countries around the world don’t have high chairs!

  2. Katie says...

    My fiance is Spanish, and since we´re currently living with his mum… I also heard about the ear piercing and the baby perfume. The perfume is weird. I don´t mind it I guess but I do find it odd. They´re babies, they don´t smell bad!! And it seems unnecessary to bother a newborn with something as frivolous as perfume.
    The ear piercing seems outrageous, mother in law´s friends were asking could they send me gold earrings and she was like, “ehm, I don´t think that´ll happen anytime soon!”

    And yes, apparently she did shave my fiance´s hair when he was a baby… but I´ll de damned if I let anyone with a razor near my tiny girl!

  3. Maria says...

    As a spanish I tried to comment here but it looks like disagreeing almost entirely wasn’t a good opinion. I’m just writting this so whomever checks the messages, gets this one. Thanks

  4. Jenn says...

    Wahoowah, Adrienne!

  5. Teresa says...

    I am from Madrid and I have to say we don’t eat tapas everyday at all and I have never heard about the whole seafood prebirth thing or the ham baby weight! I wish!

  6. Ana says...

    Hello! I am from Spain and I found this post quite accurate. But there were some things like piercing the newborn’s ears that is not the norm anymore. Cutting the baby’s eyelashes is something that I’ve NEVER heard of and it shocked me so much! Also, giving the baby’s weight in ham as a gift is new to me. The article made it sound as if in Spain we were obsessed over cured ham and honestly, we are :)
    My partner is Swedish and he was also surprised to see how in Spain different generations socialised with each other. In any popular festivity there’s always children running around, youngsters, adults and grandparents all having a nice time together.
    For me and my partner to decide wether in the future we want to raise our children in Sweden or in Spain is super difficult. Scandinavia has the best parental benefits but Spain is…well, it’s Spain. Furthermore, I am from the Canary Islands which has an even-more-relaxed lifestyle than mainland Spain and has the perfect weather all year long. It will be a very difficult decision to make once the time comes!

  7. Stella says...

    Earrings for baby girls… That is the one but very important thing that Gabrielle doesn’t mention. EVERY Spanish baby girl gets to have her ear pierced at the hospital, right after being born. If not, people will mistake her for a boy.

    • jen says...

      Cuba is the same. We love Royal Violets colonia for babies along with the tiny gold earrings.

    • Catarina Batista says...

      In Portugal is common too. Girls more or less nearing the 1 year mark all get their ears pierced :)

    • Anna says...

      Strange that it can be so different. Up here in the north (Sweden) very few people would pierce their babies’ ears. I know I wouldn’t, and my (American) boyfriend wouldn’t want that, either.

      But Spanish food…gimme!

  8. Alyssa Rae says...

    This is my favorite series on this website and possibly on any website ever. Although I do like the beauty routines series too… :) I’m always inspired to travel after I finish these, and bring my younger siblings with me. I can’t wait to get to Europe and Asia! Spain looks absolutely beautiful. I want to have a sobremesa at home…

  9. I freaking love this series! I am totally charmed every time. (It was extra nice to be reminded of the time my family spent in Madrid a few years ago…I am STILL sick of cured ham!)

  10. Céline says...

    Love, love, love this serie
    As an expat myself from France living in the USA , i can totaly relate with the weird feeling you can have sometimes but its so interesting to see the différent way people are living their pregnancy/ childhood
    Thanks joanna

  11. Burcu says...

    My daughter was also born in Madrid, and lived there for 3 years, until she was one. I am a Mediterranean myself, sobremesa is the best :) I really miss Madrid, its excellent food, and how baby friendly very restaurant is :)

  12. Callie Canlas says...

    Spain is my favorite of all the places I’ve ever been. And that’s saying a lot…we live in Hawaii :) The people, the FOOD, the slow, yet deliberate way of life. I love it! Makes me wanna go back. SUCH a wonderful post…thank you!

  13. Loved this! I’m an American mom of an almost one-year-old who lived in Barcelona up until a few weeks ago. Our daughter was born there so I can relate to so much here. Especially about how baby-friendly people are. On the bus, in a bar, etc. I miss Spain so much!

  14. Idh says...

    I love the last comment, so honest! I am from Madrid and live in Ireland, I love both places. I know that when the day comes and I have kids, I will have doble feelings about both places, because part of me wish they could have all the best from Dublin and Madrid… We’ll see how it goes, but one thing I know for sure and is that I am really happy living in Dublin.

  15. Idh says...

    Another Spaniard here! I am from Madrid, currently living in Dublin (Ireland). I love this post, thanks so much Adrienne and Joanna!

    I have never heard of the ‘baby’s weight in ham’ or the ‘cutting lashes’ (sounds terrible!!). I heard about giving ham as a present when the baby is born, but never about giving the same amount as the baby’s weigth (I’ll make sure to mention it to friends/family, I am starting this tradition in my circle for sure!).

    The thing I love the most is hearing about how kids and babies are welcome everywhere and how they are integrated in society. So true!

    My friends here in Ireland always laugh about how everything for me is about food! They love coming to my place for dinner. Here everything is about tea, which I love too ;)

  16. Samantha says...

    I found this post pretty interesting. Being from Dominican Republic (colonized by Spain) we share some similarities, like piercing babies ears right after they’re born and the colonia. I never thought of this things being strange, since it’s what everyone does. About the sobremesa, I think it’s more of a Mediterranean thing. My dad is from Israel and every time we have dinner with him, or when we go to Israel, we stay at the table, talk, drink, have dessert, coffee, mint tea. I really love this time, it makes dinner somewhat of a special event. You don’t need to just eat and leave, you stay and share some more time together. I do this unconsciously, and many people in DR do it to, we just don’t have a name for it. Also, sobremesa means dessert in Portuguese, I imagine it’s because you spend extra time at the table to have it :)

    • Catarina Batista says...

      I was gonna say the same thing you did about sobremesa!!
      I am portuguese and also found so many similar habits !!


    • miri says...

      It is the same in Germany. Even when you have finished your meal you can have the table as long as you want. So when you meet with friends in a restaurant you will most probably stay there for hours or until the restaurant closes. Now I am living in the States and really need to get used to getting the check while I am still finishing my dessert.

  17. Lisa says...

    I love this series!

    I’ve heard about the hair shaving thing, even though I’m South African. My mother always said that if you shave a baby’s head the hair grows back thicker, but I also wonder the extent to which this is genetic.

    The bidet thing confuses me though – I had always thought it was to wash private parts after using the bathroom, whereas my husband (french) always said it was for washing feet. Now I don’t know what to believe …

    • Idh says...

      Bidet was initialy for washing intimate parts… But in Spain, specially in the summer with the heat and the dust/sand in the streets, it is very common to used it to wash your feet ;)

    • Catarina Batista says...

      In Portugal, we use it to wash everything. Feet, private parts, clothes, and so many other things that don’t fit anywhere else…

  18. Karen S says...

    I love Madrid, and like Adrienne, I am probably biased because my husband is from there and we spend two weeks in that city every Christmas.
    We just were in the south of Spain and not eating jamon was difficult for me but I’m pregnant with #2. I vowed never to visit that country again pregnant. It extremely difficult having to out on the pates, ham, seafood, wine.
    Hanging clothes was a lesson I learned from my mother-in-law. She stayed with us for one month after out son was born. All the baby’s clothes were all hung (even with a working dryer) and ironed meticulously (to get rid of the germs!).

  19. We love reading posts from people who share our love of family life inSpain.
    We have some fun observations to share if you would like to read them.
    Keep up the great work :-)

  20. Merrette Dowdell says...

    I absolutely love this series and look so forward to learning about the different cultures. Her quote at the end-
    “A clear direction would be helpful, but at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever known where the hugely varied things I’ve done would lead me, and if Ellen is the result of all of the little, and at times wavering, decisions that I’ve made along the way, than I’m more than satisfied. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been”
    -is so honest and filled the satisfaction of appreciating life for choices and unknowns that makes up our individual paths. I just loved this!

  21. I am from Puerto Rico, which used to be a Spanish colony. Seeing this article really makes me yearn for home because in many ways, I was raised the same. I relate to the whole grandparents, sobremesa, and colonia parts so much it makes me so nostalgic! I would love to visit Spain some day. Thank you for sharing!

  22. As a Spaniard, I can confirm that colonia is most definitely VILE!

  23. Heather says...

    FYI: You can buy a bidet as an add on to an existing toilet seat. My husband’s non-American family sold me on them and I wouldn’t live without one now!

  24. marta says...

    I’m spaniard and I had been looking forward for this post! :) I love this serie and its great to see Madrid through the eyes of foreign people! However,I have never heard about the ham tradition and we don’t usually eat tapas every day although is the the best way of having lunch with friends :)

  25. Rebecca says...

    Joanna, I too love this series but the comment section on a post like this frequently makes me just sigh. The natives to the country profiled come out in droves with the “I’ve never heard of this”, “this doesn’t happen”, “this isn’t the way people REALLY live in CountryXYZ”, etc. I too was born in the US and am living in a different country with an 11 year old stepson, 2 year old twins, and a 3 week old and can promise you that if you profile me and then ask my native neighbor (who, as luck would have it, also has a 3 week old) about what I’ve said, she would have a totally different perspective than mine. That’s the whole point of the series, no? We are all different and there are so very many factors that go into our experiences. I guess in the end my point is natives, let it be. I highly doubt any of the women profiled in this series are lying and the comments criticizing/seeking to invalidate what the interviewee has said about their experience are not productive at all. Just my two cents….

    • Laura says...

      Noone is criticising her. We are just making some points clear because some of the phrases, like “Tapas, or small plates, are the way people eat almost every day”, sound like it’s an universal truth when it’s not.

      We are not trying to invalidate what she says, we are just adding to the conversation and sharing our culture, which makes our comments very productive.

      Actually, I always love to read natives’ comments in this section because you can contrast the information you just read in the interview and see what is true and what is just, as you say, an experience.

      Maybe you should take it as an opportunity to learn more about the country instead of as an attack.

  26. J Seek says...

    Love this series!

  27. Jamie says...

    Oh I love hearing about this. I studied in Spain during college and stayed with a family for a semester. Dinner was always so late and sometimes we were just so hungry we’d make our own because our host mom wouldn’t get home from work until 8pm and I’m pretty sure I only saw the father 2 times – he was never home early enough to eat with us! Madrid is one of my favorite cities in the world – brings back good memories for this “Rubia” as I was called. :)

  28. Erin says...

    I love this, so sweet! Thanks for sharing!

  29. What a great article! I have also heard of shaving your baby’s first crop of hair so that the hair will grow out healthier and softer. Baby perfumes seem really bizarre to me. Really loving this series :)

    x Min,

  30. Lauren says...

    Gosh, I just love Spain. It’s a such a unique culture unlike anywhere else.

  31. Sara says...

    I am a Spaniard staying in Indian, and out here there is a religious ritual where they completely shave the hair of the girl, one of the reasons being it will grow stronger later on. I had personally see people recommending cutting the hair, but never as much as shaving it off completely, maybe one of the reasons why Indian women have such an amazing hair?

  32. Glenda says...

    Thanks for sharing Adrienne! I’m Puerto Rican and as soon as the baby has shots we pierce ears. My mom believed if you shave off their head at one year old it’ll grow back thicker.

    I love this: On looking ahead: I’ve never really contemplated moving back to the States until I had Ellen. Now that I’m a mom, I yearn to have my family close by. So the answer is, I have no idea what the future will bring. It is exciting and also terrifying at times. A clear direction would be helpful, but at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever known where the hugely varied things I’ve done would lead me, and if Ellen is the result of all of the little, and at times wavering, decisions that I’ve made along the way, than I’m more than satisfied. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

  33. Kait says...

    My favorite part was that you get as much ham as your baby weighs! That would really crack me up. I will have to mention this to my family and hope when I deliver my baby in January I get pounds of Spanish ham to congratulate us! I can’t imagine my vegan MIL bringing 7 pounds of ham to the hospital haha :)

  34. Elli says...

    Ahh love this so much! Definitely want to start the tradition of the ham the same weight as the baby as a newborn present, so funny!

  35. Cecilia says...

    I’m from México and living in NYC. We obviously share a lot of the spanish traditions. My american husband is weirded out when I say that I’ll pierce our baby’s ears right after she’s born. In Mexico everyone shaves their babies’ heads too! I never thought it was weird, but I guess it is. I love Spain and I think Madrid is a gorgeous city! Much more than Barcelona. Good job Adrienne!

  36. So fun to read about Spanish culture and raising kids! Love the idea of cologne on babies, how sweet!! ‘Must help when changing diapers..he he!! xo

    adorn la femme

  37. Katherine says...

    Hi there!
    I enjoy reading your blog and in particular this series!
    Having lived some time in Madrid, too, a lot of Adrienne’s experiences sounded familiar and brought back memories from “the old days”. Thank you so much, Joanna and Adrienne!
    Still, I would have liked to learn about how the couple (and maybe their friends as well) copes with the economic situation in Spain? I know that my friends there (and the society in general) are going through a rough patch …

  38. Laura says...

    Her sentiment at the end is so sweet. Also, when I lived with a family in France, their youngest son used the bidet to brush his teeth–it was the perfect height. With two toddlers I almost wish I had one now in my house in the U.S.!

    • Stacy says...

      Haha i can not imagine living without my bidet. My children also brush their teeth, wash their hands and faces in our bidets! Perfect size!

  39. I love this series so much! Not being able to eat ham during pregnancy is quite the tragedy indeed.

    Danielle | D is for Dreamer

  40. What a wonderful series! So happy that I came across it. I am Venezuelan, with a Spanish background and it was interesting to see how many traditions have carried over from Spain: I grew up being doused in colonia!

  41. Funny the one about cutting the child’s hair to make it thick. I think that might be throughout continental Europe, as when I was a child there was an Austrian woman in Washington D C who cut my hair, and she told my mother exactly the same thing. She kept my hair short and I have more hair than my siblings! Funny that.

  42. J.D says...

    I love sobremesa! I’m French and has been living in NY for 7 years, and I can say that it’s the same in France, and most likely for all western Europe. I will never get used to feeling “kicked out” right after your meal or coffee at a restaurant. Same for family gatherings, you come for lunch, you also stay for dinner!

  43. So many similarities to Italy :) I love our southern Europe culture!

  44. lola says...

    so great that this one and the last were about women charting their own courses bot just as tag along expat wives. cheers for finding great women

  45. Lauren says...

    Loved it. SO funny: when I was in Madrid in the summer when I was 12 years old I loved using the bidet to wash my feet too!

  46. Anabel says...

    Lol! :) I’m an spaniard living in Madrid and I agree with everything! It’s so cute and funny recognize your own style life from a foreigner. Nice post and congratulations for your Blog Joanna, I really love it and I read it daily from Spain, since long time ago.

  47. Claire says...

    I really love these posts! I could read one every day. :)

  48. It’s so refreshing to hear about women having babies later in life, like me. Plus Adrienne looks so cute and young anyway!

    xo Anna of The Analog House

  49. Ana Lima says...

    I am Portuguese(living in the UK)and we share some traditions with Spain like the piercing of ears at a very early age. Never heard of eyelashes cut and I know that cutting babies hair is traditional in north Africa but never knew it was traditional in Spain…
    Children are welcome in Portuguese restaurants and no one cares about breastfeeding in public,you also see children up later but mostly in school holidays.
    I love this posts and I just wished to know a bit more about childcare in Spain and if it’s more affordable than in the UK.

  50. Lita says...

    this didn’t seem very motherhood centric like all the other ones, more just a look at life in madrid from a foreigner’s point of view. and there really is a very touristy area – puerta del sol!

  51. I really enjoyed this post, while reading I couldn’t help but think when do they sleep? Get to work at 8am and have dinner at 12am, wowza. I also like how food is intertwined with love.

    • I wondered the same thing!

    • Aidel.K says...

      Maybe there’s a nap during the 3 1/2 hour lunch break?

    • marta says...

      Hi! we usually have dinner at 9pm and go to sleep at 12. having dinner so late is something we do on holidays or weekends!

  52. Susan says...

    I love this series – it’s definitely my favourite part of CoJ. One suggestion for future interviews – I’d love to hear more from women who have an older child/ren. I don’t want to sound like I’m diminishing the experience of mothers with sole babies but I feel that as your kid grows, or when you have more than one, the challenges of parenting become increasingly complex. I’d love to hear how mothers overseas navigate the school system, or juggle multiple growing kids in small apartments, or grant their children independence in places that are unfamiliar to them, or manage the challenge of their overseas-raised kid surpassing them in language. The ‘having a baby overseas’ thing is great and sweet but i feel it offers such a narrow insight into the international parenting experience.

    • Lauren says...

      This is a really great idea! I agree – I don’t even have children, but it would be interesting to read some interviews with mothers of older and multiple children.

  53. Courtney says...

    I always look forward to these! As a state department officer and a mother, I love reading and learning about different cultures and it’s amazing how different countries can have completely opposite advice on the same topic. I’d love to see Cup of Jo’s take on raising a child as a diplomat… just saying!

    • Kate says...

      Why don’t we do it? I’m a Canadian diplomat and you’re a U.S. one. If Jo was willing to consider it, we could collaborate on it and submit it to her.

  54. Joana Cardoso says...

    I love this kind of post! I’m waiting for one about Portugal, since I’m portuguese!!!

  55. Hi! I love reading these stories, and I loved Adrienne’s, it’s been one of my favourites. I’m from Barcelona, Spain, and, it’s true, the #1 tragedy of pregnancy that you can’t eat ham!
    About the sobremesa, if you’re having lunch with friends or family or a Sunday, you can start eating
    appetisers at 12 am and end up with cocktails at around 8 pm, it’s crazy but you need to catch up with friends and try all the different foods. I think we need friends, family and food to enjoy life (maybe not in that order?).

  56. Marta says...

    Another Spaniard here! From Madrid actually. I have never heard of the ‘baby’s weight in ham’ or the ‘cutting lashes’ (sounds cruel!!) but I agree with piercing girl’s ears in their first days. I plan to do it although I understand it is bit barbaric…

  57. Carmen says...

    Also, my third child (a girl) did not have her ears pierced (neither had I). But both my mum and I are strange creatures in this sense :D

  58. Carmen says...

    Another Spaniard here! I liked it and the bidet thing made me LOL since that is the only use I have ever given to them, they are perfect for feet-washing! I can relate to most of what she explains and really liked her views! Congrats for the post and the series!

  59. I’ve really enjoyed reading this! I am spanish and I have to say that I have never heard about cutting lashes or go to the hospital with the weight of the children in ham and other things that are told in the post. I supposed that they are not “spanish tradition” but traditions from the spanish family of the author or from the place they come from. Despite of that I thing the post is wonderful and reflects some of the spanish way of parenting things. It is very interesting to see that from a foreigner eyes!
    BTW, what a gorgeous baby!!! Oh my God she is sooooooooo cute!

  60. Monica says...

    As an Spanish mother of a toddler and expecting another baby in 1 month, I have to say that amusing to see how pregnancy and parenting in Spain is seen through a foreigner’s eyes. About ham, yes, you suddenly start craving for it when you can’t eat it!! Doctors won’t let you eat undercooked or raw fish and meat and non pasteurized cheeses. About babies, the only restrictions I had was no honey, strawberries or kiwi fruit until 1 year old. The rest of the food in introduced little by little (starting fruits) since the baby is 5/6 moths. We don’t have a 4 months leave after birth, just 16 weeks (believe me, not the same) and it’s nearly impossible to “make” 6 months with that. We also don’t have 5 weeks of holidays a year. The average is 22 days (2 per month). It is true that children are welcomed nearly anywhere. Even though, I don’t like to impose my son to other people so we avoid nice restaurants or places were we think we won’t fit. About bedtime, it depends on the age of the baby, but my son goes to bed between 8,30-9. The average would be 9, in my opinion. But I know people that put their babies to bed at 10. Also, we don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy or breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is encouraged (in fact it’s kind of a trend and you are looked down on if you decide not to do it) but co-sleeping is not that common (although is also becoming more usual). Anyway, each one has their own experience. BTW, beautiful baby!! :)

  61. Cool! I love reading those :) I could do one for parenting in Slovenia in less than a year :D I am 3 months pregnant at the time.
    x M.

  62. Hilary says...

    I agree! I am an American mom married to a Spaniard and have lived in Spain for the last 9 years. Some parts of the article made me cringe to think how they could be miscontrued. It’s true of course that no one experience can be accurate for a whole country. I’m a nurse here and we would never recommend ham and oil at six months! That said it was so nice to see my beloved Spain in A Cup of Jo and my mother-in-law does say that I have her regular haircut diligence to thank for my husband’s thick hair!

  63. Hi! I’m a Spaniard living in the US and I too love this series. I was waiting for this one! it’s so interesting to read how your culture is perceived from outside. I have to say, I never heard of the eyelashes thing in my life and I WISH someone had given me my baby’s weight in ham, ha! didn’t happen :)I miss tapas!

  64. Heather H says...

    Everyone’s said it but I won’t rest until I say it too: I LOVE THIS SERIES.

  65. I’ve never heard of the eyelash thing, but in India it is very common for Hindu families to shave the hair off babies’ heads, typically during their first or their third year [we Indians love our odd numbers]. The reasons are twofold: one is that the hair is given as an offering to the temple to bestow blessings upon the baby, and two is so that their hair will grow back thicker. If you’ve ever wondered why nearly every Indian person you know has such thick, luxurious hair, that’s why. When I was a baby, my hair didn’t grow back very thick the first time, so mine actually got shaved again just after my 2nd birthday!

  66. I was so excited to read this post! I studied abroad when I was 20 at UC3M (Colmenarejo), and fell completely in love with Madrid. Those late dinners (and the Tinto de Verano)! Guts me to remember that beautiful city and culture. Kudos to Adrienne for being so adventurous to move back to Spain after graduating!
    Loved reading her insights – thank you for sharing! xo

  67. I absolutely love this series!

  68. Anna V says...

    I enjoyed reading your post, Adrienne. I totally agree about washing your feet in the bidet!

  69. Kristin says...

    I love these posts so much. Please keep them coming. It is a fantastic series. I have four little ones and I love hearing about these experiences.

  70. Katrina says...

    I love the bit about the family gifting a ham the weight of the baby at birth! !

  71. Mary Jenkins says...


  72. I was waiting for this one! I just moved back to the U.S. from Spain. I was working in several different schools, and I’ve seen my cousins’ (husband’s cousins’) kids grow up. It’s so interesting to think about the dietary advice, because it’s so true: completely different! Baffling. I think Spain is a great place to be a mother and raise a small child. I prefer the American high schools, but that’s just me! :)

  73. Ana says...

    I’m from Argentina and I couldn’t believe how much we have in common with Spain! I mean, I understand why this happens but still, I never would’ve guessed so many things had been passed down directly from Spanish traditions!
    I love this series :)

  74. jeannie says...

    What a gorgeous baby! So interesting hearing about life in Madrid. Wish I had some Jambon Serrano right now! Thank you for sharing your story.

  75. Another spaniard here! Love to read this from the other side of the ocean. Never heard about cutting baby’s eyelashes. That caught my attention.

    • Neither do I.
      Jaja! Yo tampoco he oído eso de las pestañas nunca!!

  76. Ingrid says...

    I really related to her comment about now that she has a baby, she wants her family around. I love this series, but as a grandmother, I would be devastated if I had grandchildren growing up overseas. I would miss them so much! My own mother is Norwegian, and had her two daughters far from her mother. We didn’t ever get to meet our grandmother. When I think how sad I would be to not see even one of my grandchildren, I feel sorry for my mom and her mother, and the grandparents missing these sweet babies, even though they are having a wonderful life in another country.

  77. Isabelle (Geneva) says...

    There are lots of differences between people from Northern or Southern parts of Spain, but I can definitely relate to what Adrienne says. My daugters’ Dad is from Spain and there’s a lot of drama going on about ham and cheese, over there :-)
    People are so welcoming , eager to make you feel confortable, especially with kids. I’ve always been amazed how the little ones can stay up late or can fall asleep in any conditions when outside!

  78. Tanya Belom says...

    I absolutely love these posts and hearing about the different cultures and how they viewing parenting and child rearing. I’m Mexican-American and in my family all of the baby girls have gotten their ears pierced within their first week of life. I think I was three or four days old when my aunt pierced mine!!! To me its so normal, so it was so interesting to hear my sister-in-law (who is not mexican or of another latin culture) say that she wasn’t going to get my niece’s ears pierced because its a right of passage to do when you are a teen.

  79. I absolutely love this series.
    The ham stuff is hilarious. One of my babies was almost 11 pounds, so we would have been swimming in ham!

    • Chloé says...

      Well, that was a joke! Not true at all. And I’ve never heard about cutting baby’s eyelashes either…

  80. Laura says...


    I’m from Madrid (living in Paris though). As other Spanish commenters have said, it’s funny to see your country (my hometown in this case) through the eyes of a foreigner.

    I just wanted to say that I’ve never heard of anyone shaving her baby’s head and cutting their eyelashes. That’s just weird.

    Also, we don’t eat tapas every day. They’re the best thing ever, but you can’t just eat that.

    We do have high chairs. That waiter was probably joking and trying to be nice so that you didn’t leave to look for another restaurant that had high chairs.

    I’ve never heard about that tradition where your friends and family bring you the same amount of ham as your baby weighs, but that’s definitely the best gift you can get!

    About Madrid not being as beautiful as Paris or Barcelona… I see what she means, but I’d say that Madrid is beautiful in a less in-your-face way. The best part of Madrid is the people and the atmosphere. I’ve been living in Paris for 4 years and trust me, Paris is a beautiful city, but the quality of life is infinitely better in Madrid. I’m not being chauvinistic, there’s just really no contest. She is really lucky to have a job and be able to live there. Let’s hope the economy gets better and I can go back soon…

    • Laura I’m curious why do you say quality of life is better in Madrid?

  81. Stephanie says...

    I’ve really enjoyed this set of posts! I love having insight into a different culture; it’s fascinating to see what other norms are like on the other side of the world. Beyond that, I absolutely love Spanish food. Sharing tapas with friends is one of my favorite types of meals. Those pictures were mouth watering.

    I’m a fashion blogger in NYC. To follow my adventures featuring the best of NYC’s fashion and food, check out Always looking to collaborate with new bloggers, so contact me! See you there xx

    – Stephanie

  82. Patricia says...

    My mother is Spanish and I got my ears pierced as a baby. I loved it! <3

  83. Maya says...

    Wonderful! Loved her lines about ham, too funny! As when I visited Barcelona years ago my husband and I showed up for dinner at 8:30 and the restaurant was not even open yet!!

  84. Cris says...

    I am from Spain, and never hear about cutting baby eyelasshes!! Neither about bringing ham to the hospital depending on the weight of the baby ! Those two topics really surprised me. Any way, I do confess I would love the idea of the ham!!! ;)

  85. Long-time reader, first-time commenter–I love this series and have recommended it to my friends. But the reason I’m commenting it because my name is Adrienne; I went to the University of Virginia; I’m a freelance writer; I spent my junior year abroad in Spain, and I also have a daughter! It’s crazy and great seeing an alternate version of your life in this space, but she’s totally right–if Sionainn is the result of my weird decisions, then I must have done something right.

  86. SO fascinating! What a great post. I absolutely love this series!

  87. I’m from Spain and had never in my life heard that thing about cutting baby’s eyelashes nor about the ham weight thing…

    PS. I do think Madrid is at least as beautiful as Barcelona!! ;)

    • Miriam says...

      I am from Spain and had NEVER heard about bringing “jamón” to the hospital. Cutting baby’s eyelashes was usual 50 or 60 years ago…
      Life in Madrid is more “fiesta” than in the North of Spain: all the restaurants are closed “at midnight on a Tuesday” in my city!

  88. Rachel Anderson says...

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Maybe, in part, because motherhood in Spain sounds like life rather than “MOTHERHOOD.” Maybe a part of that is just how it is to raise children in Spain. Friends who raised babies and young children in Spain marveled at how adored children were, how welcomed they were everywhere. (I think it’s safe to say that isn’t how it is in the US.) Their girls were so comfortable with new people because they had grown up with lots of people holding them and enjoying their company. I love that practice of getting the babies weight in ham — I had twins and I would have loved 14 pounds of ham!

  89. I wish she had a little bit more about parenting a baby – like, do Spaniards let babies stay up? Does the idea of a different bedtime upset them (this is what I heard)? Do you co-sleep? Is it common? Do mothers breastfeed? Do mothers drink sangria during pregnancy? No ham is a tragedy but I miss my summer sangria desperately (I’m 5 months pregnant in the middle of summer…you feel me)! This is great, but more please :)

    • Amaia says...

      Hello! I’m from Bilbao and I have a 2 year old. People respect babies sleeping house but you do see every now and then a baby outside late at night.
      A lot of people do cosleeping, it’s a big thing here (not that professionals advice you to). Breastfeeding is very much encouraged, specially in public hospitals. Nobody drinks alcohol during pregnancy or breastfeeding but some people day that beber is food for breastfeeding. The thing about cutting eyelashes and shaving headaches is very old fashion.

    • Marta says...

      Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed for as long as possible. Pregnant women do not drink any alcohol during the pregnancy. Co-sleeping is a thing here but it is not like everyone is doing it (guess like in the US?)

  90. kelsey says...

    That last photo is of my favorite place in the whole world!

  91. Elena says...

    I’ve been waiting for this day for a while!! :) I come from Madrid and recognise many of things she said, although other sound a little weird to me. It’s funny to read how a foreigner gets surprised by the things that are so normal to me :)
    I love this posts but it frightens me that readers (me included) may judge a whole country by a sole experience…

  92. Spaniard here! Laughed out loud seeing Spain from the outside.

    • Me too!!

  93. Samantha says...

    What a beautiful sentiment expressed in the most simple way- “if Ellen is the result of all of the little, and at times wavering, decisions that I’ve made along the way, than I’m more than satisfied. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

  94. Motherhood around the world is always my favorite series of your blog!
    I live in Madrid and I agree with Adrienne’s remarks.