Home LIFE Culture Raising kids in Barranquilla – a few things to consider..

Raising kids in Barranquilla – a few things to consider..

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Raising kids in Barranquilla - Michele's twins
Michele's twins having fun - getting dirty!

Raising kids in Barranquilla? Are you sure? Do you feel safe?

I’ve lived in Barranquilla for almost 11 years and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked those questions. Admittedly, I’m rather new on the topic, but now that I have two kids under two, I feel like I can offer some insight.

As a North American living in Barranquilla, I feel safe, and I feel like my children are safe. I’m blessed to be able to raise them in this amazing place where help is easy to come by, relatively inexpensive and pretty much expected in most cases. Safety is not something I stress about, just like back in the US there are many places I wouldn’t take my children but it has more to do with their age and the environment than feeling threatened.

Raising kids in Barranquilla - daredevil
Monkeying around on the swings..

For me, stress comes in a different form, it comes with the cultural differences and expectations (based primarily on economic status) that the majority of children live by here. We get a lot of grief because we don’t let our kids have access to anything with a screen, we follow a strict schedule, we don’t let them eat sugar, we use car seats, and we allow them to make some of their own decisions. Many people think I’m the crazy mom from the US with control issues, and they aren’t totally wrong, but there are a few things I do vastly different and some others that I really struggle with on a daily basis in an attempt to make our lives as parents a little bit easier.

For example, the idea of a schedule, here in Barranquilla, is pretty nonexistent and it’s not uncommon to go to a social event (that normally doesn’t start until late in the evening) and see young children there until the early morning hours. We’ve missed out on a lot of things because we have set nap times and a strict, early bedtime that we’re not willing to alter at all, because our kids thrive on it, but, for many families, it’s not a big deal to let their children stay up late, because they have a live-in nanny and that cranky child becomes her problem.

All that TV isn't a good thing for kids, at all.
Raising kids in Barranquilla – Screen time isn’t a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a nanny too, but she only comes three days a week and I’m always around for my kids. It was hard to find someone who would be a good fit for our family and respect the way we do things. We’ve had more than one person turn down the job simply because they didn’t know what they would do all day if the kids didn’t have a tablet in their hands or couldn’t watch a movie.

Playtime is a big struggle for us. It may be just the area that I live in, but the children here are very sheltered, limited even, and they aren’t given the opportunity to actually play, take risks or make mistakes. For example, we have a small play area in our building and despite the pieces of equipment to climb, swing and slide on, most of the children are encouraged to sit, not run, and surely not climb because they might get hurt or, even worse, they might get dirty.

Raising kids in Barranquilla - This is how typical Colombian parents want their kids to look, at all times.
Picture perfect – what most local parents want to see.

Meanwhile, my kids are always looking like a hot mess and running around screaming like wild animals, but they are having so much fun doing it. I know they are going to fall and that’s ok so long as they get back up and try to figure out how they can have a different outcome on their next attempt. It’s also not uncommon for me to be the only parent in the park either; generally, the kids come down with their nannies and it’s normally the nannies that go with them to their activities as well. I have no clue where their mothers are all day.

There is also a sense of entitlement and arrogance here that I hope to shield my kids from as long as I can. I’ve heard children “fire” their nanny because they didn’t like the snack that was offered to them. I’ve also watched both kids and adults completely ignore a hello from a doorman or a maintenance person just because they’re only workers. It makes me cringe whenever I see it, and it explains the dirty looks I get from parents whenever my son ‘fist-bumps’ everyone in the lobby. He’s still a kid – he hasn’t yet learned how nasty people can be. I only hope he never changes.

Raising kids in Barranquilla - Pink shoes
A boy with pink shoes? Why not? It’s his choice.

The biggest battle I fight every day raising kids in Barranquilla is the way other adults interact with my kids. They might only be a year old but they are capable of making decisions, they have opinions and given that the majority of their day revolves around choices made for them by others, I don’t have an issue if my son wants to wear his sisters sparkle shoes to the park instead of his “boy” shoes.

I also get pretty feisty when things are just grabbed from their hands or they are ordered around. They respond better to requests and they will do what is asked of them but give them a chance to do it. I’m a big fan of please and thank you but not so much of the empty threats that are often made when they are taking a few extra seconds to process what is being expected of them. You can threaten to leave them behind because they haven’t found the perfect place to put away their treasured stacking blocks but we all know that isn’t going to happen. No one would consider it appropriate to speak to another adult like that so why is it ok to speak to a child like that? I just want people to show my children the same respect that I expect them to show to others.

Raising kids in Barranquilla - Taking risks
Climbing a structure on his own – what if he falls?

I spent my pregnancy dodging advice and opinions that were vastly different than the thoughts that were forming in my head and when the babies were delivered urgently at 34 weeks it just multiplied. People were talking about schools, demanding I have the babies sleep in my room and asking me if I wanted them to follow in the footsteps of their Dad and become doctors. I remember looking at my almost 3-pound preemies and saying “Right now I’d really like it if they grew up to be decent human beings and not super ugly”. I know I’m raising my kids differently than what is considered the norm here, but I want my kids to be independent, learn from making mistakes, and I want them to say hello to everyone without stopping to consider if the person they are speaking to is considered “the help” or not.

It’s exhausting.

First world struggles, right?

North American wife with a costeño husband, bicultural twins and a dog confused about her identity. Michele has spent almost 11 years living in Colombia and holds a degree in International Relations. She now spends her days telling the story of one mom losing her mind while trying not to lose her cool amidst the clash of cultures in her own home.

4 COMMENTS

  1. i admire your desire to raise your children the way you believe they should be raised and not follow the constraints nor restrains imposed by the the culture you find yourself living in. Keep up the good work!

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