5 ways Leaving My Home Country Has Changed Me as a Wife, Mom, and Individual

Angela Piper
5 min readNov 10, 2023

In the summer of 2020, I had a 3-month-old daughter, a freshly turned 5-year-old, a 7.5-year-old, and a marriage unequivocally headed off a cliff.

By the summer of 2021, my husband asked me if I wanted to move to Europe. If you know me in any capacity, you know that this idea was hysterical to me. Me? Oldest child, peacemaker of multiple families, devoted granddaughter, and Queen of drop-everything-for-a-friend moving outside of the 100-mile radius I’ve lived my entire life? And not just outside of it but across an ocean to move to Europe? That’s a no.

48 hours later, we were researching the best places in Europe that would fit our needs as a family. (A lot happened in between. You can read about that here.)

We landed in Alicante, Spain, on January 13th, 2022. And the whirlwind of living in a country we’d never been to began. Here are the 5 things I’ve learned from (nearly) 2 years of living in Spain that have changed my life, my family, and my marriage for the better.

  1. Mañana, Mañana

If you spend more than a few weeks in Spain, you will encounter this concept at least once. The idea was hard for me as an American, but it has become one of my favorite things as I’ve learned to embrace it. The idea is hard to wrap up in one translation, but it basically means if you don’t get to it today, mañana is okay. No doubt this is frustrating when I want something fixed and the technician has this mindset, but when it comes to my to-do list? Mañana is okay. I don’t have to get it all done every single day. There are some things that truly can be put off until tomorrow. And sometimes, mañana, mañana helps me realize what things I can take off of my list altogether.

2. Sobremesa

The literal translation of sobremesa is “over the table,” but what it means in Spain is a lot more than that. It’s the time you spend after a meal talking and enjoying each other’s company. One of the things we initially found strange in the area we live in is that if you make a reservation for dinner somewhere, the table is yours for the night. Not for an hour, not for 90 minutes, and then you need to wrap it up so they can get someone else in. If you have the table, it’s yours for as long as you want it-and they assume you’ll want it for a good while. This means I don’t have to stress about how slowly my children are eating or having a conversation with friends in between stuffing my face with paella. I can take the time to enjoy both simultaneously. It’s delightful.

3. Americans have it backwards

As an American, we grow into independent beings with our own lives and schedules, and then Bam! We have children, and we have been conditioned to make them the center of our universe. You are now responsible for a tiny being, and now you have to magically fit in time for yourself in the middle of teaching kids to ride a bike and preschool drop-offs and soccer practice and penciling in date nights. Our lives revolve around them for the next 18 years, and then they leave, and we don’t know what to do with our time. Instead, in Spain, as children come into the lives of parents, they become part of their parent’s lives. Tagging along to favorite places (yes, even bars!) and seeing in real time what it’s like to be an adult who manages to balance being a social being and being a parent simultaneously. We no longer have to carve out separate time because we can do it all at once.

4. Children are Expected to be more Independent

This one was hard for me when we first moved here, and we are finding ways to make it easy on my helicopter Mom’s heart, but children are safely encouraged to wander. Our boys are 8 and 10 now, and when we head to our local amusement park, they are free to roam with their friends. I know this is something we could have chosen to do stateside, but I honestly wouldn’t have felt safe about it. Here I do. Every time we go out in public, we see children their age, preteens, and teenagers socializing with friends and wandering without a hovering adult supervising. My husband and I and our friends from other countries have also noticed that children here are not the “troublemaking teens” we are used to from back home because they’ve had freedom from a young age, so there is nothing exciting about finally being on their own. Add sobremesa to that, and my husband and I have enjoyed many date night-level conversations while our kids play on the boardwalk. We can relax and enjoy our tapas amidst a relaxing conversation because we don’t have to hover over them as they play.

5. No Network = More Appreciation

Now that we’ve been here almost 2 years, this has changed a bit, but one thing we learned very quickly was how much our family enjoys being around each other and watching each other grow. When we landed in Spain, our kids were 9, 6, and 21 months, and it has been delightful watching their personalities grow while getting a front-row seat to their becoming. I fear I would’ve been too distracted to appreciate it in my past life. I spent so much of my time parenting in America feeling like I had to fill our days with checklists and enrichment and memory-making activities that I often was too distracted to realize things like my son finally picking up sarcasm. Starting over from scratch with a community has also allowed us to seek out the characteristics we want from friends and curate our circle more carefully to avoid the characteristics we had uncomfortably tolerated in the past but shouldn’t have.

Please hear me when I say I did not create this list to say one country is better than another. I wrote this instead to say that, in my case, I definitely am better because I know both and can appreciate the lessons I’ve learned from parenting in a different country, but I’m still learning. Thanks for joining me for the ride.

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Angela Piper

Wife to @davidpipervo & Mom of 3. 📚 Best Selling Author 📍Dallas girl in Spain 🇪🇸 🖊️ Currently writing NYT’s next bestseller