I never thought I’d end up having children in Ecuador. Ecuador was meant to be a two-year break for me to learn Spanish and spend time with my mom. But after my first year here I met a wonderful Ecuadorian man, and six years ago we got married on the beach. Now I am a wife, homeowner, and mother of two daughters, ages one and four.
I live with my family on a small acreage outside of Manta. My mom has her home on the top of a hill, and we have our house on the same property just below. I consider it a luxury to have coffee with my mother every morning. We have dogs, chickens, ducks and rabbits, fruit trees, multiple gardens, a perfect view of the ocean, and a tiny backyard finca (farm) that we plan to develop one day. I truly believe that none of these things would have been possible for me if I had stayed in my native country.
As an expat in Ecuador, I find myself searching for different opportunities for my children. I no longer think of
“opportunity” as a long list of extracurricular activities, or constant specialized attention from mentors (although you can definitely find that in Manta). I am searching for a simpler, slow-paced life, where my children can play in mud, climb in trees, and have access to animals. We feel driven to cultivate a life that brings us back to the basics, and I feel like that’s exactly what I have found raising my children in Ecuador.
A simple day for us can include a trip to a quiet beach, to search for shells and jellyfish. We might see fishermen pulling in nets of fish - they’ll offer to show us their catch and we’ll all agree that sea snakes are the ugliest things to grace this planet. Or maybe we’ll go to our friend's coffee farm five minutes away from our home, where we can search for monkeys, knock off ripe grapefruits from tall trees with bamboo sticks, or take the dogs for a walk to the watering hole. We’ll catch some frogs and bring back some plants to try and replant in our garden.
Or perhaps we will stay at home all day. We might plant a herb garden for our chickens (for less than $15), observe cocoons and watch butterflies hatch on our passionfruit tree, find tadpoles during the rainy season, or look for “ant stations” (infestations) by following an army of ants to their hole. As a teacher I can tell you that the value of these experiences is unmeasurable.
This is all made possible because in Ecuador families can still live comfortably on one income, and it is common for mothers to be in the home. Many times we (mothers) will have a side income; I for example continue to give English classes. But I do believe that the main occupation of the mother in Ecuador is to raise her children - a value that is no longer within reach for many women in other countries. It seems simple, but the opportunity to be at home with your children should never be taken for granted. If I lived in Canada, I probably wouldn’t have this luxury available to me.
I’ve noticed that when expats are asked what their favorite aspect of Ecuadorian life is, they often refer to the warm family-oriented culture. I believe that this is a result of children spending the majority of their time with their families. In the case that the mother works outside of the home, which definitely occurs, it is very often grandma that steps up to take care of the children. If grandma works too, then someone else in the family takes over. Children are raised understanding that family takes care of family, and in turn they are more inclined to take care of their aging parents, or their grandchildren when the time comes. Those are definitely the morals that I wish to instill into my daughters.
I used to believe that it was a weakness to ask your parents for help in raising your children. It took me many years to see things differently. However, once you have a child you realize that raising children is an effort of the tribe - not just the mother. I am so grateful for the support I receive here in Ecuador. It is a support that feels natural, non-judgmental, and oftentimes sin fin (without end). My mother-in-law, in particular, has taught me what it means to love your family without limits. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for us.
In the event that I feel like I need an extra set of hands, or for those who don’t have family nearby, it is affordable to bring in help. In fact, it’s actually quite common. All mothers can appreciate someone who will watch the kids, help with laundry, or cook a meal. Of course, your “help” will quickly become a part of your family. One thing I learned from my Latino in-laws is that whoever helps the family, becomes the family. I have found this to be completely true. Aligning our family values with those found here in Ecuador is one of the best things my mother and I have done.
More than once I’ve had someone say to me: “I bet you never thought you’d end up in Ecuador.” And the truth is that no, I did not. But I always knew that I wanted my life to be filled with nature. I wanted enough time to do the projects that I found interesting, and above all, I wanted to raise my own children. What I didn’t know is that I needed to move to Ecuador to make it happen.
The Author: Sidney Adelle Frost