While I, as a teenager in Sweden, was looking forward to the day when I would finish secondary school and finally move out from my parents’ house, many Spanish children stay with their parents long into their thirties. A lack of cheap accommodation is only a small part of the explanation. While in Northern Europe we are being raised to be independent, in Spain the focus in on socialisation.
In his book ‘Ghosts of Spain’, Giles Tremlett, a journalist and immigrant from UK to Spain, writes that the teacher of his children “seem to care more about ’formando el grupo’, ‘forming the group’, than, for example, maths.” Children start school early here, usually at the age of three and it is therefore obvious that the focus can not yet be on teaching specific subjects, but is on letting the children play and interact in a structured way.
School is being reinforced as a first strong community outside the family and the teacher of our oldest son is proud to point out that her pupils clearly identify with the name of the class, bastoners, meaning pirates. For all the strength of the friendship in the class and all the loveliness of his teacher, it felt like a big step to send away our son on an overnight stay outside the family - colonies or camp school. Last week, he went for the first time and from now on we can expect this to come back in the school programme, at least once a year. Unfortunately, I missed the preparations since I was away on a work trip, but my wife claims that our son did not show any signs of nervousness. He took great interest in buying a junior size sleeping bag and helped in packing his backpack.
One day, we will have to catch his teacher to have an adult's version on what the children did after the bus had left Vilanova. We thought that they were going to a farm, but if we can trust our son, the only animal they saw was a black insect, possibly an ant. Apparently, they went to a very small village were there was a church and a car in which one of the teachers arrived. The children and the teachers slept in one of two houses, while in the other one there was a friendly witch who handed out hand puppets to all of them. Our three-and-a-half-year-old was almost disturbed by the fact that he had had to sleep with a diaper again, although he knew his way to the toilet. At the same time, he claims to have slept very well and that he got tasty sandwiches for breakfast.
Always having regarded our oldest son as quite sensitive, my wife and I had been prepared to come and pick him up in the middle of the night. On the contrary, when we talked to him upon his return, he seemed to have had a really good time with his friends and explained that he was now a big boy who did not need his parents cuddling when going to bed. That evening, we were almost happy to hear him crying, asking us to stay with him while he was falling asleep, as if we had been worried that our little boy would become an independent person too soon.
After all, as long as we stay in Spain, we do not need to fear that our oldest son will be taught independence in the sense of breaking away from his parents. The only target of the socialization in school is to add new social spheres to the children’s lives. Family is always expected to be the first one, and for most Spaniards it remains so throughout life.