The Bowen Family (La Familia Bowen) is from Washington State via Arizona in the United States, but now they live in southern Ecuador with their young children.
In this insightful story, they share what it’s like to raise a family in a foreign country and take grandchildren so far away from their grandparents.
A Letter to the Grandparents: We’re Moving to Ecuador!
Your adult child informed you he is planning on moving to Ecuador. And yes, he is taking your grandchildren with him.
Maybe you’ve heard it before, years ago: “Guess what! I’m going to backpack through Asia/join the Peace Corps/volunteer at a Moroccan camel rescue!”
If your response was, “Cool—let’s try to meet up when I finish circumnavigating the globe by dogsled,” then this letter is probably not for you.
But maybe you didn’t love it, then. You accepted it, sure, as a common precursor to Real Adulthood—one must find one’s self, after all. But such shenanigans are best confined to those blissful few years when one’s competent enough to hail a tuk-tuk but still so young he’s got his entire life ahead of him.
You certainly never expected this from your adult child. Not now, when the stakes are so much higher.
When you realized he was serious, you may have tailspinned into a cycle of grief. I bet you didn’t know that after denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance there’s actually a sixth stage called “I told you so,” during which you obsessively searched for news articles and personal antidotes of questionable reliability that draw attention to Every Bad Thing That’s Ever Happened in Ecuador Since the Beginning of Time.
You forwarded each of them (out of love, of course).
And yet his resolve is unchanged.
Where does that leave you? How do you reconcile this with the dreams you have for your grandchildren?
And, frankly, the dreams you have for yourself?
We’ve been there. Our parents have been there. And there’s really no way to lessen the blow. But know this:
Ecuador is a wonderful place to be a child.
So don’t worry.
At least, don’t worry anymore than you used to when we lived in the same town.
This is a good move, we promise. For all those adult sort of things that you once feared we’d never grow into, but also for our kids.
It’s going to be great.
Your adult children
Not quite good enough? We understand. And we invite you to read on.
What It’s Like to Raise Children in Ecuador
Ecuador is a small South American nation known for its diverse wildlife, resplendent vistas, and its production of bananas, orchids, and—
You’re not interested in that sort of thing. Not yet. Hopefully never, if your family comes to its senses and gives up this ridiculous scheme.
You want to know the reality of what awaits your grandchildren. And perhaps, to a lesser extent, their parents.
What does growing up in Ecuador look like? And why on earth would anyone choose to raise their kids there?
Here’s a bit of good news for you: Children are treasured here. And I don’t just mean your grandkids can expect to be cooed over by little old ladies in the supermercado, though that will routinely happen.
More significantly, the government has codified extensive protections and rights for children. We’ve read it, and it’s pretty impressive. There’s a strong sense that the entire country is responsible for its children. Mandatory reporting is a duty of all citizens.
Our trusted taxi drivers watch until our daughter has been met by whichever friend she’s waiting for. Parents send their children to run errands or ride their bikes to a friend’s house, never questioning that they’ll be safe.
Bikes…and scooters, skateboards, and strollers too… children in Ecuador spend a lot of time outside. Where we live in the lojano countryside (near Loja, Ecuador), the weather’s always springtime-perfect. Always. There’s never a need to bundle up, and if it rains? They’ll dry!
From kicking a soccer ball around in the parque to playing at the river to running around the farm, our kids are outside for hours each day. Almost all of that is unstructured time, critical for the development of so many skills, and something many children in the United States are missing out on.
That might sound like your own childhood—we say that when we moved to Ecuador we were transported to the past, in all the best ways.
Not that our kids always appreciate this new-old life. They miss visiting grandpa’s house, with its shelves of chips and freezer full of microwavable breakfast sandwiches and frozen appetizers.
There are very few convenience foods in Ecuador. We make almost everything from scratch, and the kids get to help. They’re learning a lot about meal preparation and nutrition, and the variety of fresh produce growing year-round is mindblowing.
Children in Ecuador love their french fries and ice creams, but the average diet is plenty nutritious to allow for those treats, plus whatever you bring them in your suitcase when you come visit. That same grandpa may or may not have lugged a Costco-sized carton of Red Vines all the way to Ecuador.
Our Ecuadorian friend’s irrelevant but insightful reaction upon trying said Red Vines: “It’s like eating a sweet candle.”
I saved you the best for last: Ecuadorian kids are happy. They’re also friendly, polite, cheerful, and well-adjusted.
But isn’t it sad that they’re missing out on Lego Robotics and club lacrosse? What about Disney princess tea parties and elaborate playgrounds?
It’s true—most of the playgrounds near us are pretty sketchy. But now our kids think ancient metal seesaws and janky swings are the greatest things in the world, so that’s cool.
Ecuador doesn’t have all the things. At least not in the campo (countryside), where we live. When Grandpa visits and asks the kids what they want to do, they answer: “I know! We can walk the other direction today!”
But kids here don’t seem to think they’re missing out. Who are we to tell them otherwise?
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When Grandchildren Live Abroad
I bet I know what you’re thinking… All this sounds great. For Ecuadorians. Which your grandchildren are not. Their experience is going to be different. They have to contend with language-learning, and, perhaps trickier, culture-learning.
Will it be hard? Probably. And depending on the schooling option their parents choose it may not come quickly. But bilingualism is an incredible gift. And biculturalism? Even more so.
To learn the humility that comes with being an immigrant… To discover the beauty and blessing of “different,” firsthand… To learn to be flexible and be able to adapt… To expand one’s definition of a successful life…
These are complex and challenging things to learn. And while there is a lot that you can and should teach your grandchildren, these are lessons that can’t easily be delivered around your dining room table. Gifts that aren’t yours to give.
But there are some gifts that can come from you, alone:
- Learn the technology that will allow you to stay in touch. Whether it’s Zoom, Marco Polo, or good, old fashioned email, there are so many ways to lessen the distance. Both sides of our families started family Whatsapp groups. In some ways, we’re more connected now than ever.
- Commit to visiting, if finances and health allow. Credit is due to our parents: It’s an understatement to say they weren’t overjoyed when we announced our move (on Mother’s Day, no less). Oops. But every single one of them expressed their willingness to visit. Brittany’s dad was even willing to brave the snakes and huts on stilts that he assumed were in our future!
- Validate your grandchildren’s fears and struggles without undermining their parents. We promise: We want what’s best for them, too. And on the flipside, enjoy the fun of discovery along with them. Exclaim over the new things they’re seeing and doing and share in the adventure.
Being International Grandparents
There’s even one more stage of grief, it turns out, one unique to international grandparents: ambassadorship.
You’ll start to hear about Ecuador all over the place. You’ll see headlines, meet people who have visited, become aware of Ecuadorian celebrities and sports stars. You might end up championing Ecuador to the point your friends are sick of it and wish you would just move, already.
Maybe this isn’t going to be so bad, you’ll start to think.
In fact, maybe it’s going to be great!