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I moved from California to Portugal as a single mom of 2. Here people actually care about kids.

Hannah Nwoko   

I moved from California to Portugal as a single mom of 2. Here people actually care about kids.
  • Aisha Canfield is a single mom of two daughters aged 6 years and 22 months
  • She moved from California, to Lisbon, Portugal in August 2023.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Aisha Canfield. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I had been playing with the idea of moving to Portugal when I was still married, and my first child was very young. The end of my marriage and the birth of my second child really tore down the structures I was a part of, and the loss of my life as I knew it made room for me to dream again.

I had this sense of freedom that I could create a life for my daughters and me that my marriage and the US couldn't provide. I had been to Portugal a few times and felt drawn to the shared value of community.

I wanted something different for my daughters

In the US, individualism really makes it difficult to parent, especially as a single parent. There is an expectation of martyrdom for mothers, shaming of single mothers, and praise for working like we don't have children and raising children like we don't work.

I realized I wanted a break from the socialization and messaging of capitalism, and Portugal offered that. I wanted to break the generational expectations of women and the mothers in my family. I wanted to model something different for my own daughters.

I had spent 18 very happy years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and while I loved it deeply, I needed to be in a place that allowed me to begin reimagining motherhood. I knew I needed to feel a sense of wonderment. I wanted somewhere I could feel and see the culture. I needed somewhere that embraced diversity. Importantly, I also knew I needed to live somewhere with some shared socio-political values.

I also wanted safety for all of us

As a gay woman, I wanted to live somewhere where I could have rights, community, and safety. For my children, being able to sit in a classroom and learn without the threat of being murdered was a driving force out of the US. My oldest at the time was 4 and in Pre-K and was already participating in active shooter drills. The idea that gun rights take precedence over children's rights is unconscionable.

Children's well-being and safety aren't something that's politicized or even up for debate in Portugal — there are no school shootings here, and I can't imagine there ever would be. As a country, it seems like Portugal makes decisions based on the collective well-being.

Children are integrated into life here

Children are much more integrated into adults' daily lives in Portugal than in the US, where parents are constantly juggling their own lives with their children's under this unnecessary delineation. In Portugal, children of all ages are found in restaurants at all hours with their families, and parks have kiosks for parents to enjoy drinks while their children play.

While life with children is hectic under any circumstance, the integration in Portugal eases the anxiety I have as a single mother to show up as multiple people every day. There isn't an expectation for single moms to show up as if they aren't single moms. We are offered a lot of grace that isn't widely extended to us in the US beyond our immediate friends and family.

I've been invited to so many homes where I'm not expected to bring anything except two hungry children. I've had people bring meals and groceries to give me respite. Children are coveted so much so that we don't always wait in line at the grocery store if the baby is screaming. Strangers stop to soothe the baby on the street, sometimes even offering to hold her to give me a break.

At the airport here, there is a line just for families. When airport employees see that I'm alone, they personally leave their posts, grab all my luggage, and take me to where I need to be next. In general, time is enjoyed much more slowly here, so I am not expected to always be punctual, which helps with two little kids.

More so, Portugal is allowing me to be conscious of my parenting style and gives me an opportunity to recreate myself as a mother. I'm aware of when I'm parenting from a place of survival, and I'm working on pausing. The slower and more present lifestyle in Portugal reminds me of how unnecessarily urgent everything was in the US and how, in turn, I became an "urgent" parent.

I am grateful that Portugal models other ways of being a parent: prioritizing ourselves, our children, and our time.

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