My son is now almost two years old (he’s 21 months in Mommy-Speak), and not only has he taught me how to be a parent – he’s also taught me how to be a parent in Cancun, Mexico. I grew up as the youngest of 3 kids, and neither Jorge nor I had much experience with kids and babies before having one of our own, so it’s been a trial-and-error adventure! We’ve been blessed with a super-easy kid who is happy, outgoing, adventurous and a great sleeper, although his high energy levels keep us on our toes. (Seriously, the kid does not sit still.) With that background info, here’s my take on what it’s like to start out parenting as an expat living in Cancun:
My understanding is that daycare in the States is around $1000 dollars a month, making many parents question if it would make more sense financially to stay home or continue working. Here in Cancun, daycare costs about anywhere from $50 to $200 a month, depending on how fancy you want to get and how many hours you use. This is still a good chunk of monthly salary for many employees in Cancun, but still more reasonable, I think. If you’re an employee who has IMSS or ISSSTE (Mexican social security and public health care), you are eligible for certain approved daycares for free; the downside is that there is a bit more paperwork up-front and these daycares often have a waiting list, but the opportunity for free daycare far outweighs those two minor inconveniences.
When I was a kid growing up in Virginia, my parents would pay one of the neighbor girls to come over and babysit us two or three evenings a month. When I was in middle and high school, other families from my church would pay me to watch their kids from time to time. In the States, it’s normal to hire a trustworthy friend or acquaintance to watch your kids so you can go out, on a date, etc. Here in Mexico, not so much. I don’t think I know any parent in Cancun who has hired a babysitter, or even asked a close friend to watch their kids. (Correct me if I’m wrong here, guys.) Instead, people here rely almost entirely on family members. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins are almost always willing to step in and watch your kids, for free! For those parents that have no family in town, they simply don’t go out as much, at least not without their kids, or one parent will stay home so the other can go out. We are incredibly lucky to have Jorge’s family here in Cancun and they are all great babysitters, so we were able to get the occasional full night’s sleep when our son was an infant, and go out on more dates as he has gotten older.
Raising a Bilingual Kid
Our son is being raised bilingual. I speak to him entirely in English, and Jorge speaks to him entirely in Spanish. Since he will be hearing almost all Spanish outside of our home, right now we make sure to balance that out by having all his books, music and shows in English. (He is obsessed with Sesame Street and only Sesame Street.) So far I think it is going well; he took a little longer than most to start talking, but now he has maybe 20 words and phrases, about half in English and half in Spanish. In theory he is supposed to talk to me exclusively in English and to Jorge exclusively in Spanish, but since he is just starting out, we are mostly just focusing on making it easy for him to communicate in whatever language for the moment.
Breastfeeding and formula feeding are both very common in Cancun, and although there is awareness about the pros and cons of each, there doesn’t seem to be any judgment as to which one you choose for your family. Breastfeeding in public isn’t too common, but I think that’s mostly because many moms prefer to stay home with their infants and not take them out much for health reasons; however, when a mother does breastfeed in public, nobody seems to care or notice, even if she isn’t using a cover. If you go to a mother’s home, she probably won’t be shy about breastfeeding while visitors are around. In Mexico, breastfeeding in public is simply a non-issue.
Going Out with a Baby / Toddler
From what I can tell, babies and children are more welcomed in public here in Mexico. Mexicans in general just LOVE kids and are more likely to talk to your kid or compliment them when you go out in public. Some expats here have mentioned that Mexicans are also more likely to want to touch or hold your baby, but personally I haven’t had a stranger touch my son yet, although my friends and family enjoy holding him. It’s common here to see kids running around restaurants, the mall, parties, shops, etc., and nobody seems to mind the extra noise and commotion.
Buying Baby Stuff
When I first got pregnant, I was worried about not being able to find all the baby accessories I wanted here in Cancun. However, I discovered that most everything is easily available, toys are relatively inexpensive, and feeding accessories like bottles and baby spoons are pretty cheap. Also, local carpentry is pretty affordable and high-quality, so you can easily have a crib or other baby furniture handcrafted for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a fancy store. The small downsides I found to buying baby items in Cancun were the following:
- Many of the nicer, less essential items like baby swings and bouncers are very expensive as compared to the US, and can mostly only be bought in department stores.
- Muslin blankets that are so popular in the US right now are hard to come by in Mexico. I suppose you could make your own, but I was surprised to see muslin blankets just aren’t that popular here, even though they’re great for the hot Cancun weather. I’ve heard that Mexican parents prefer to keep babies more bundled up, so maybe that’s why blankets here tend to be made of heavier materials. I have seen muslin blankets for sale at some department stores, but they’re pretty expensive and there aren’t many options. We usually buy a package or two whenever we go to the States.
- I haven’t seen any English-language kids’ books around town. We always stock up when we go to the States.
- Brand-name baby clothing, like Carter’s or Osh Kosh, is incredibly expensive in Cancun and usually only available at boutiques and department stores. We like to either buy cheaper clothes in the States, or go to H&M in Playa del Carmen because they have a large kids’ section with stylish and very affordable clothes.
- Crib mattresses are sold at most grocery stores, but come in very limited sizes. We have a pretty standard-sized crib but had to have a mattress specially made to fit. There are also fewer options for crib sheets. (I’ve noticed good linens in general are hard to find in Cancun at a reasonable price, which is why we usually buy new sheets and towels in the States.)
- Many of the more specialty baby/toddler accessories aren’t easy to find. For example, those no-spill snack containers that everyone has in the States are almost never seen here in Cancun; when I finally found them at Liverpool department store, I bought two!
Overall, everything we need is right here in Cancun. We only have to buy in the States for those trendy items I see my US friends using, some cheaper but cute clothes and linens, and English-language books, of course.
Activities for Kids
Despite being a young city, Cancun is finally starting to evolve its own local culture and community. Over the past 5 years or so, the city has begun to offer lots more activities and events for kids. It’s easy to find swimming classes, stimulation activities for babies, kids’ theater, etc. Outdoor options for kids abound: just head to the beach, or go to one of the city’s many many many parks, most of which have playgrounds. We especially like Parque Kabah for its natural setting and large wood playground, and our neighborhood has a central park area that fills up with families every night. There’s also a monthly event called Co’ox Cancun on Avenida Nader where they close down the avenue for bikes and pedestrians, along with offering a local market and some family-friendly activities. On rainy days, you can also take your kids to indoor play places like Malecon Kids or Peter Piper’s Pizza (like Chuck E Cheese). Many restaurants have play areas for kids as well, and some restaurants like XBurger and La Casa de los Abuelos also have babysitting for toddlers (at about $20 pesos an hour) so parents can sit down to a kid-free meal.
While there are a few small downsides to having a baby/toddler here, like not finding those specialty items we want, overall I would say I am very happy with our decision to raise our kid in Cancun. Childcare is affordable (for us), the overall culture is very open to all kinds of parenting styles, and we have a strong family network here to support us. I have yet to compare the school system because our son hasn’t started pre-school, but I’m sure I’ll have more to say down the line. I hope this was helpful, although I’m sure my experience will differ from other parents in the Cancun area and other areas of Mexico.