Child-Friendly Costa Rica
My good friend, Susie, and I sat down to lunch in a small, neighborhood cafe. Her baby boy, Gerardo, sat in her lap. When the waiter came to take our drink order, he bent down to Gerardo to make a face and silly sounds, and was rewarded with an enthusiastic baby giggle. As the waiter walked away, two women at a nearby table began "talking" with Gerardo. Though they were complete strangers to us, they held out their arms and asked to hold him. Susie obliged with a smile, and Gerardo spent the rest of the meal with his new friends.
Wherever Susie goes, Gerardo is always the center of attention. Costa Ricans love babies, and treat them as tiny treasures. Parents with small children are given special consideration in most public places. On the bus, they receive preferential seating; in the bank, their own (shorter) line; at any public building, the right to go first. These details are in place to keep both parent and baby relaxed. Parenthood is championed in Costa Rica and is considered a most important responsibility.
Susie believes the Costa Rican attitude toward children helps new parents minimize the baby blues. Here, the family is integrated into everyday life, so new parents do not spend their baby's first few weeks holed up at home. Babysitters are rarely called because family and friends are eager to help, and children are welcome everywhere. When parents do take baby out, Costa Rican society is determined to facilitate every moment. Restaurants always have plenty of high chairs; someone is always willing to lend a helping hand; and a fussing baby does not attract stares of frustration, but rather looks of empathy.
One of the most heartwarming aspects of child-friendly Costa Rica is how lovingly men treat society's tiniest members. It's striking: if you spot a couple walking together, it's almost guaranteed that it will be the father carrying his child. Men, even those with a fair dose of masculine pride, turn to mush around a baby. Even teenage boys get in on the act, walking hand-in-hand with young children, comforting crying little ones, and showing kindness to the younger generation.
In addition to Costa Rica's overwhelmingly child-friendly attitudes, its legal policies also serve to protect and nurture children. Regardless of their residency or nationality, pregnant women -- even those who are not a member of the public health system -- receive prenatal and postnatal care at no cost. Giving birth in a public hospital is also free. To keep little ones healthy, health care through the public system is free for all children up to age 12. Full-time students in high school and university receive free health care and private medical care is also available.
Additionally, all children are guaranteed to the right to a public education. Every major town in Costa Rica has a public elementary and high school. In rural areas, the government will either pay to bus children to the closest school or, if there are enough students, will send a teacher out to give classes. Private schools are also prevalent, and popular options for expats who prefer their children take bilingual or English-language classes and receive American diplomas or International Baccalaureate degrees.
As many parents soon learn, Costa Rica is a wonderful place to raise a child. You won't find a more welcoming, kid-friendly nation -- and it's a great place to be a parent, too.