Emigration with kids – how it’s really been

The months before we emigrated, I had a lot of guilt for putting my kids through the process – the uprooting, and then the planting of ourselves in a new life in Amsterdam. They were to leave everything they had comfort in – from the material (big rooms, regular holidays, fairly big garden) to the people (friends and family). Most upsetting was seeing my son separated from his dad. While his dad supported our move, and selflessly let Max move to Amsterdam, it hasn’t been a walk in the proverbial park for either of them, no matter how great a space Max is in here.

I used to often lament to my husband: “Will they forgive us when they’re older for taking them out of South Africa?”, and I had to really do the work of believing this move was in their best interests, and there would be nothing for which to ask an apology.

Most days have been easy with the kids. Max is strong and smart, and has never complained about anything – from the weather, to integrating into a Dutch school, to making new friends, to having to leave the good things behind. There was that one time the WiFi went down, and while he didn’t complain per se, it was the most “panicked” I’ve seen him here.

He, like everyone who leaves home, has given up so much, but he doesn’t perceive it that way. He generally feels content to have good things here too, even if they’re different good things. Of course, he misses his family and friends. He’s gotten used to doing chores like taking out the recycling in the rain, and he’s adjusted fairly easily to this new way of doing things here.

Rebecca has also settled in well, and has taken to the enormous changes superbly. Whatever toddler issues we have now, we would have anywhere in the world – lest you think there haven’t been tantrums, pandering and some bribery. She went through a patch where she was miserable and not well physically – she wasn’t eating much, and we thought her iron levels were low (“give her leafy greens”, advised the GP on the phone). As soon as she started eating again, her mood and energy levels soared, and we felt we had her back.

Last week we had our first meeting with the teacher (a routine thing), and she told us that Rebecca has sad patches during the day, and asks for her Dada. My mom heart broke a bit, thinking about our little girl battling in a year of gargantuan changes. She seems to get out of these patches fairly quickly, and has an older friend in the class who has kind of taken Rebecca under her wing (her class is a combination of two age groups – made up of four- and five-year-olds). I have arranged a playdate with said child, who apparently doesn’t understand much English, though Rebecca understands her. I’m looking forward to seeing how the two communicate.

It’s a mixed parenting journey here. I’m happy that the kids are content and safe. But I’m sad that our little one is sad at school sometimes. I’m sad that in addition to the usual kid challenges, they’ve got extra being in a new place, and everything that goes with it. Emigration is such a mixed bag. What you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts.

 

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  • Denise Kemp

    November 19, 2020 at 10:06 am
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    What a poignant and honest article Tanya. We too will have to face our first Christmas without you all and we are not yet […] Read MoreWhat a poignant and honest article Tanya. We too will have to face our first Christmas without you all and we are not yet sure how that will go. We told ourselves that Amsterdam is only an overnight flight - and then Covid came. Read Less

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