Moving to Australia with children is exciting – and worrying.
Standing in the immigration queue at Sydney airport, people turned and laughed as my son shouted in a panic: ‘But Mummy, I don’t speak Australian!’
I told him that as native English speakers, we’d still be able to understand people in our new country – at least most of the time.
Inside, though, I was a mess. Like everyone moving a family abroad, I’ve worried for my two kids pretty much non-stop. And I’ve especially worried for our four-year-old, who can grasp so much more than his little sister. How would he make sense of our family moving to Australia? How much would he be able to understand? How would his loss of friends, family and routine make him feel and act?
We’re now four weeks into our adventure, so it’s too early to call. But I thought I’d share a few quotes – some funny, some heartwrenching – that my little philosopher has said about our little family moving to Australia.
‘But Mummy, I don’t speak Australian!’
What it shows: He knows he’s different
Any parent knows a four-year-old have learnt to spot differences between people (usually in a supermarket queue, loudly…).
When our son shouted this in the queue to enter Australia, I realised he not only realise people were different – he was worrying how he would fit in.
All children need a sense of belonging, experts say. Without it they feel more anxiety, have more behavioural problems and learn less well.
One way to help, according to children’s mental health initiative KidsMatter, is just to listen and ensure they know they can get support when he needs it. Other suggestions from expat parents that we’ve taken up include setting up a new routine (eg swimming lessons, playgroups), and finding a preschool or daycare (ideally visiting together first).
‘Mummy, when are we going back to our old planet?’
What it shows: Geography sucks
Since arriving in Australia, we’ve looked at many maps. World globes, atlases, walking maps of our local area…
At four, our boy is starting get how maps symbolise the world around him. But man, is he in a muddle. Show him a map of our neighbourhood and he’ll ask where Grandma’s house is (it’s 10000km away). Show him a map of the world and he’ll point out his new home, then ask where Daddy’s work is (it’s 30km away).
Preschoolers don’t really get distance, just a basic idea of ‘near’ and ‘far’. He may as well be on a new planet.
Which is why I wish I’d found this tip from FIDI before moving to Australia with children: ‘For children – especially younger children – the presence of a few familiar items can be hugely important… It’s a good idea to have a few key items with you, rather than shipped separately, so the new accommodation instantly has a sense of familiarity about it.’
‘I haven’t made a best friend yet’
What it shows: Mummy shouldn’t make promises she can’t keep
At our old home, our boy has a best friend. A little girl who he would follow across oceans. But she can’t follow him across his ocean.
So I merrily promised that he would go to daycare, and make all sorts of exciting new friends. Best friends. So after his first day in care, he was understandably disappointed. That’s why I’m currently loving this tip from expatfamilystore:
Putting pressure on a kid to make friends is the last thing they need. So don’t make a fuss. Let them hang back. In time, they’ll find their place. Relax, mama.
‘Shall we keep it for when I go back to England?’
What it shows: To understand time takes… time
If I tell you that you’re moving overseas for two years, maybe five years, and I know you’ll ‘get’ what that means.
But really young kids can only think about time in terms of the number of sleeps until their next birthday. Yes, they have a sense of time – how long it takes to drive to the shops, what it means to leave ‘after PJ Masks is finished’. But understand that they’ll be able to visit their friends when a year has gone by? Nah.
Which is why we’ve decided to start a family calendar for our son to look at. And to not to mention anymore when we might go back to England for a visit, until there’s something concrete we can tie it to, like ‘after Christmas’.
‘I’ve caught three fish – one big one and two small ones. Why haven’t you caught any fish Daddy?’
What it shows: He is having a blast
When you move a family to Australia (or anywhere really) there is a long list of things to do, and new items keep being added faster than you can tick them off.
So often I have to remind myself: we did this because we wanted to.
This month, I’m trying to have fewer moments where I shout at my children because I’m trying to sort Centrelink/immunisations/housekeeping, and more when I sit back and remember that moving to Australia with children ought to be an adventure.
And I’m going to follow this great advice: Relax about making friends, forcing playdates, and having a furnished house. Instead, go to the park. Sit and stroke the guinea pig/hamster/other pet you’ve bought because you can’t commit to a dog. Play Lego until your fingers bleed. Just chill out for a bit. Your whole family deserves it.