#Mindrmama Anna Johnson is an Australian public lawyer living in London who, when she's not chasing her one-year-old around, can be found reading, volunteering at the Baytree Centre, or discussing feminist issues with friends over a glass of wine.
When I moved from my home in Australia to the United Kingdom four years ago, I was sure I would never have a baby overseas - this was something I would wait to do back at home, in familiar surroundings. But somewhere along the line my concept of "home" and familiarity changed, and our son, Oscar, was born in June 2016.
It was a quintessential London arrival – in a room in a public hospital on the banks of the Thames, overlooking the Houses of Parliament. I received impeccable pre- and post-natal care on the National Health Service, all entirely free. Best of all, my parents and sister flew to London just before the birth, and stayed for several weeks afterwards. It was a wrench saying goodbye when they left.
Since then, although there have been ups and downs, our little family has thrived. Despite some downsides to raising children in London – high living costs, tiny apartments, and terrible weather to name a few – I’ve seen a side to the city that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. I’ve discovered playgrounds, learned English nursery rhymes, discovered a world of children’s activities at the city’s fantastic museums and galleries, and met some incredible parent friends.
Now we are moving back home to Australia, and I’ve had cause to reflect on my time as a foreign parent in a new city. Here’s my advice for parenting far from home – whether it’s London, New York, or somewhere else entirely.
1. Do your research
As an expat, you don’t have all the accumulated knowledge of someone who has grown up in your adopted city, so you have a bit of catching up to do. That’s okay – find friends of friends who live in your new home and pick their brains, bring along a list of questions for your midwife or doctor, take prenatal classes, and scour the internet. Better yet, while you are pregnant, use the time to get connected with people in your new city who have recently had a baby (preferably another expat, who has been where you are now) – they’ll be a wealth of information and recommendations, and someone to explore your new city with!
2. Get out of the house
Your baby’s arrived and they are amazing. Take some time to recognize what an extraordinary thing you have done. And when you feel up to it, drag yourself outside. Yes, it will take ages to pack everything up, and your baby will probably throw up on you just as you walk out the door. Never mind. Just getting out once a day is enough.
This is when your research will pay off – is there an app or website or Twitter account in your city with a list of baby-friendly activities? For me, socializing with other parents was a lifesaver. Parenting, especially with a young baby, can be very isolating, and since I didn’t grow up here, I had to make new mum friends. For many months, I regularly attended Rhyme Time at a local library with my mothers’ group. This was less about the singing and more about the opportunity to have an adult conversation, share tips, and get a coffee afterwards. Through this session, we met other parents and expanded our group. Even now, I’m still making new friends with other parents whom I meet at children’s centers, at local cafes, at the baby cinema or even in the park. And that’s why I was excited to help establish a Mindr community in London, bringing parents together in a stimulating environment where crying babies are welcome.
3. Stay connected to home
Before the baby, I found it hard having to cram all my Skype and FaceTime catch-ups with people back home into my weekends. To my surprise, staying in touch was actually easier while I was on maternity leave, and I was able to speak to my mother almost every day, usually while breastfeeding. This is also one of those occasions when time differences can become a silver lining!
Now that my son is older, I’m really pleased that he is able to "see" our family over video chat, and that he can recognize their faces as well as their voices. We have photos on our fridge and talk to him a lot about his grandparents and aunts and uncles.
4. Accept help
Without regular family support, you’re going to need your friends more than ever. We were incredibly lucky to have a number of close friends who came over in those early months, brought ingredients, and cooked us dinner – and then washed up. Other visiting friends would offer to do a load of laundry, or hold the baby while we went and had a nap. Even though few of them had their own kids, they knew enough to know that this was helpful. When someone says, "What can I do?", give them a task! Honestly, people like to be useful. Which brings me to…
5. Pay it forward
… helping others. When one of my best friends back home had twins five years ago, I would visit regularly and play with the babies. But I didn’t know anyone else with kids, and was completely clueless. I never once offered to put on a load of laundry or wash the dishes. As soon as I had a newborn on my hands, I realised how useless I had been at the time. Since I can’t make it up to my friend, and now that I realise what it’s like, I’ve resolved to pay it forward to other expat parents!
Are you a Londoner or an expat living in London? Come to our second Mindr community event and hear from Dr. Fran Tonkiss of the LSE about inequality and the city. Join us to expand your mind and meet other parents in an environment where curiosity is queen and crying babies are welcome.