I met Lauren at university where we both studied Business Science and then had the grand plan of going over to America to work on the ski slopes. Thinking back, this was quite ambitious of me, considering I came from a dusty farm and had only seen snow once in my life. We had such fun though. We met amazing people, put on 10kgs each, Lauren learned to ski and I ate lots of banana bread.
After the ski season, using up all the dollars we’d scrimped and saved, we travelled extensively around that amazing continent: surfing waves in Hawaii, shopping in New York City and betting on horses at the Kentucky Derby. We cleaned boats in Florida, saw the sights in Chicago and had the most eye-opening trip on a Greyhound bus (we sat next to a prisoner who’d just been released from jail). And no, I’m not making that last one up.
Anyway, I think we’ll all agree that things have been difficult in South Africa over the past few months. Around the dinner table and at kids’ parties, and standing outside the school gates, there has been much talk about emigrating. This isn’t a post about whether you should or you shouldn’t, this is an interview with Sydney-based Lauren, so you can get some insights into what life is like on the other side of the pond.
I met Ryan in my last year at university and it truly was love at first sight! After a short stint doing a ski season in Vail I returned to South Africa to be with him and we settled in Joburg for four years. Ryan was offered a secondment through work to Australia and after getting married we hopped on the flying kangaroo bound for Sydney. We have now lived in this beautiful city for the past 7 years and have three wonderful kids – Tyla 5, Josh almost 3 and Nic who is 8 months.
What do you love about living in Australia?
- The focus on family – the importance of the family unit is upheld by law and the community at large. One example of this is the maternity leave policy which allows me to take one whole year off, with 4 and a bit months paid leave, and the guarantee of my part-time job when I return to work. Flexible work arrangements are common which means Ryan can also play an active role in the children’s lives.
- Personal freedom – I absolutely love walking the kids to school or heading to the beach at sunrise for a run or catching a cab home on my own at night. The feeling that we can go where we want to go whenever we want is still liberating. I love that the kids can be kids and worry about what kids should worry about. Ryan also travels a lot for work leaving me at home with the three kids on my own. He’s never concerned about my safety, only my sanity!
- Public facilities – the parks and beaches here are just brilliant and always well looked after. There’s always a free event, expo, festival or market to enjoy. Public transport is great and travelling by ferry still feels like a novelty.
- Relaxed lifestyle – these Aussies know how to enjoy the simple things in life and we’ve jumped on their bandwagon! Good coffee, outdoor activities, easy entertaining, extended beach sessions, picnics in the park and online shopping!
Ryan and I believe that the ‘grass is not greener on the other side but where you water it’. We have invested ourselves in our local communities, making the most of the upsides of living in Australia and enduring the downsides together.
- The obvious one is family and close friends – and don’t underestimate the power of an established network!
- The warmth and friendliness of South Africans. South Africans are actually rather nosy, but in a good way, and will strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere.
- I certainly miss having someone help me clean the house or watch the children!
- The smell of uncertainty in the air. I know this may sound strange but when it’s not there, you miss it!
- The ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ attitude. Because everything usually works here, when it doesn’t, people are stumped! And if you try fix the situation, you’re probably breaking an Occupational Health and Safety Law (OH&S) and are told to stop.
- I also miss the cheap and wonderful wine and the prices of eating out. Having the bush and the beach close by and the African sun (the Australian sun is harsh!). And of course Woolies red chuckles!
How do you think parenting differs from one country to the other, if at all?
I’d say elements of parenting do differ by country because you adapt to the macro challenges or circumstances where you live. For example, everywhere I go, the kids go! This is not unique to Australia but perhaps to expats living in a first world country. Not having family around the corner or a nanny at home means the kids are with me most of the time.
If one has ballet, we all go. If we need top up groceries, we all go. If one is sick, they still have to come with me to do the school run (yes, even with gastro!) or the healthy ones have to come with me to the doctor. It is a privilege to spend so much time with my kids but I have to put in extra effort to make sure we also spend quality time together with the kids and as a couple. Equally, we need to find time on the weekends to have a break from the kids to refuel the ‘patience tank’!
Thanks Lauren for your wonderful answers! You can read more of my Meet a Mom interviews here.