Freshwater Dreaming :: Reflections on International Relocations for Families

Freshwater Dreaming :: Reflections on International Relocations for Families

It’s no small thing to move a family across the world.

If you are a family considering relocating internationally, you might like to hear how we did it, and what our greatest challenges turned out to be.

It’s been almost eight months (at the time of writing) since we moved our family of five from Bath, England back to Freshwater Beach in Sydney, Australia after two-and-a-half-years away. It was a move intermingled with so many emotions and logistics, it takes some time to process.

We left one family and re-joined another; left schools, then started at different ones; said goodbye to one community, then began getting to know a new one. Not to mention the experience of flying long haul with young children, or moving your container full of possessions across the world – eeek.

Despite being a parent that is consciously and soulfully raising three children I haven’t really had a lot of time to focus on deeper emotions around the move. Our days have been taken up with all the many details of settling our children into their schools and communities – they are each is at a different stage and place developmentally, one a teen, one a primary schooler, one a toddler.

Why the move?

We are often asked both why we moved to Bath and why we came back to Australia. It sounds simple but literally months of deliberation went into those decisions. My husband is English and I’m Australian born so we have family in both places.  When we left coastal Sydney for drizzly England a few years back a lot of people wondered why.

A huge part of the decision was timing. With one child leaving primary school it made sense to piggyback on that natural transition. Our daughter was three at the time, so we assumed she would be fine with the move as she was not yet at “big” school. Surprisingly, she was the one that seemed to find the move the hardest because she struggled to really understand what was going on. At three, her memories hadn’t fully formed yet either so to her mind her whole world just seemed to disappear one day to the next. Ironically the only thing she remembered was our big white car – not her preschool teachers, not her friends, nor the house we lived in. It was genuinely intriguing.

Essentially, we went on this big journey because we were ready for an adventure. It was the right time to move from where we lived in Sydney and with the ages of the two kids as well as our desire to have another (despite three years of our best efforts) we knew something major had to change.

Bath offered a combination of a great location (near Bristol International airport, close to the beautiful South West of England and not too far from family) as well as a world-class food, wine and arts culture in a relatively small city of only 90,000 residents. Plus we knew that Bath had a “special” Unesco World Heritage vibe about it which was really appealing.

Sure enough within a month or two of arriving we had conceived our third child naturally despite my advanced age so it turned out to be the right decision for us. We now have a little boy who was born in Bath and will always tie us to the place.

Bath Life

I have written previously what it was like moving to Bath, here. We did end up having a remarkable time there. I made lifelong friends and our two children had unforgettable experiences – one starting school, the other attending the first two years of high school there. I love that we will always have connections in this very beautiful and unique City. Despite our wonderful life there, I inexplicably still craved the ocean and the sounds and smells of subtropical Sydney.

The decision to return was a hard one. I was heartbroken to leave our English family and friends and the gorgeous place we had made our home yet craved the sand, sea, sunshine, as well as those unquantifiable benefits that the Australian lifestyle offers. The climate and the outdoor lifestyle in Sydney is amazing for kids, plus I had major withdrawals for our old beach life. So back we came… and although it was expensive (and hot tip: choose your removalists carefully) it was worth every penny to see the kids thrive here the way they are now.

Settling In

Mr Two is in care two days a week at a progressive and visionary daycare close to our home. We were very fortunate to be able to find him a place there and be able to afford to put him in two days per week. He can smell the sea from there and it is just a few streets away from home.

He still cries when I drop him off – because he is a breastfed toddler who spends the rest of the week very close to mamma – but I know from observing him through the glass that separates his room from the entryway, tears in my eyes at times, that literally the second he loses sight of me he is onto the next thing – the sand pit, cuddles with his carers, or one of the multiple imaginary play installations on offer. It’s his first step into the world without me, a bittersweet experience for an attachment-parent.

Miss Six has gracefully glided into her life at her new school. Although she went from a cohort of about a hundred at a small community on the outskirts of Bath into a school with over a thousand students, she has thrived. The timing seems to have helped her. After a year of reading and writing, she was well prepared with the necessary scholarly skills to comfortably learn more in a new space. She was also fortunate to be placed with a warm and experienced teacher who shepherded her into the class seamlessly.

Mr Fifteen has also landed well. His school is very good – not by accident. We deliberately moved into an area with great schools for all the ages our kids are. Socially he has found his people quickly and they are exceptional young lads. Academically it is a slower burn, he is in his third-last year of school now so as a parent I’m learning the fine balance between support and harassment when it comes to motivating him to study.  It’s one involving multiple course corrections every week, definitely a work in progress. For the most part, we are close and he is honest with me which is amazing considering his age.

Focusing on the Kids

When we prepared for our big move, I made a promise to myself and my husband that for the first six months at least my main focus would be a support role to ensure our kids could settle in with as little stress as possible. Based on the experiences they are having, I’d say we achieved that. However, what I failed to see ahead of time was the great cost to me personally that would be involved in that decision. No regrets for sure, but I recall about five months into that process falling apart a little bit.

The stressors when pulling off a move as big as this are pretty high. There was between three and six months preparation before leaving England and then there are just as many on this side of the move. All the administration of moving yourselves, your citizenship, all your bank accounts, enrolling in schools and setting up all your utilities, renting or buying a residence, and more, presents a mammoth task. Add to that the sense of uncertainty one feels when moving somewhere new; the scouring of the rental market whilst waiting for enrolments to be confirmed; inevitably tensions run high. It’s easy to forget how much pressure this creates internally. I can’t imagine moving somewhere you didn’t speak the language.

Finding your people

After so many months of this adrenalin-fuelled existence, it is easy to become fatigued and rundown. There is also the reality of living in a new area where you potentially don’t have friends or family on hand to relieve the pressure. I felt at times I needed to be on my ‘best behaviour’ in order to make a good impression and fit-in socially. Plus, as a mum who works in the home, I really needed to make some mum-friends, but I was keenly aware that this is not something that can be forced.

It felt almost like I was starting at a new school too but without any help from the staff or an orientation process! That’s when it became apparent I had to really step up my self-care and nurture myself slowly and gently through this process. There would be no quick fix, no immediate relief but a hunkering down for the duration as my local crew slowly revealed itself.

The Pay Off

Now that we are here, we are blessed with absolutely lovely neighbours who welcomed us very warmly to our new home. They have saved me on several occasions when I’ve been in ridiculous binds, like taking children to school and daycare when I couldn’t or minding the kids at short notice when we are in a bind. For such brand new friends, they are extremely supportive.

The natural beauty of this coastal playground, combined with the weather as well as the clear benefits for our kids makes it all feel worth it.

My little toddler LOVES the water and gets extremely excited anytime we are near it. Just days after arriving we were at a playground out in the sunshine overlooking the ocean and Miss Six was on the swings singing Disney movie songs at the top of her voice as she swung up and down taking in the view. I didn’t recall having observed her behaving so freely before. It was heart-warming to watch her feel that she could liberate herself enough to sing in public. Sure, it may have been a coincidence but I like to think it was a combination of the sea air and the laid-back culture, both of which Australia is known for.

It’s by no means a straightforward undertaking to relocate a family of five internationally but in the bigger picture, it is something I will never regret. With great effort comes great reward I suppose. If you have any questions, or you’d like to share your own story, I’d love you to comment below.

alena turley | creator, educator, martial artist
alena turley | creator, educator, martial artist

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