They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what happens when you leave your village behind?
9 months ago, I emigrated with my husband and 2 boys aged – at the time – 10 months and 4 ½, to Wellington, New Zealand from our home in South Wales. It was a bold move, one we had dreamed of for years. We had agonised over the timing but when the right opportunity came up we had to take it. I could say an awful lot about the many difficulties – and some advantages, if I’m honest – of moving so far away from family – our boys have three sets of grandparents, numerous aunties and uncles, several cousins, as well as a close extended family – but they’re family and there will always be strong relationships there, no matter how far away we live.
But what I’ve found the most difficult is moving away from my friends, the women who got me through those challenging, sleep-deprived, terrifying years of motherhood. The mama friends who would share a glass of lunchtime wine on the really hard days when our toddlers were playing up or one of us was just finding it all a bit much. Those who would come over for a cuppa when my firstborn – who didn’t sleep and cried a LOT – just to take a turn holding him to give me a break, so that I could have a wee, or drink a tea that was warmer than tepid.
One of my girls, on one of my last days in our home in Wales, after all of our stuff had been shipped and we were living with nothing – no furniture, no kids stuff, loaded up her car with toys and came to spend the day with us with her young baby – just to keep us company. I have met a handful of women since we arrived – most of them in a similar position, being from out-of-town, and these are blossoming friendships. But they don’t – yet – come close to the strength of bond that comes with the experience of raising young children together – and, let’s be honest, without the shared maternity leave, which frees up the time and opportunity to nurture new friendships.
A lot has been said recently about loneliness in new motherhood. However I didn’t ever feel lonely until, six months after we arrived in NZ my big boy started school. Suddenly the house was painfully quiet and even though my youngest is a delightful character he hadn’t – and still hasn’t – quite got beyond communicating in grunts and yells. Its often days between having a meaningful conversation with anyone outside of my immediate family and I’ve become one of *those* people, who try and strike up conversation at the supermarket checkout, on the bus-stop, in the line at the post office.
It’s hard. But what to do? I’ve long ago concluded that – in general – grown-ups don’t need new friends. When you live somewhere that you’ve lived all of your life you have already formed those relationships and as a parent of little ones there’s seldom enough time to maintain the friendships that you have, without attempting to nurture new ones. It feels so unnatural to me inviting a stranger to go for a coffee and a chat, trying to translate school-gate small talk into meaningful friendships. But I guess I can only try. There must be someone out there with room in their life for an ex-pat who yearns for someone to drink tea and eat cake with. Surely?