Yvonne Gavan, 37, is a journalist and blogger based in Hastings, Barbados. She arrived a year ago with her husband Alex, a Government advisor in Whitehall, and their three children: Lila, 9, Oscar, 5 and Iris, 2. Here, Yvonne reflects on life now and then…

It was a busy time, as we were in the middle of a renovation project on the Victorian house we’d just moved into and I was trying to juggle family life with my job as a freelance magazine journalist. I felt like I never stopped and was constantly exhausted. So when Alex walked into the kitchen one grey day in March 2013 and said a work opportunity had come up and that we could do a three-year family posting in Barbados, it sounded too good to be true… A sunshine-drenched beach life sounded like the perfect antidote to fast-paced London. But although Alex and I aren’t entirely new to ex-pat life – we spent two years living and working as teachers in Japan and Thailand before we had children – I knew that there would be far more challenges involved this time, with three young children in tow.

A typical day…
On a weekday, I’m out of the house by 7am to do the school-run. Lila and Oscar go to the only international school on the island and in the mornings, Iris goes to a lovely local nursery a few doors down. During weekends and holidays, we spend a lot of time hanging out by our pool with friends or at our local beach, which is just a minute’s walk from our front door.
When we arrived, Iris was just 10 months old, and I was lucky to find a fantastic baby group where I made some great friends. A typical playdate involves either meeting at the beach with plenty of sun hats and buckets and spades, or a friend’s house for a swim in their pool and coffee. There’s also a lovely little nature reserve near by with a cafe, a small lake and a beautiful soft lawn for the kids to play on (grass doesn’t grow very well here and is often very spiky). We often meet there for iced coffee and a chat in the mornings before it gets too hot.
I recently enrolled Iris in a small, child-centred nursery that’s just a few doors down from my house. A few of her friends go there and it’s been amazing for me to have time to start writing again. Barbados feels like a chance for me to do the sort of work I’ve always wanted to do but could never find the time for. I have a few projects on the go, but at the moment I’m putting a lot of energy into my recently launched blog, threekindsofsunshine.com, about our life here. I don’t know where it will lead but at the moment I’m really enjoying it and have tons of ideas.

London or Barbados?
The best thing is the lifestyle that the kids now have. Houses are much bigger here and the children have so much space to run around, both inside and outside in our shady garden. When the kids get home from school they usually jump straight into the pool. We’re also right on the doorstep of some of the most incredible tropical beaches in the world.
The worst thing is being away from much-loved family members and friends. In London, we had a lot of close family on our doorstep, with both sets of grandparents, siblings and cousins close by. It’s been hard not having them around but it gives them a good reason to have a holiday in the Caribbean!
Motherhood here is easier in many ways. For me, having a regular cleaner who helps me with the laundry and ironing has been life changing! But I pine for internet supermarket shopping. In the UK, my groceries arrived at the same time every Friday morning. All I had to do was edit the basket from my iphone in front of the telly on Thursday night. Now I have to trek around three or four different shops and markets to get a basic weekly shop. And it ends up taking up most of the day. We love seafood (and don’t eat meat) and live on an island, so it really bothers me that you can’t buy any fresh fish in the supermarket. And there is no such thing as ready meals here. So I cook everything, even bread and biscuits, from scratch. Which means I spend a lot more time in the kitchen.
The cost of living (especially for goods such as cars, food, clothes, etc) is pretty high in Barbados so it’s unusual when both parents don’t work. When we first arrived, Lila and Oscar went to a local school and I remember thinking it strange that I seemed to be the only mum with a baby in the mornings. I commented on this to a friend and she told me that they were all at nursery. There are lots of nurseries and daycare centres around and the fees are much cheaper than the UK. But with no standardised maternity pay or healthcare benefits, it’s not unusual for babies to be left in daycare from as young as three months. Which probably makes it more similar to the US in that respect.

What now?
Our posting is for three years with an option to extend for one year. After that, who knows? There’s a possibility that we could do another overseas posting, probably in Africa. But we could end up returning to the UK. Right now we’re not sure what the future holds. And yes, I do find that level of uncertainty unsettling. But exciting too.
Although I miss day trips into central London, I think Barbados is a great place for young kids to grow up. They go to an international school where they have friends from countries all over the world who travel throughout the year. Instead of spotting squirrels and sparrows in the garden, my children see families of local ‘green’ monkeys – a mother with a baby on her back and a toddler trailing behind – climbing in the mango trees and watch hummingbirds and bee eaters hovering over the winter blossom. Their playground is our local beach where they meet up with their friends and try to catch crabs on the rocks, play in the white sand and swim in the shallow waters with shoals of tropical fish. I think they’re very lucky.

Family values
As a family, we’re very well tolerated when we’re eating out (even though my younger two find it hard to sit still for more than a few minutes) as I think it’s assumed that we’re tourists. But in general, children are treated differently here. Although most people are very friendly towards kids and will smile and wave back to my extremely gregarious toddler, there’s much more emphasis on discipline and respect for authority – both at school and home. And corporal punishment is still in effect within the public education system. I’ve never seen a Barbadian child have a tantrum in public or speak back to their parents – so it’s not hard to imagine what they must think of my three!
You don’t see as many mums and babies out and about here as you would in the UK. Breastfeeding is definitely promoted here and I think it would be tolerated if done discreetly (Bajan’s are a rather conservative lot). But there just isn’t the same stay-at-home-mummy culture.

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