The way it is now

I live in the Netherlands, in a small town very near Amsterdam, called Amstelveen. We’ve lived here for three years after living in the heart of Amsterdam for eight years. It’s leafy suburbia, I suppose – a big change from the very busy area we were in, but it offered us more room for our growing brood. I grew up in the north of England in a small Lancashire village. After studying in Manchester and London I moved to the Netherlands when I was 23. I grew up surrounded by mountains and moors, and now live in a very flat country. I’ll be honest, I moved for a boy (and the bikes and beer). Other than the UK, it’s the only other country I have lived in. I’ve been married to Paul for nearly 10 years now. He’s also English, we met in London but he was already living in Amsterdam. We have three children – a son of eight, a daughter of nearly seven, and another son who is very nearly two, they were all born here.

A day in the life
My two older children go to Dutch schools so that really integrates both them and me; they are both fluent in English and Dutch, we’re not sure what language the little one speaks yet! Children growing up in a bilingual environment can often experience speech delays. Our week-days are very busy and run to a pretty strict schedule; with three children organisation is the key to survival. My husband recently likened the experience of visiting us to that of staying on a working farm – it’s very accurate! At the weekend it’s nice not to have to be so scheduled – we tend to hang out at the park or go swimming. When we lived in Amsterdam, going out for cakes and coffee was a big part of our weekend ritual with the kids, the culture here is very tolerant of children creating all kinds of chaos in the cafes and restaurants (which are more tolerant than I am!).

My older children are at an age where hanging out with their friends is really important and super fun, so if we don’t have anything on I am usually coming home with a few extra children after school so they can play (also great extra Dutch practise). They have endless energy so I try and keep them all outside as much as possible, weather permitting. We have a very supportive network of mums (and dads) around us, I suppose I have gravitated towards other British mums as you often share very similar struggles such as lack of family around and grappling with language and cultural differences. When my children were very little I went to both Dutch and international playgroups, it’s always been important to me to be able to connect with where I live, even if I make countless errors speaking Dutch I have never wanted to live in a little bubble, which is what can happen with so many expat families. This is also why we chose to send our children to the local school.

Highs and lows
I can’t really fault the Dutch nation with much regarding my experience of raising my little tribe here. What is difficult is being away from our other family members, I sometimes wish my mum lived round the corner. 
I have lived here for almost 12 years. The notion of being ‘’home” is one that I sometimes grapple with. I love and often miss England and my extended family. For now though the Netherlands is home, I can’t say for how long that will be the case, but we are very happy here. The world has become a smaller place with regards to where we all live and work. I am foremost a European.

The very best thing for me is that it’s totally normal for my kids to cycle everywhere, whatever the weather. I believe Dutch children are up there as some of the happiest in the world, which has a lot to do with the relaxed parenting culture, and of course the fact that you can take chocolate spread sandwiches to school every day. The Dutch are famous for their free and tolerant approach to most aspects of life, this is clearly evident in how they raise their children, the golden rule being ‘’let them be free”. I am always surprised about how confident the children are here, whether that’s cycling round by themselves from a young age or expressing their opinions. They are encouraged to learn and experience things for themselves. I can struggle with fully embracing this approach but I try, although I am still the only mother barking instructions down the bike path to my kids as they stick their feet in passing bushes.

The healthcare system is generally very good, although some of my American and British friends have had a hard time adjusting to the more hardy approach to being ill. Items like antibiotics really are a last resort here, which is deemed a little irritating by some, though I rather like it. The Dutch are a no-nonsense kind of people, they are direct and to the point with you, which can be difficult for other cultures who aren’t used to that. It’s worth mentioning also that roughly 30 per cent of mothers give birth at home in the Netherlands, the system exists here to support this and it’s considered perfectly normal. Two of my three children were born at home with amazing midwifes. The care and support you receive after having a baby is also great, this is called the ‘’Kraamzorg’’ – normally a woman – who comes into your home to makes sure you and baby are healthy and even takes care of household tasks, they come daily for up to a week.

Making it work
I work from home as a freelance illustrator and run an online shop selling my own prints and canvases. My older two children are in full-time school (although Wednesdays and Fridays are half days). My youngest goes to a Dutch creche four mornings a week, I pick him up at 12:30 and luckily he sleeps for two hours allowing me to cram in a bit more work. I believe the Netherlands has one of the highest rates of part-time working mothers. It’s also not uncommon for fathers to work only four days a week. Maternity leave isn’t very long here, but the flexibility to work part-time is pretty well established.

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