Photo by the author
It seemed like such a cliché when I first heard ‘when you have a kid, your world changes’, but it actually happened to me. I was perfectly happy living in the Philippines. I was the director of operations of an online travel company. I had my own home, a car that was fully paid off, a loving husband and a supportive family. My career was at its peak and I was a respected writer and online marketer in my home country.
The tropical islands of the Philippines was my home. I lived and thrived in the busy metropolis for a decade after returning home from the U.S. And then I decided to have a kid. My husband and I tried for seven months before we finally had good news. In 2012, we had a baby girl who meant the world to us.
I loved raising her in my own country. I loved that by the age of 2, she was already bilingual. She learned the songs of my mother tongue. Had the same Filipino values that I did and started growing up in the kind of tight-knit family that I always valued.
I don’t remember exactly when or why I decided that it was time to pack up, leave everything behind and move to another country. Maybe it was while watching the news about a crime against a child my daughter’s age. Maybe it was when I was stuck in traffic for four hours in the same route that should have taken just 20 minutes to travel. Or maybe I simply wanted more for her – better education, better opportunities and a better life.
So, we packed up our clothes and everything in our house and decided it was time to go. My husband applied for a student while I got a partnership visa with work rights and my daughter was on a special visitor visa. We didn’t know what to expect when we got to New Zealand. We had no place to stay, very little money left after the enrollment and no one to run to for help.
I arrived in New Zealand in the first week of December 2015 and spent our first dreaded holiday out of our own country. We could only afford two gifts for my daughter that Christmas, whereas in the previous years we had a room full of gifts for her. For our Christmas dinner, we had three pieces of ham and some cheap wine. The year before that, our table was brimming with food. I cried that first Christmas, thinking it was all a mistake.
Then the days rolled by. I got a good job. My daughter was able to go to daycare, where she had free education 20 hours a week. The government’s ECE (early childhood education) program was open to all children below 5 years old, no matter what their migrant status is. The daycare in the city had well-trained kitchen staff that prepares morning tea and lunch for the kids as part of their enrollment. I was pretty surprised about this because it’s not something offered in my home country.
When my daughter fell ill, I was able to take her to a doctor, free of charge. New Zealand hospitals offer free healthcare to enrolled children under the age of 13. Yet again a benefit that we did not expect. The country has a healthcare system rated among the best in the world and it has been made so accessible to children.
Yes, the government is good to children but there’s really so much more to it than that. A year into our move, I can now say that New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to raise children. Kids here are happy, and for good reason.
At the age of 5 in the Philippines, you are expected to already know how to read, write and do basic math. The schools and the parents have laser focus on their education. They put so much pressure on children to achieve so much at such a young age. By comparison, children under the age of 5 go to day care or a kindy in New Zealand, where they learn through play.
The family set up is also very different here. In the Philippines, I worked from 9am to 5pm and trudged through 3 to 4 hours of traffic each way. That doesn’t even include the unpaid overtime that I often do as part of my high-pressure job. That means I’m away from my kid 14 to 15 hours out of the 24 in a day. I go to work even when I’m sick. I rarely use the 7 days of vacation leave I get in a year.
In New Zealand, they truly value work-life balance. I have never stayed beyond 5pm at my work. My manager encourages me to go on leave when I need to. After all, I get four weeks of annual leave. During the holiday season, offices in New Zealand close and everyone is forced to go on leave. For the first time in four years, I got to spend two whole weeks of the holidays with my daughter.
New Zealand was also the perfect setting for us to explore more and be adventurous as a family. Kids have access to camping, hiking, rivers, beaches, hot springs, forests and enough nature to explore through to adulthood. In the year that we’ve lived here, my daughter has gone sledding (amazing for us since we’ve never seen snow before), has been on a river kayak, was on a luge and has trekked for 4 kilometers in a redwood forest. She has no fear now when we ask her to try something new.
I admit, it feels lonely at times being away from my culture. But then I look at my thriving daughter and I don’t doubt that I made the right decision.