For the second in our series on moving abroad, Johanna Derry speaks to artist and mother-of-three Laura Amiss about leaving the UK for Holland, where she’s lived for the past 13 years…
The Early Hour has been asking British parents who’ve raised or are raising their children in another country to share their experiences. Here, artist Laura Amiss explains what life is like raising her family with her husband Paul in The Netherlands
What anxieties (if any) did you have about raising your children in another country?
All three of my children were born in Holland, so I had nothing else to compare it to. I know women who’ve had a harder time having children here just because they have had children in their home countries and that was their norm. I can’t praise the Dutch midwife system enough – they’re often small local practices and aren’t over medicalised unless it’s necessary. I find that the Dutch are quite hesitant to medicate in general, with antibiotics for example, which I like. Home births are pretty common in Holland. I had two of my three children at home and the support I received was outstanding.
Are there any obvious cultural differences when it comes to parenting or attitudes towards children?
The Dutch have an expression ‘Let your children be free’, I mainly find that Dutch parents are more willing to let their children make their own mistakes and then (hopefully) learn from them. Children’s opinions are taken very seriously and as a consequence kids here are generally very confident and forward in providing their opinions and thoughts. Dutch children have quite a lot of freedom in terms of cycling to school from an early age and generally having a wider roaming area. It’s taken a lot of ‘letting go’ for me allowing my eldest to cycle to school with his friends. I would call myself an ‘optimistic worrier’ I think the Dutch, more relaxed approach to life and parenting is good for me.
How different is the school system and were you tempted to send your children to an international or a British school?
We originally had our first son enrolled in an international English speaking school, but we eventually decided that going Dutch was the most sensible option, because it would mean being able to connect to his world more easily. Our son understood Dutch but didn’t speak much. He was quite a late speaker in English too and rather shy so sending him to a Dutch school was a bit nerve racking. The first two years of Dutch school are primarily based around play and informal learning, which I like. It’s not until the third year at school that the children are expected to follow more conventional learning (reading, writing, maths etc). In that sense it’s quite different to the UK system. The thing I love most about the Dutch education system is that private schools are almost unheard of, which means all children are given a broadly similar start in life.
Have you made any cultural faux pas with your children?
I’ve lived here for 13 years, almost all my adult life so far, so I’ve not made too many I hope! I think that culturally the Dutch and the British aren’t too different, we laugh at similar things and both enjoy beer.
How much Dutch culture have you adopted into your own family life and how much have you kept a sense of ‘Britishness’?
I think because Holland isn’t that culturally different it’s quite easy to incorporate both British and Dutch traditions. Christmas isn’t as big here as it is in the UK, but Sinterklaas on December 5, which is when children receive gifts, is huge. To be honest we don’t hold on to much of a feeling of ‘Britishness’. I’ll never be Dutch and I don’t have very strong sense of Britishness. I identify more with being European, though I still get homesick for the UK, and I can be very nostalgic. I sometimes tease the kids that they don’t have the British sense of humour, so in return they try and practise it, if they say something sarcastic or ironic it is quickly followed by them saying loudly ‘English sense of humour!’.
Every child is different, my daughter has always been quite the little Dutch girl, my eldest son who has grappled a little more with his place here now identifies (I think) with being more Dutch than British, his peers are very important to him and they’re predominantly Dutch. You have to be flexible when you’re raising your kids wherever you are. Raising them in another country just adds and extra element.
What have been the benefits of raising your children in the Netherlands, and what are the challenges?
Raising our children in the Netherlands has meant they’re fluent in two languages, plus they’re very open and willing to learn more. It’s a motivation I didn’t have growing up. When we were in Italy this summer and I was struck at how the kids wanted to speak and learn Italian. Not being understood is very alien to them because they have two languages to choose from. I think this kind of openness and willingness to embrace difference is wonderful.
Both my husband and I come from large and very close families, and making sure we all see enough of all the grandmas, grandads and cousins is a challenge but one we take on gladly. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t wish my mum was closer, but I think our living here has enriched all our lives very much.
The biggest challenge is making sure that the kids don’t feel too different, being from the UK and living in Europe has made it just that little bit more tricky. Without getting into politics it’s been important to me and a challenge to make sure that my children feel that they belong in the place which we currently call home.