By Helen McWilliam
What makes a person move to New York City? Bright lights, big city? For us, it was love at first sight ten years ago when we visited New York City. My now husband and I visited for 5 days and loved every second. We barely slept because we didn’t want to waste a moment. We were determined to return to live in New York one day. This dream took a back seat as we continued our every day life. We visited again for a few days as part of a longer holiday in the US. Again loving every second.
The opportunity came when I was about 3 months pregnant with our second child. We had made a happy life for ourselves in Sydney; new to us but it felt like home. As settled as we were, we didn’t feel like we could turn down the opportunity to move to New York, a city that we both loved. We negotiated for my husband to transfer 6 weeks after the baby was born. I would move to Queensland to live with my Mum whilst he moved to New York to set us up. I couldn’t wait to get to New York. I hated splitting up our family and my then 2.5 year old missed his father desperately.
I am pretty flexible and I find it easy to make conversations with strangers so I was looking forward to the challenge of forming a new network…but with a 12 week old baby? I didn’t think about how challenging that would be.
New York was a culture shock I wasn’t expecting. I’ve lived in London, which felt just like an extension of Australia. I can’t really explain why New York feels so different – it just does. Kid friendly is not the same as it is in Sydney where Mom’s rule the roost during the week. In New York, cafes and restaurants don’t need the Moms to keep them afloat with the sheer numbers of people who live here. Also I suspect they’d rather not have pram wielding patrons taking up precious space. In addition to this, public transport is largely inaccessible for a Mom with two small children. The playgrounds are filled with nannies and babysitters. It was a very different world to the one I was expecting. We also arrived at the beginning of winter, which was always going to be a rough time to transition.
I lived a few months in shock, hoping that I would start to feel differently but I didn’t. This wasn’t the life I pictured for our two children. I became focused on the negatives; the dirt, the rats, the cold and was completely miserable.
I felt like I tried to keep all this hidden from my husband (note: apparently I didn’t and regularly mentioned how much I hated our life here!) He was working hard and doing well, however after a particularly challenging day, we had a long conversation about our life here. I realized I needed a change of attitude. A mentor in my working life had said to me that you’re responsible for your own happiness. So I went about looking for things that I could change. It turns out that all of the aspects of my life I could change were quite small but added up to a lot.
One of the first things I did was spend more time with people who loved it here. This helped me learn what they loved about the city. At about the same time, we also had two visitors who helped change my perspective; my dad and one of my closest friends from Australia. They both helped me get excited about the possibilities and not overwhelmed by the challenges. They also helped me notice the positives of living here. People on the street are generally pretty friendly. Strangers open doors for me if I have the stroller, even if they are not going into the same store. When my then two-year-old was throwing a tantrum on the street, a lady came up to me and said; ‘anyone who tells you their children don’t throw tantrums is lying’. I could have kissed her! It made such a difference to how I felt in that moment.
I began eating better and did all those cult exercise classes you can only do in New York. My husband and I also started a weekly date night. Getting out without the children made such a difference. After a stressful few months it was nice to have fun again and enjoy the city I had fallen in love with years before.
I also found I needed to remind myself that having two young children no matter where you are is hard work. Just getting them dressed to leave the house is an epic battle! I felt as if I should be out doing more because of where we are living. However, it’s okay to have pajama days, even if you are living in New York City.
It’s been about 12 months since I had this change of perspective and I can honestly say I now enjoy living in New York City. My family and I know it’s not the life we want long term but we’re now enjoying the journey. Bring on summer. There’s nothing like summer in the city.
*Date night tip! If you can’t afford a regular sitter, find a friend and take turns looking after each other’s kids. Makes for a much cheaper night and you have someone you trust looking after your children.