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The Settlers’ Mentality

Mooney's Bay, Ottawa, August 2014
Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa, August 2014

“I can’t, I can’t!” I kept on repeating, sobbing pathetically.

“You can’t what?” my mum asked gently.

“I can’t come back to Canada and be all alone again!”

All along our trip to France, I had been dreading coming back to Canada. At first, I wasn’t even sure why. I mean, this is becoming a trend—I didn’t want to come back after the two trips to France we took last year, nor after Mexico in January. And the only reason why I boarded the Toronto-bound plane in San José in February was because I did miss Feng and Mark.

It’s not like I hate Canada or that I’m miserable there. And it’s not like I fell in love again with France—I did not. It’s a great place to visit but life is tough, for many reasons ranging from the high cost of living to the staggering unemployment rate.

But I’m struggling in Ottawa.

Feng and I never really settled there. I came by chance, realized there were opportunities and stayed. I went through the immigration process because I needed a permanent resident status to work in Canada and because I was tired of worrying about visas expiring or not being extended. I became a Canadian citizen because along the way, I truly fell in love with this country and its people.

I hadn’t planned any of that. It just happened. I came, I liked it and I stayed.

But this was before Mark. And Mark changed everything.

Before Mark, Feng and I focused on one goal: saving money to go traveling. Sure, we enjoyed Ottawa. It’s a nice city. But we were mostly busy working and rarely spent any time at home. We didn’t try to fit in much. We were doing our thing, living our life the way we wanted it to be.

But when you start a family, knowingly or not, you put down roots. Suddenly we went from being two free spirits to having to keep this tiny little thing alive and happy.

We didn’t know where to start. Raising a kid is not something you can do all alone. That much we learned.

Right after Mark’s birth, I tried to become the perfect suburban mother. It was an environmental thing rather than a conscious decision: you see all these women on maternity leave pushing strollers around the neighborhood and shopping for swaddling blankets, so you do the same. Why not? I didn’t know any better. I just followed the lead, thinking maybe I would learn something.

The problem was, it did not make me happy. I did not find it fulfilling.

This is not me.

I don’t think I had ever realized before how much work it takes to build a family, and how strong you have to be to tackle the challenge.

Back “home”, wherever “home” is, chances are that you have a support network—close family, relatives and old friends. When you start your own family, you add to the existing dynamic, to a model already set.

For new immigrants, it doesn’t work like this. You need to have a “settler’s mentality” because you are starting from scratch, in a place where you don’t have roots. When it’s just yourself, or yourself and a partner, it’s not that hard. When you add kids to the mix, it becomes more difficult.

You are facing practical and philosophical issues.

On the practical side, you don’t have as much support. Childcare, for instance—you can’t exactly call your parents to help out in a pinch. You can’t use the long-trusted family doctor, can’t buy the medicine you are familiar with, can’t find the toys that kept you entertainment as a kid. Nothing comes easily. You have to rely on yourself, trust your own judgment. All. The Time.

On the philosophical side, you must adapt to various child-rearing theories that may not be yours, or recommendations that aren’t used in your home country. It ranges from etiquette issues to safety matters—honestly, when it comes to parenting, every seemingly innocuous decision is a hot button issue.

I don’t regret my choice of living in Canada and I do feel Canadian. But right now, at this stage of our lives, I wish I could get all the support I need. Life with Mark was easier in France.

But hey, this is not where we live.

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