Just to recap:
My husband and I moved to New Zealand three years ago with our then one-year-old son. There are plenty of things we miss about America, and honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be a mum in America as I’ve only really been mothering down here. What I have discovered, though, has been a pleasant surprise in the way the system just seems easier. The hard part has been missing our loved ones. Every other week we talk about when we’re going to move back to America. Being so far away from everyone, parenting alone, has been the hard part. Much harder than I realized it’d be. But right now we can’t agree on where in the USA we’d want to live, and also… we really love it here.
I was lucky to meet lifelong wāhine (women) friends upon arriving and we’ve come to appreciate the laid back, quieter island lifestyle. The respect and care for one another overflows to deep-rooted appreciation Kiwis have for their environment. I’m only now learning about some Māori mythology, but their culture is at the heart of New Zealand. There’s a broad awareness everything is connected: from the sky to the mountains, to the depths of the ocean, with constant inspiration and admiration for their tupuna (ancestors). The stunning diverse landscape is impossible to capture in photos; Aotearoa (Māori word for New Zealand) must be experienced in person, it’s so magical.
I’ve been jotting down a few things we really love about living here. So not to get too long-winded, I’ll start with education and healthcare. I’m still learning about these systems, so if any of my Kiwi mates want to correct me, please leave a comment below! Ta!
Kids attend based on their age, instead of a grade. At age three, children are allowed 20 hours government subsidized childcare. They can use those hours anywhere they choose— at play center or Montessori, or a neighborhood Kindergarten (preschool). At age five, kids transition into primary school. Kindergartens rely on donations and fundraisers each term, and whatever you can offer is tax-deductible.
There are four terms in a year, lasting anywhere from nine to 11 weeks. Scattered throughout are several holidays and school breaks, most lasting two weeks between terms, with the longest summer break of six weeks over Christmas and New Years. This system just makes sense to me, as kids have adequate rest time before another term begins. It’s common to head to the beach on Christmas for a barbeque or a getaway to a bach (rental holiday house; pronounced ‘batch’). Our first Christmas down here we were extremely homesick for snow, and I think we’re still trying to adjust to wearing jandals (flip flops) November-May. It’s common to see folks going barefoot, too.
There’s a health service for children under the age of five in New Zealand called Plunket. Run by nurses, they conduct well checks, making sure your child is meeting developmental milestones. When we moved here, before we were set up with a general practice, I rang the Plunket line to get advice on my son’s illness. I didn’t know who else to call. They were quite helpful, even offering a list of clinics in my area I could sign my family up with. The Plunket phone line is available to anyone in New Zealand with children under five if you have parenting questions or if your child is ill and you need immediate help. Of course, you can always call your regular doctor’s office, but instead of waiting for a nurse to ring you back, someone on the Plunket line can offer advice straightaway.
The other great surprise from living in New Zealand is that healthcare for children under six is free. There’s no charge for office visits or prescriptions. I think a bill was just passed last year for some general doctor’s offices to allow zero-fee care for children under 13. Knowing my child will be taken care of, no matter what, is a huge relief and a stress I don’t miss from our life in America.
Overall, I’d say healthcare in general just works down here. When I need to see my doctor, I pay the same amount every time: $55. Every practice charges a different fee, so it depends on who you’ve chosen as your general practitioner. But there’s no bill to agonize over, no hassle of making phone calls to a company who knows too much about your wellbeing, and no worrying if an ultrasound or MRI is going to break the bank. Prescriptions are also as easy: $5. The most I’ve paid has been $40 and that’s because they had to mix up an ointment. A chemist has great knowledge in what might work for ailments if you can’t get in to your doctor immediately. There’s no question of whether or not your insurance will cover a procedure, and you’d never be denied medical treatment.
There are private health insurance plans you can buy for you or your family, and again, it’s straightforward. You sign up and at most you’ll spend $30/week to cover surgical procedures, cancer care, and day-to-day health care. No stress.
We’ve been really fortunate to live in this beautiful country. It’s been a delight, even amidst the uncertain moments or exhaustion from hands-on parenting. We miss our loved ones in America, but our lives have been changed for the better with a lifetime of adventures we’ll never forget. And hey, my kid will be healthy and educated. Nothing to complain about there.
(Family photo taken by Strawberry Blonde Studios)