Being a first time parent is hard no matter what, so imagine raising your first child in a country thousands of kilometres away from your original home and without the support of your family and friends. In particular, in this developing country a different language is spoken, different cultures and values prevail and a lot of what you took for granted back home no longer exists. Sounds tough, hey! Yet for Maria Ernst, an expatriate from Germany, and many other expat parents raising their children in Jakarta, these potentially challenging conditions are embraced and seen as an opportunity for growth and enrichment.
In today’s ajb Friday post, we speak to Maria who provides us with an honest and ultimately affirming insight into parenting her 18 month old son, Jakob in Jakarta, Indonesia.
* Kenalkan Maria Ernst and son Jakob
Where are you originally from?
I am from Hamburg, Germany.
Where did you live before Jakarta?
We arrived in Indonesia three years ago from Germany. This is our first expat posting.
How many children do you have?
I have an 18 month old boy, Jakob. He was born in Singapore.
What did you do before Jakarta?
I finished my studies in Economics, Business Administration and Sinology (the study of Chinese language, history, customs & politics) and worked for a while in Germany before heading to South East Asia.
What do you do to keep Jakob occupied and stimulated?
Different stages of development require different stimulation. During the Baby age, it was all about getting out of the house and meeting other Mums; chatting and exchanging baby-related tips and worries.
As we move through the Toddler age it is becoming more challenging to stimulate Jakob- especially physically. I personally try to keep Jakob busy in the mornings so we can spend the afternoons at home in our *compound.
It’s really important that you find a family-friendly and green place to live when you move to Jakarta; where the kids can play together and there is some space to run around. Our compound in South Jakarta is perfect for this.
During the week you can join swimming classes, music classes and playgroups at ANZA and the British Women´s Association (BWA). Besides that, the Kemang Playground is also worth a visit from time to time. And if the weather is bad, we like to pay friends a visit or go to the indoor playground called, Chipmunks in Kemang.
What do you do to keep yourself occupied and stimulated?
I like to cook healthy dishes, which still meet the taste of my meat-loving husband, a picky toddler and myself, a vegetarian.
I also like to meet friends over coffee. The many cafés near Hero Supermarket in Kemang or Anomali Coffee offer good coffee, but if you plan to bring along your toddler I recommend Sophie’s Authentique (Cipete or Senopati) or Kemang’s Avenue of the Stars in Lippo Mall, where the kids have some space to run around. And also as part of our fortunate expat-life, we plan the next big holiday. Besides going home to Germany twice a year, we like to explore South East Asia and Australia.
What is it like to raise Jakob with the assistance of staff?
Having staff is a big, big advantage of living in Asia! For the past three years, we have had a lovely Maid and Jakob adores her. Since you don’t have any family around, it’s very helpful to have someone cleaning the house for you and taking care of the children. You get so much quality time for yourself and for the family. But especially at the beginning it’s about giving up a part of your privacy and building trust towards a “stranger”.
You should make sure that Helpers, who take care of your children, get a health check-up, especially to exclude Tuberculosis and Hepatitis, because they might not know if they are a carrier. In addition, it makes sense to send everyone involved in raising your child to attend a first-aid course. Medic One or International SOS offer them among others. In general I personally don’t think that Indonesians like to talk about what to do in an emergency situation, but because you cannot rely on a quick arrival of an ambulance, you need to have this discussion with your staff.
What are the perks with living in Indonesia?
The countless smiles Jakob is getting throughout the day from the child-loving Indonesians. That’s a huge difference to the cool German mentality you find in the cities back home.
And obviously the warm climate here in Jakarta – You don’t have to dress the kids in heavy layers and every day is good to dive in the pool and cool off.
What are your greatest concerns about raising a child in Jakarta? What do you do to minimise these concerns?
It’s the pollution in Jakarta I worry about most. I try to minimise it by not walking on the busy streets with Jakob and that’s very easy to do due to having a driver most of the time and the availability of cheap taxis. Also, I stay more inside our house when I sense that the air quality is bad in our Compound. In addition, we bought an air purifier for our bedroom to help our bodies recover during the night.
The medical care can also be quite worrying when you have an infant. The quality of the medical care differs from doctor to doctor and it’s quite often that you receive a diagnosis that differs from doctor to doctor. After you have paid the doctor a visit with your child, you often leave the clinic with a big bag full of medicine. In my opinion, the doctors often prescribe antibiotics and other medications way too fast. So in the end you as a Mum have to weigh up what to do.
Another point to consider is the sun. Being exposed to the sun on a daily basis is something you want for your children, but if you sum it up over weeks and years you realise quickly that the high amounts of sunshine could damage the skin. That’s why we use sun protection, like long sleeved bathing suits, hats and if necessary sun lotion as well.
Then I think it’s general safety concerns, the poorly maintained environment, like holes in the ground and electrical wires everywhere. But you just have to be cautious and alert.
Any surprises about raising Jakob in Jakarta?
The incredible, always helpful community of Mothers was a big surprise for me. We had a life in Jakarta without children and living in this bubble, I had no idea that there are so many families and kids here, which are very well connected. In Germany new mothers often feel isolated. Luckily the women here organise playgroups, and communicate a lot on Facebook (such as Jakarta Moms Support Group, Jakarta Moms Due 2015/2016) and in Whatsapp- groups. That was definitely a positive surprise.
Please share an anecdote about Jakob’s time in Jakarta that brought a smile to your face.
Every day we go for a walk in our Compound and almost every single gardener or security man greets Jakob with a ‘Hi Jakob’, so it wasn’t surprising that Hi was one of Jakob’s first words.
Jakob knows that people notice him and I think that’s very good for every child’s development to feel visible and somehow important. That makes me happy as a Mum.
In your opinion, is everything you need to raise Jakob (in the way you want), available in Jakarta?
Despite a lack of consistently clean air, a need for better medical care, and a lack of green spaces nearby, I still believe that the answer to this question is ‘Yes’.
Can you provide 3 pieces of parenting advice to other Mums and Dads who are new to Jakarta?
1. Connect with other Mums and Dads. The playgroups at ANZA or the BWA are a good start.
2. Get out of Jakarta from time to time and into nature- that doesn’t always mean a long trip. A visit to the Kuntum Nurseries and the Botanical Garden in Bogor or a hike through the beautiful landscape of Bandung for a couple of days can recharge you quickly. We stayed in Padma Hotel in Bandung and it was perfect for us.
3. Accept help! You don’t have to clean and cook if you don’t want to. Spend more time for yourself and with the family even if it means increasing the working hours of your helpers.
*Kenalkan – Let me introduce
*Compound – A community of houses/apartments in an enclosed space, especially common throughout Asia
Words: Maria and Jo Photography: a journey bespoke