Megan Potts (29) is a young American woman, living in Ghent. She’s raising her son, Marley (4), by herself. And as if being a single mother isn’t hard enough, she’s bringing up her son as a bilingual child.
Megan moved to Belgium when she was a teenager. She, her sister and her father left Dallas, Texas, when her father decided to follow the call of love. Unfortunately, the relationship only lasted one year. ‘We had to sell our house to move here. We brought all our belongings with us, including our dog and our cat. When they broke up, it was too expensive to move back to America.’ So the family stayed in Belgium.
Trying to fit in in Belgium wasn’t easy for young Megan: ‘We didn’t know any Dutch when we moved here. We had to learn it once we arrived. Since I was older, I had to go to a special school, just to learn Dutch. My sister got extra tutoring for Dutch during French class.’ It wasn’t just the language that was a barrier, ‘It’s hard to leave your family. When we moved here, it was just my dad, my sister and me. My mom moved to Scotland at the same time we moved here but the rest of my family still lived in the States.’
The family moved from Lier to Geraardsbergen when Megan’s father got into a new relationship. ‘Around the same time I started studying at the Hotel School Tweebruggen in Ghent. We had to get up at four o’clock in the morning just so I could get to school on time. It was really hard on all of us, so we moved to Ghent. I almost graduated but, unfortunately, I made some stupid mistakes with my boyfriend.’ And that boyfriend was Marley’s father.
Being a single mother
Megan was told she would never be able to have children. ‘Ten years into our relationship, I was a month late. So I did what every woman does: I took a test. I turned out to be pregnant. At the time his father was already in a new relationship, but we were still keeping in touch. He wanted me to get an abortion, but I told him no.’ Megan chose to keep the baby and raise him by herself. That plan didn’t get approval from everyone. ‘My mom lived in America when I was pregnant. She was mad. She didn’t want me to be a single mom, which I understood. But when I explained to her that this might be my only chance to become a mother. she settled down and agreed.’
Being a new mom is hard, but it’s even harder when you’re on your own. ‘The first weeks after Marley was born, were the hardest. They always say you need to sleep when the baby sleeps, but Marley barely slept for more than two hours at a time. When he finally fell asleep, I had to do the cooking, the cleaning and the laundry or go to the shop.’ Close friends and family came to spend the night and help Megan out. ‘They would watch him at night, that way I could get a good night’s sleep. If you can get help from friends and family, it’s important to take it. Especially as a single mom.’
Marley’s father isn’t really in the picture anymore. ‘He sees Marley when he feels like it, but not enough. Obviously, I’d like him to see his dad and his little brothers more often. But it’s like he doesn’t care about his son. This week Marley got picked on at school, so his aunt sent his dad a text message. He didn’t even reply.’
English and Dutch
Because of her American roots, Marley is learning both English and Dutch. ‘If we’re ever able to go and visit my family in America I want Marley to be able to communicate with them. I don’t want to sit next to him all the time to translate. If we were to go, we’d only have two weeks and I want to have some family time too.’ Megan and Marley keep in touch with her family through weekly Zoom calls, despite the time difference. ‘He hasn’t met my family in real life yet, but he knows them. If we have a call, Marley usually takes a nap in the afternoon. Because of the time difference, the calls are quite late at night. That way he can join us.’
There are some issues with raising a bilingual child. ‘He has a few friends at school who also speak English. One of the kids’s parents are from New-Zealand and they’re raising their child to be bilingual as well. For the same reason I do: to communicate with the family back home. But the thing is, they all run around the playground talking and shouting to each other in English and the other kids don’t understand a word they’re saying.’
According to Megan, if you want to raise bilingual children, you should start while they’re still young. ‘When they’re small, they’re like a sponge. They retain the things you teach them.’ But it turns out some languages are learnt more easily than others. ‘Marley definitely picks up English a lot quicker than Dutch. While I spoke both languages to him from when he was a baby, his first words were in English. I still remember… it was my first Mother’s Day, and I was on my way to the zoo with my sister, brother in law and my dad. All of a sudden he started saying “mommy” over and over again. By the time we got to the zoo, we couldn’t get out of the car fast enough and show him the animals so he would stop. Raising a bilingual child is not always easy, but absolutely worth it! If I ever have another child, I would definitely do the same thing.’