The expat lifestyle is a lifestyle that is becoming more and more popular in this age of connection and accessibility. The allure of leaving the country you have lived in all of your life to explore a new and exciting country is a tempting offer that many people love to jump at. As an expat, you are living in a completely new culture, full of unfamiliar foods, languages, customs, and overall lifestyles. As exciting as it sounds, the move from a country that you are completely familiar with over to a new one would be difficult for anybody. Now add in the additional stress of being a parent and you will definitely be faced with obstacles aplenty. So is there any way to help make the move abroad smoother sailing for your whole family?
Leaving Your Support System
When you become an expat, you are not only leaving behind the country you once called home, you are also leaving behind your closest family and friends whom you have know for years and feel the most comfortable around. The old saying, “Raising children takes a village”, is absolutely not an exaggeration. As an expat family, you are normally thousands of miles away from the “village” you have built over the years of your life. Not having the support from your “village” can begin to take a toll on you mental health as a parent, as well on the mental health of your children. You will struggle not having you support system close by when you need a listening ear or just some friendly company. You may worry about your children’s relationships with their families. How close will they be to them? How will they build and maintain a connection with them from so far away? You will also worry about finding somebody you trust enough to leave the kids with when needed.
Your “village” does not have to feel so far away, though. As an expat parent, you can work to build a new “village” in your new country. Find supportive friends who understand what you are going through and build a bond with them that feels like a community. Hire help when needed. You can also keep in touch with your loved ones back home through FaceTime, social media, texting, and phone calls.
Having Your Children Grow Up in a Different Culture
Expat parents face the challenge of their children growing up in a culture different from the one they are from. This can lead to many instances of confusion and miscommunication. For example, if an expat parent grew up in a culture that is more reserved about showing affection than the culture they are raising their children in, there may be confusion with their children about feeling loved. In many cultures around the world, acts of affection are not as common as other cultures. In some cultures, parents and children may have a quiet understanding of their love for each other. However, in other cultures, showing love for each other through acts of physical touch or complimentary words may be more common.
As an expat parent, your children will see many parts of the country’s culture as they are out and about at school, with friends, or even at the grocery store. Seeing the difference in culture from home and in public may create confusion for your children. Expat parents are tasked with figuring out a way to incorporate the culture of their new country as well as the culture of their homeland in order to allow your child to fit in without losing sight of their own culture.
Expat parents to very young children will face the struggle of trying to teach their young child how to speak both their mother language and the language of their new country. The parent may worry that the child will become delayed in their language by trying to learn multiple languages at once.
According to science, however, raising bilingual children can actually be quite beneficial to their development. While a young bilingual child may mix their languages in their young years, evidence has shown that this isn’t the child confusing the languages but simply retrieving the first word they can describe what they are trying to say. Studies have also shown bilingual children to possess more skills in understanding other people’s perspectives as well as in tasks that require switching between multiple tasks.
Children who are older may struggle more than younger children in learning the language of their new country. This can lead the older children to struggle with fitting in to their new culture. Parents can help their children become bilingual through continuous use of both their mother language and the language of their new country. Older children can learn the new country’s language through first focusing on the basics, attending classes, and constant practice of their new language.
Expat Child Syndrome (ECS)
Expat Child Syndrome is a struggle most commonly face by older expat children who have moved abroad between the ages of 10 and 15. The child will undergo significant changes both physically and emotionally throughout this age and would typically rely on their close circle of friends to cope, but cannot do so if they have recently been moved to a new country where they know nobody. If a child is suffering from Expat Child Syndrome, they will typically become more withdrawn, feel higher levels of stress, and may act less cooperative and more disruptive.
Expat Child Syndrome most commonly occurs with older children who have to move away from their homeland. This is because they have developed connections to their home country and will have a stronger relationship with the people, customs, food, and lifestyle. This syndrome is even more common in older children who are moved to a country that is drastically different from the country they grew up in. The more often a child is moved to a new country, the more at risk the child will be for suffering from Expat Child Syndrome.
Expat children are ripped out of their comfort zones and thrown into all new cultures, customs, languages, and lifestyles. This experience can be amazing and exciting, but it can also be stressful and overwhelming. Taking the time to prepare your family for the move can help the transition become that much easier. You can do this by learning about the new country with your children, consulting a therapist that can help children deal with sudden life changes, and offering as much of your unconditional love and support as possible. It won’t always be easy, but your family can find a way to thrive in the expat lifestyle.