There are great advantages to living as an expat abroad, especially in raising kids abroad. But besides these advantages, we as parents need to be aware of the disadvantages and the difficulties of living abroad and raising children in a foreign land.
Over the past seven years, my family and I have been roaming around the globe. The first leg of our journey was my husband’s MBA studies at INSEAD. The move was made with our oldest daughter. We continued our journey, moving from country to country, when our youngest daughter was born abroad. During our journey we experienced, like everyone else, the global financial crisis of 2008, which saw us return to Israel for wonderful two years. Our experiences of self-relocation, relocation on behalf of our jobs, childbirth in a foreign country, returning home, moving between homes, schools and kindergartens, changes in our social environment, landscape, culture, weather and much more – all of these are very familiar to my family and me on a personal level.
As a psychotherapist and a parent I tend to ask myself when will one of my daughters “kick” my husband and me and say “Stop! Enough! I’m staying here! You can go wherever you like…” Though my daughters are still young and cannot raise themselves, I still think about the future and whether we as parents will ultimately pay the price for our nomadic lifestyle. Maybe it is happening here and now, in this foreign country we live in where we look and feel different – are our kids already paying the price of alienation and incompatibility? Are the challenges in adapting to new environments, learning a new language, cultural differences, holidays, food, weather (the list goes on and on) – do all these make them face a great difficulty, and we as parents do not really know or have the tools to cope with it?
This is where behavioural disorders start to show up. One child may express himself with strong, stressful feelings, another may develop an eating disorder and a third child may be rebellious and refuse to go to school/kindergarten, or even worse – experience anxiety and depression. These symptoms might appear due to the unfamiliar or unstable environment and could put us and our children in situations we wouldn’t know how to handle.
Always remember – even when away from your homeland, you are not alone. You can and should seek support for you and your children.