Expat Moms Chronicle Raising Kids In a Foreign Country
Mothers tend to share in many of the same struggles, no matter where they live. It can be hard to help our older children interpret tricky social cues, and it can be difficult (for moms of very young children, especially) to find a supportive network of other moms. But imagine if you were navigating through your motherhood journey in a country different from the one in which you were born. Imagine going through the adaptive process in a foreign country not only for yourself, but also steering your children through it.
Many moms around the globe find themselves in this situation. Expat Women is a site devoted entirely to helping women deal with expat issues, and they have an entire section of hands-on, practical advice specifically geared toward mothers. Dina Zavrski-Makaric, for example, writes about some of the especially tricky aspects of helping your teen child adapt to the idea of an international move:
Don’t let your teen’s disagreement deter you from relocating; however, engage them as soon as you start contemplating the move. That way they’ll feel part of the process, even though they may not wholeheartedly agree to it. At least they will not be able to accuse you of ‘never been told you were thinking of moving’.
Donna Scaramastra Gorman, an American woman living with her children and diplomat husband in Beijing, China, is chronicling her journey at her blog, E-Mail From the Embassy. She also writes for Beijing Kids magazine, and there she has shared the following culture-embracing advice for mothers of young children:
Use your kids as an icebreaker. If you have younger children, take them to a nearby park, and bring bubbles or sidewalk chalk to share. In addition to the usual photo seekers, you’re likely to attract some local kids. The language barrier isn’t as much of an issue for little ones, so they’ll bond over bubbles while you try out your new language skills on their parents.
Michele and Tom, two Oregonian parents living in Argentina, believe that having children may actually make it easier to adapt to expat life:
Kids give you a social construct. When you first move overseas, it can be a difficult to meet people and you may be tempted to hide out in your apartment all day (especially with Internet access). Well, with kids, it’s not possible to hide out in your apartment (they would drive you bonkers if you tried). Having to find schools, uniform stores, field hockey stores, seamstresses to repair ripped uniforms, birthday party presents, and having to meet parents, arrange play dates, negotiate sleep overs, etc. really makes you jump into local culture and language with both feet!
There are, of course, unique challenges for these kids and parents. Lori of The Simple Life (and an American in Qatar) says of her daughter,
...having moved around all her life, she said that she feels like she doesn't really have a place to call "home."
(For their family, this led to a discussion that reinforced the importance of their faith in their expat journey.)
China.org.cn reports that even with all the benefits of expat life,
Of the surveyed kids, 33 percent said they had almost no friends and 44 percent said they only had a few. The children hoped more opportunities would be offered to help them make friends.
Parents, of course, will do what they can to keep the traditions from their homeland alive and well in their children's minds. Connie of Whale Ears and Other Wonderings writes of experiencing Halloween with her children (who are growing up in Egypt):
One difficult thing about being an expat, is not being with family and friends back home for these traditional American celebrations. Halloween revelry is a very American thing. ... There are other holidays and traditions we miss out on too. While we might enjoy the culture and events of our foreign address, it is good to have a close community so we, and our kids, don't have to miss out on the holiday traditions we have loved since our own childhoods.
Despite some issues with culture shock and homesickness, many parents in the blogosphere report an overwhelmingly positive experience raising their children in a foreign country.
For example, Verity is an Australian woman living in Istanbul, Turkey, and she writes at A Pink Canary's Nest. After a recent trip to Sweden, she was reminded of one of the more charming aspects of raising her son in Turkey:
But there was one thing I really missed about Istanbul - it was all the love and attention Yashar gets from everyone. Here in Istanbul every time we go out and about Yashar gets smiles from everyone...We are stopped on the street every single time we go out by people wanting to say hello and tell me what a cute little boy he is. Children are truly adored in Istanbul.
Especially for parents raising children in poorer countries, there is the benefit of teaching children thankfulness. Elizabeth of Planet Nomad is an American raising her children internationally. She and her family live in Morocco now, though she shared the following insight when they were living in Mauritania:
[My children] walk out of our gate in the morning, dressed in clean clothes and with full tummies, and see a herd of goats tended by some small, dirty children who will not be going to school. They go to an international school where other kids have newer, trendier clothes and take tennis lessons and never hesitate an instant when signing up for book clubs or extra-curricular activities. On their way to and from school, they drive past villas, whose inhabitants travel for vacation to Spain, and tents, whose inhabitants travel for vacation to the desert. They are learning to see that they’re not rich and that there are many things they can’t afford—and yet, that they are rich, with plenty of food and warm beds and toys and books galore. It’s a good balance.
Children are ultimately adaptable, and Beijing Kids reports that expat living seems to maximize that trait:
Despite the difficulties of moving from country to country, however, the benefits of living abroad and studying with students of different nationalities have proven to be invaluable for most students. They adopt global perspectives and are exposed to different ways of thinking.
“They learn to make friends fast, they’re very adaptable, they learn new languages, and they learn how to say goodbye,” says Poli [a French guidance counseler at the International School of Beijing]. “It’s not easy, but I’ve met kids who are completely happy about it – they love being unique.”