It seems so idealistic, the dream of moving abroad, especially on one of those drab, grey English mornings, when the rain is pelting like a sheet against your bedroom window and you know it will be a miracle if you survive the school run without an inch of water in your wellington boots.
That was me just over a year and a half ago, fantasizing about the possibilities of life in a different country. The magic and romance of Italy had left a longing inside me that I just couldn’t shake, like a bad case of the flu virus that had permeated my sinuses and left me feeling like I was unable to breathe.
For me, the decision to move abroad eventuated more through my own personal choice and craving for adventure than any other reason. I didn’t relocate for love, for work or for money, or to be reunited with our long-lost family. In fact, in hindsight I still can’t fully explain the whys and the wherefores when asked, except that it was an urge that I knew I would always regret if I didn’t at least explore it.
Whatever your personal reasons, however, moving abroad when you have a family is a completely different ball game than it is when you are a freshly graduated student, looking for adventure, experience, cheap booze and a shared room in a hostel as a starting base. The fact of the matter is, it’s not so simple anymore, not when you have kids to consider.
So, whether you’re considering the move for a fantastic job offer, as a compromise made between you and your foreign partner or to simply expand the horizons and experiences of your family there are some major factors you should consider. Because, as any of you who have taken the leap of faith will know, the reality is often very different from that idealistic fantasy…….
How Will I Cope Without My Family?
Possessions can be replaced, new friends can always be made with time, homes can be found but there is one thing that is completely irreplaceable, and no amount of Skype time can make up for it. And that is the support of your family. There is nothing quite like knowing you have your tribe at hand, there to help should you need it. The days your kids are sick with a stomach bug and nanny isn’t there to stay at home with them, the weekend family roast dinners you always had with your parents, the family events that you will now have to book return flights to attend, not to mention the limitless babysitting which was once done purely out of love and now can only be found in return for a favour or in exchange for money. If you have a particularly close relationship with your family and your children have a good bond with their grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins and extended family than there is no way of skirting round the issue; you will miss them. You will miss them like crazy. So will your kids.
By moving abroad you will have to face the reality that by and large your children will grow up without the important influence of your family in their daily lives. Apart from vacations, sporadic visits from your loved ones and if you’re lucky Christmas, your kids will be looking towards you to be not only their mum, dad but their auntie, nanny and grandad as well. There may also be times when all you really want is a cup of tea with your mum or some chill time with your own siblings. This, without a doubt will be the biggest sacrifice you will make by moving to a different country. You need to ask yourself truthfully how much you depend on your family, how much you will miss them and whether you and your kids will cope. Family is always one of the biggest reasons that expats decide to move home after trialling a relocation abroad. How will you survive without yours close by?
Will my children receive a good education?
If you are moving to a country with a different language to your own native land, then the prospect of your child and eventually also yourself learning a new language can be thrilling. What a gift it is to be able to introduce a new language to your child, to hear them speaking like a local kid, playing with their friends and shouting, “a domani” over their shoulder as you collect them from school. Even when you yourself are struggling to grasp the basics, kids will inhale a new language and culture quicker than it takes for you to get comfortable with driving on the wrong side of the road. But when you put the novelty and indeed wonderful gift of language and culture aside, your child’s education is something that you will have to consider greatly before moving abroad. Particularly if you grew up in a country renowned for having a good educational system or have grown up used to the ways and methods of a specific curriculum, you may find it difficult adjusting to the big change in your child’s education.
Whether your child is schooling in Japan and coming home with more homework every week than you completed whilst doing a master’s degree in finance, or their new school is only just introducing the kids in your child’s year to the alphabet when they have been able to read for the last two years, believe me it will be a big change. Also, there will be times when you feel completely useless when trying to help them with their homework and simultaneously using google translate. How mums did it before the times of internet is beyond me! Is it a challenge that you are prepared for?
Regardless of how bright your child is, the adjustment of moving to a new country, sometimes also learning a new language, making friends and every other challenge they will now need to face, it is highly likely that their work will slip as a result. Unless you want to pay for extra tuition or you will be able to find the time amongst all the other transitional tasks you now face, to sit and work with them regularly, you may be dismayed to find that your kid who was once top of the class, is all of a sudden struggling to do simple multiplications they mastered long ago. Their priority may become fitting in with their peers, not being teachers pet and who can blame them?
There is no doubt that the level of education differs from country to country greatly and if you are a parent who places a great deal of value on your children’s academic achievements and advancement then you need to seriously ask yourself whether you’re willing to put them into a completely different system. Or perhaps you will find that a private school or an international school is better suited to your child and your situation.
What will become of my children?
It is a very commonly accepted fact that we evolve and become the people we are largely down to the environment we are brought up in. It may seem very exotic, even fascinating absorbing the cultures and customs that a new country can offer but you need to realistically ask yourself: are you happy for your child to adopt these customs and cultures, to adopt the identity of the country you are moving them to? It’s highly likely that the beliefs, behaviours and many other traits of that nation will be transferred onto your child, particularly if they spend the best part of their childhood there. Even if you plan to have them schooled at an international school and keep the family traditions you grew up with alive throughout their childhood, they may grow up with a very different identity than you did. You grew up with tea and biscuits after school, they will grow up craving the fried noodles they bought from street vendor on the walk home. You grew up with ketchup, they will grow up with soy. You grew up with a fried breakfast on a Sunday morning, they will grow up with a cappuccino and a croissant. You grew up with a thick Scottish accent, they will grow up greeting their friends with a “G’day mate.”
These differences can be fascinating and celebrated or may not be evident for many years to come. They also may or may not be what’s best for them. For example, if you are moving your daughters to a country where sexual liberation is in its infancy, are your daughters going to grow up with the same sense of self-worth they would have being brought up with in a country with equal rights? And one day when you are older and your children are adults and you decide to move back to your home country, what if they decide to stay? A person’s nationality is a huge part of their identity and by moving your children abroad, eventually you will be changing theirs. You need to decide whether that will be a good or bad thing and how much the values and beliefs you were brought up with are important for your own children to have.
Are my kids really cut out for this?
All children are different. Some are like chameleons who naturally adjust to new habitats with an ease that is almost unfathomable. Other children crave familiarity, routine and constancy and hate even having a new teddy bear on their bed, or take a day to adjust if they go to sleep an hour later than usual. We are all individuals; some of us find change easy, others not so much. They say moving house is one of the most stressful events to take place in the lives of human beings, so what could be more stressful than moving, not just to a different street, a different part of town or city but to a whole new country?
Depending on your children they could thrive, or alternatively they could find the change extremely stressful and you will be left feeling racked with guilt for taking them away from the security of their previous lives and thrusting them into this new, unknown world. It’s best to approach the move like a fun adventure, to get your children to participate in the planning, to build excitement amongst your family and anticipation as much as possible. But try as you might some children will take a much longer time to adjust, in fact even two years later, longer than you thought it was possible for your child to still even remember, they could still be longing to move back “home.” Every child is an individual and only you know what is best for them. Try to gauge their feelings and understand this transition will be a huge change for everyone. You must be prepared for that.
Will I be happy?
There is no doubt about it. Nothing makes a child happier than their own parents happiness. Being happy, fulfilled, peaceful and content will rub off on your children. Equally so, being stressed, lonely, miserable and under pressure will also have a huge detrimental affect on your children. Will the move bring you happiness? As selfish as it may sound, your own happiness should be one of your main considerations when deciding whether to move abroad. If by moving abroad, you feel the quality of your own life will improve greatly, the fulfilment of your goals will be achieved or if it has always been your life ambition to live by the ocean in the Bahamas then your own personal happiness is not something that should be neglected for the sake of your children. By following your dreams and ambitions you are ultimately giving your children a wonderful example to live their own lives by.
Just don’t be too upset when your son grows up and decides he wants to be an animal explorer in Africa or your daughter decides to work as an archaeologist in Peru. Wave them off with a hanky in your hand safe with the knowledge that your children are fulfilling their dreams because they had the best example shown to them when they were young children; that it is safe for them to follow their ambitions, they are entitled to the experiences they want for themselves and that the world is here to be explored and is theirs for the taking.
Emmy Yoshida is based in Florence, Italy and is Founder and Managing Director of www.internationalbabysitters.com