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Parenthood: Challenges of being an expat mom/father

Me, you and several other imigrating mothers and fathers at some point question whether our choice to bring/have children in another country will benefit them in the long run.

It is not a simple question, and it becomes important - for the mental health of mothers and fathers - to accept this doubt, reflect on it, and build strategies to manage these thoughts and emotions in the imigration process.

In order to reflect together about this, I have listed below 4 anxieties that expatriate mothers and fathers experience, and also strategies for dealing with them in a positive way.

  • The relationship with family in the home country is different

Living away changes the nature of our children's relationship with our families. Face-to-face interactions are infrequent, but they can also be very intense when they do happen. The most common concern is that our children are missing out by not having the involvement in their lives of other adults who love them unconditionally and by having fewer quasi-sibling relationships with cousins.

What you can do:

Encourage as much interaction as possible between family (grandparents, uncles, cousins) in video calls, message exchanges, audios.

Encourage learning the language of the parent's country of origin to be able to communicate with relatives without an intermediary.

  • They are constantly saying goodbye

It is one of the harsh realities of imigrant life, whether children or adults - eventually we are saying goodbye. One concern is that sometimes they don't go deep into friendly relationships, with relatives or people from our home country, to minimize the pain when these friendships are altered by distance.

What you can do:

Encourage them to maintain that contact with friends who have moved away, strive when possible to find friends and family members who are closer.

  • They will have roots in two worlds

Your children will have a very different childhood/teenage experience than you. Growing up in an international environment, that is, experiencing one or more cultures within the home that is different from the culture of the country you live in, brings opportunities but also challenges, including for children. From bilingualism, adaptation to the social environment, school demands, etc..

What you can do:

Prepare yourself emotionally for this, showing that these differences exist and that everything is fine. As a family they will have your support to live them.

  • They have no sense of belonging

Sometimes children have passports from two countries, but have never lived in either one. Their connection to their identity may be fuzzy, feeling part of nowhere. In adolescence, when a sense of belonging and fitting in becomes increasingly important, doubts about this may increase.

What you can do:

Make them aware of the reality of their family: how it feels to be an intercultural family, or a family of one nationality living in another culture. Strengthen openness to cultural diversity, valuing that particularity of your history.

At the end of the day, we are no different than most parents around the world; migrant, expatriate or otherwise. We are trying to make the best decisions for our children with the resources that are available to us. Our children's experience is what it is and nothing will ever change that. So we are focused on helping them understand what it means for them, so that they can take advantage of their unique strengths, and so that they have strategies to deal with the associated disadvantages.

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