Children don’t readily accept changes. While being very resilient in many ways, most children find that adapting to new schools, friends, geography and climate to be a unique challenge. This article is about those mothers who lead a mobile lifestyle, and bring up their children in ever-changing cultural environments, without the help of extended family and long-time friends.
Mothering is probably the most magical and profound experience a woman can have. But the lives of expat moms are marked by distinct factors such as taking their children through the process of breaking-the news, saying-good-bye, packing, leaving, arriving, unpacking, and settling down again, and again, and again. This can be painful and stressful for a mother, especially as she is usually the one in charge of helping the whole family build a new social and affective circle when relocating.
Upon arrival, traditionally expat moms are often first in line to help the family adapt, despite having no concrete link to the new country – no job, school, or official role. This can sometimes result in a feeling of isolation, made stronger by the pressure of having to be optimistic and positive, in order to ease the transition for the whole family. Expat moms become the glue that keeps the family together, the link that gives meaning to the difficulties of relocating. Relocating demands a lot of emotional energy and commitment, but it can turn into a fabulous experience if the project really comes from the heart. Only strong motivation will enable expat moms to communicate to their children the enthusiasm needed to overcome the initial obstacles.
The ability to clearly interpret the situation and give it back simplified and comprehensible to their children is a helpful skill for expat moms to have. These moms and their children become adept at saying good-bye to a cozy and familiar setting, moving to an unknown country, a new school, having to make new friends, and at times, learn a new language. Abruptly pulling their children out of what constitutes their world is a task that always fills a mother with anguish and guilt.
Adults are aware of the motivations that push them to new adventures, but children can be frustrated by a choice they do not share.
Expat moms must understand and communicate the filters their children need to read their new surroundings. Children need to understand new and unknown lifestyles, attitudes, and cultural expressions in order to fit in. While for mothers who remain in their country of origin, the process of helping their children decode the world starts and ends in known and familiar surroundings, expat moms have to go through this in a world that is unknown to them. They must explain attitudes and behaviors they don’t yet fully understand to their children. While it is impossible to do that at the beginning, what can be shared and reinforced in children is the sense of curiosity and discovery that gives value to the encounter with a new culture. Instead of simply explaining how things work, it can be worthwhile to stimulate children in the journey of discovery, stressing the richness that comes from it.
The lack of a support network, which back home consist of extended family, long-time friends, neighbors, and so on, is another problem expat moms must learn to deal with. Without a supportive network, every single choice becomes difficult. Not only do expat moms lack all the elements needed to make decisions, because they don’t know the culture, they may have no one to rely on when choosing for their children, especially if their spouse works long hours and travels frequently.
Expat moms certainly become experts in building solidarity and support networks, but this takes time, and that’s why it is very important to break the isolation as soon as possible: schools, expat clubs, women’s associations, neighbors, classes, anything that can help get in touch with people is a must for relocating moms.
Another difficulty expat mothers report is being geographically far away from their parents, which means depriving their children of the pleasure of growing up with their grandparents and vice versa. Especially for cultures that hold the extended family as a fundamental value, distance can be a big source of suffering.
The good news is that technology and developments in the travel industry have made it easy to shorten this distance. For an expat child, talking to grandparents on Skype has become natural, and grandparents travel more than in the past, thereby establishing deep emotional bonds that couldn’t have been forged in the past.
For expat moms, it is a matter of using creativity, thinking outside the box and changing perspective to accept a new way of enjoying the family, as well as life in general.
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Source: Expat Moms; They Do It All