Don’t you wish there was a step-by-step guide to successfully raising a family abroad? Or anywhere, for that matter! Unfortunately, no one has all the answers. What I can offer, however, is years of experience listening to young people who were raised overseas. I’ve learned a lot about what their parents did to help (or hinder) them along the way. These 7 helpful hints for raising kids overseas will point you in the right direction, whether you’re thinking about a move, starting out, or years down the track.
1) Rhythm and routine
One thing that really helps children through times of transition (and just life generally) is the comfort of the familiar. Creating family routines your child can rely on gives them a sense of security that really helps, especially in the long term. Some routines can happen anywhere in the world, others won’t work in some locations. But do what you can to provide a sense of rhythm – things that you do together as a family – daily, weekly, monthly, annually. Perhaps it’s celebrating a certain annual festival in your own way, going to a particular park once a month, eating a certain meal once a week, maintaining a particular nightly bedtime routine no matter where you are. Anything that predictably repeats creates rhythm. There is comfort in the familiar.
2) Not just a house, but a home
It can be tempting to think that “things” are unnecessary, especially if you are on a short-term assignment. But don’t underestimate the importance of objects – sentimental items brought with you, and special items you pick up locally. You don’t have to spend a huge amount on shipping or furnishings – small things can make a big difference! Aim for two things: familiarity and comfort. Make sure some things are the same (or similar) in every house and make sure your home is a comfortable refuge – whatever that means for your family. A home is a place I settle into, not just a place I live temporarily. Teach your kids how to turn a mere house into a home, even if you only live there for a matter of weeks or months.
3) Emotional health
Airline safety demonstrations say to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. This is an important life lesson! Making sure you have adequate resources of your own is an important part of caring for your family well. It’s also important that you develop the skill of healthy emotional expression. Suppressed grief is one of the biggest issue kids growing up overseas deal with long term – and it starts young! Teaching them to express their feelings from the start means they are less likely to suppress them as they grow. Demonstrate for your kids, in front of them, what it looks like to express emotions well. Allow yourself to feel the sadness of moving away from people and places you love. Learn to hold sadness and excitement together at the same time – both valid, and neither cancelling each other out. Make your home a safe place where your kids know they can express their feelings, be heard, and loved.
4) Connect to people
Invest time and energy in getting to know people. Look for gatherings where you can meet people – expatriate organisations, school communities, clubs, sports, and other activities. Find out how expatriates in your new location connect – what apps do they use? How do they share information? Get connected to groups that have the information you need – basic survival stuff, and how to have fun, too! Investing in local relationships builds support you’re going to need. When you’ve just moved this can all feel like too much! So don’t forget the strength that you get from staying connected with people you’ve left behind. Help your kids stay in touch with friends and family elsewhere in the world. Those long term connections can be powerful threads running through their lives.
5) Connect to place
Connect to your specific location. Be a tourist now and then – go see things! Find some activities that are particular to this place. Try different foods, languages, styles of clothing. Build memories that are grounded in a place, experiences that wouldn’t happen somewhere else. Let your children absorb concrete memories of the place in which you live – memories they can hold onto as they grow.
6) Your child’s experience is different
And as you do this, remember that your child is experiencing this life differently to you. These special experiences and memories you’re creating with and for them? These will be part of the foundation of your child’s life. As they grow up, learn how the world works, construct their personal identity and worldview, international experiences they are absorbing will be part of it all. This means that their sense of comfort and familiarity won’t necessarily be centred in the same place, food, and language as yours. And that’s okay! Enjoy watching what your kids connect to. Hold loosely to your own preferences, and appreciate the differences that appear in your children as they grow.
7) Get resources
This is only a very short list of helpful hints – but there are SO MANY great resources available! So go and find what works for you. There are books, for adults and for kids. There are blogs by and for expats. There are online communities where expats share their stories, their ups and downs, their questions and suggestions. Sometimes community is hard to find locally – but there is a tribe, with their encouragement and wisdom to share, waiting for you online.
Tanya Crossman is the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. Tanya is passionate about coming alongside cross-cultural families with information, encouragement, and….click to read more