day 27: expat children

Family travel expat children

A few weeks back I put out a call for expat parents to share their thoughts with me on bringing up children away from “home”. I got some fantastic responses that I would love to share with you here. We’re not parents yet, as you know, but so many people who move overseas are and it has a big impact on their experience, their concerns, they joys.

So please don’t see this post as the ultimate say-all on the subject, but I didn’t want to finish this month without taking some time to talk about expat children and the unique challenges and joys they bring to the expat experience.

Settling in – First, we’ve maybe heard it many times but it seems to be true that many children are incredibly good at adapting to new contexts and circumstances – more so than their worried parents maybe!

“It’s been astounding how readily the kids have accepted that this is their new home (or “new land” as they like to call it).” – Rosie & Pete

Many of the tips I’ve been giving this month for adults expats seem to also be good advice for children. Becs wrote that,

“My ultimate piece of advice is that how you settle in is up to you – if you don’t get out there and step out of your comfort zone, then no one will know you are there and it will be a lonely experience! I found a toddler group and went there twice a week (despite it being a 1.5 hour each journey on the train each way – I was too scared to drive at this point!!) and I talked to everybody! It took me right out of my comfort zone but Hannah and I needed people.”

Bonding – One surprising thing I heard was that the expat experience has allowed a bonding between siblings and between children and their parents that has been a wonderful bonus of moving:

“We weren’t expecting the intense bonding experience between the four of us, and between the two kids especially. They know they can survive anything if they have each other.” – Rosie & Pete.

“The bond that Hannah and I have is immense because we have gone into so many new situations where we have been each others only familiarity. I have watched her grow day by day into a bright little girl who loves life and believes that she can do anything because that is what Dan and I are modelling that for her.” – Becs.

child travel

Keeping in touch – While immediate family bonds may be strengthened, all the parents I spoke to expressed that maintaining a good relationship with extended family and friends back home was the biggest loss and challenge of expat life. They emphasised how important it was to be intentional about finding creative ways to maintain that bond:

“Skype or Facetime are essential so that grandparents and siblings can see where you are and have been able to see Hannah change and grow – she can show them her latest drawing or the book that she got from the library. One of or biggest fears that we had was that relationships within the family would suffer, but Hannah knows her grandparents and aunts and uncles and is soooo comfortable with them all when we meet up – she can now FaceTime on her own using the iPad! Both exciting and scary at the same time. It takes effort but is so important – we also make sure that visits are as regular as they can be and that we all go on holiday together once a year so that grandparents have that time to relax and enjoy Hannah and vice versa.” – Becs

“I have to say that I delivered my twins abroad, and that my family lives very far away, so this meant lacking moral and emotional support, not sharing one of the most important moments in my life with my mother and brother, and also it has been more expensive (no grandma to take care of the children for a couple of hours if I need to go to the doctor). Additionally, my children are growing up without the love of their family, and my brother got to meet them when they were already 3 1/2 years (we couldn’t travel before, nor could he).” – Marcela

“It’s difficult to be away from the grandparents, as both sets were very close with the kids before we moved. We know that our parents are happy for us on our “adventure,” but are also missing their grandkids terribly while putting on a brave face, and that’s a difficult reality to accept sometimes. It’s hard staying in contact with friends and relatives in general.

When kids are young, video chat doesn’t hold their attention for long and they run out of things to say very quickly. Grammy came up with the idea of reading stories to the kids over video chat, which gives the kids something to look forward to. We were quickly forced to accept that most conversations will be short and superficial, but the important thing is that the kids just know their grandparents are still “there.” Mixing up the communication helps too – emails (even complete nonsense ones with lots of emoticons!), letters, postcards, iPad drawings, pictures for the refrigerator – we do it all.” – Rosie & Pete.

But the biggest joy of experiencing expat life with children? Seeing those children grow up with all the benefits of a multi-cultural life, and a love for travel:

“Hannah makes friends easily and has a passion for travelling – at 4!! I do wonder if we are setting ourselves up for our only child to live the other side of the world to us when she grows up as I suspect this passion with grow, but I really believe that the world is her oyster. I don’t think I would think of that as a possibility had we stayed in the UK.” – Becs

As children grow, moving may turn into an adventure (it is for us, and we hope it will be so for them as well). We love moving every 5/6 years, we are nomads, and we hope our children will like it just as much.” – Marcela

“The biggest joy is watching the kids bravely take on a new school/culture/language, make friends, and overcome challenges. Opening up their worldview to different ideas, cultures, and people is extremely satisfying.” – Rosie & Pete.

Are you an expat with children? What has your experience been? What are the biggest joys or challenges?

A BIG thank you to my wonderful parent contributors to today’s post!

  • Becs and her husband Dan are British and live with their four year old daughter Hannah in Munich, Germany. They are about to embark on a big new adventure to Beijing!
  • Rosie & Pete are friends here in Luxembourg, hailing from Oregan, USA. Their kids are six and five and are already learning Luxembourgish. You can follow their adventures at their blog.
  • Marcela is Argentinian but lives in Cyprus with her Serbian husband and their four year old twins. She writes at her beautiful blog The Celebration Girl.



This post is part of my 31 days to embrace expat life. I’m writing every day through October on this topic. Click on the button to see all the posts so far…

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Family travel photo via Che & Fidel
Child on journey photo via Danica Mendes on Flickr