Expat Move with Kids?

So, we all know that making an international move can be stressful (click here for more on that…).

But looking back I realise the thing that stressed me out the most was concern about my children. Are we doing the right thing? Will they be happy? Will they like their new school? Will they hate me forever for taking them away from their school/ friends/ grandparents and cousins?

With our first move I felt it the most. It wasn’t just the fact that we were moving. It was the fact that we were moving to Bangkok. This was not what I had been expecting. AT ALL. I couldn’t quite make it seem real: I was taking my two tiny girls from our sleepy little village in the English countryside and moving them to a 17th floor apartment in a crazy city of six million people, a city famous for it’s temples, temperatures…and sex trade. Was I really going to do that?

My worries just spiralled, seeming to acquire a life of their own. What if my girls fell off the balcony? What if they got Dengue fever? What if they fell into a street vendor’s pot of boiling oil? What if they got bitten by a rabid street dog? What if we end up living next door to a sex shop? How did those poor women end up working in a sex shop? …and before you know it I’m up half the night worrying about human trafficking and exploitation and world poverty as well as everything else.

At around this point my husband moved, three months ahead of us. Which was a good decision for lots of reasons. My sanity was not one of them.

You get the picture. I didn’t sleep well. I just couldn’t visualise how our lives would be in that ‘other’ place and my mind kept whizzing around trying to solve these problems (‘locks on the windows!’ ‘I’ll just carry them on the street!’ ‘I’ll buy them nothing but long sleeved shirts and pants to keep the mosquitoes away!’) and then coming up with more things to worry about. It was relentless and I was exhausted, and we hadn’t even moved yet!

And I don’t know about you, but the standard response I got from people when I voiced these concerns (ok, I just told people I was worried about the kids adjusting…I tended to leave the boiling oil/ rabid dog scenario out of the mix) was ’Don’t worry, kids are resilient’.

After doing two big moves and having seen countless friends go through the same thing, I’ve got to say, I don’t necessarily agree with this. Some kids are extremely resilient, just as some adults are. And some kids do not cope with change well, just as some adults don’t. To assume that kids will just bounce right in to a new country, home, school and not even notice the difference is to underestimate them. And here I think is the sticky patch. It’s easy to become so overwhelmed by worry and stress and all the infinite details of moving, that you can forget abut your how your kids are feeling – because kids are supposed to be so resilient, right?

We lived in Bangkok for nearly three years. No-one fell off the balcony, there were no accidents with boiling oil and we didn’t catch Dengue fever. We had the most amazing time, met lifelong friends and got to experience things I had never imagined.

But the first few months were tough. My not-yet-five year old daughter really struggled. Everyone said moving with young kids would be easy, but I don’t think that’s always the case (Disclaimer: I have not experienced moving with teenagers…yet!). My daughter could not articulate her feelings, and her behaviour blindsided me. Catastrophic temper tantrums, lashing out and saying the most awful things to me – ‘I hate you’ was just the start. As a parent, this is always going to be tough, but when you are already in a fragile emotional state – while at the same time trying to be in control of all the change that’s surrounding you – it can feel like a sucker punch.

So, what changed? The simple answer is – I did. I stopped trying so hard to make things work and I focussed on my daughter. I realised she was going through all the same things I was, but without the ability to express her anxieties. That this world was so different from the one in which she had previously existed, and she needed time to process these changes. That for her, the one thing that hadn’t changed was us, her Mum and Dad. But my husband was working all hours trying to get settled in a new job (actually even when the job was no longer new the ‘all hours’ remained, but that’s another story). So for most of the time it was just me, and she was pushing the boundaries of our relationship hard because she needed the reassurance that, no matter what, I wasn’t going anywhere.

It wasn’t easy but I tried to let go of my anxieties and just be there for my kids. To make things fun. To show them that it was going to be ok. To be the model for them to follow. We focussed on playdates and swimming, making friends and exploring. And gradually, things got better for all of us.

So the best part of that piece of advice was the most prosaic: ‘Don’t worry’. I somehow thought that if I worried about everything I could control everything, and get everything right. This is such flawed logic as, no matter how hard I try, I can’t predict the future (really, I can’t. Sorry to disappoint any of you who thought I was Mystic Meg in disguise…). And worrying about the future was just taking me out of the present. And as for getting things ‘right’ – well, despite having two young kids, I had forgotten that we learn from making mistakes. That there was no answer sheet for the choices we were making – they were simply choices, no right or wrong.

Looking back now I absolutely think that moving was a good decision. But had we stayed in the UK that would have been ok too. And are our kids happy? Yes. They were happy in Bangkok and they are happy now because for us, home is wherever the four of us are together.

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

Dalai Lama




7 Replies to “Expat Move with Kids?”

  1. (Dalai Lama) That guy sure knows what he’s talking about! Sometimes though, I think worrying can be a process for thinking through your options and internally deciding your strategies. Panicking, on the other hand …….

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Did I tell you that the Dalai Lama visited here just after we arrived? I took it as a good karmic omen 😉 Yes I think there is a fine line between worrying and panicking and that I had maybe stepped right over that line! xxx

  2. Patricia Martín says: Reply

    How true! It was delightful to read this, and you can apply those feelings to many situations along life. Thank you for sharing it’s good to see your own feeling written.
    Waiting for next post!

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Thank you so much Patricia 🙂

  3. […] Be a positive role model for your children, and show them that even if you find things difficult, you will persevere and things will work out. This is true regardless of whether you are moving schools mid-year or not. More advice on moving with kids can be found here. […]

  4. […] on this, check out my post ‘Expat Move with […]

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