Expat parent survival guide: Creating a family culture? Be original!

Surviving and thriving as an expat parent is possible (and even easy) if you know the right steps to take. In this series I will share what I have learned about expat parenting (from pregnancy to baby to toddler).

How do you decide which elements of your culture to pass along to your children? This step-by-step process can help you build and implement an action plan for creating traditions for your family.

› Identify your own family culture

How many cultures do you have in your home? If you and your partner don’t come from the same place, your traditions are probably different. It could be something like opinions about what constitutes a family dinner (such as everyone around the table or everyone in front of the TV) or how holiday times should be spent (with family back home or away on vacation).

If you come from different countries and / or religions, those differences can become quite significant. That doesn’t have to be bad! The most important thing here is to look at your traditions and decide which ones to pass along.

A great way to identify these cultural differences is to share stories about when you were children. Which aspects of your childhood really stand out in your memory? Make a list of them, both positive and negative and compare them to identify your similarities and differences.

Talk through the items that are most important to each of you and come up with a family culture you can both embrace. This can be a fun exercise for the whole family and can help you and your partner learn new things about one another.

› Don’t be afraid to be original

Expat families are all different - every single one of them. When creating your cultural teaching plan, don’t get bogged down trying to match what your family back home or your neighbours in your new country are doing. Embrace your uniqueness!

Talk to your family and friends back in your home countries and let them know which traditions you have decided to share and why. If you have decided not to share a tradition that is important to them, share the reasoning behind your choice. You don’t need to get your family and friends to agree with you, only to respect that you have made a thoughtful decision about what is best for your family.

Finally, get your children excited about the traditions that make you different from other families. Talk to them about how lucky they are to be able to experience so many different cultures. Share your memories about the traditions you’ve chosen. You can also tell them about the things you did when you were little but decided not make them do.

For example, if you disliked sitting quietly through family dinners and you have opted for a more informal setting with open dialogue, let your children know how much better they have it. The important thing is to make your children feel that special and unique = good!

› Determine how to share your traditions

Now that you have a list of traditions you want to share with your children, the next step is to determine how to share them. Traditions around daily activities can be the easiest to implement. For example, if you have decided that sharing breakfast as a family is important, get everyone up early and make something extra special or fun (Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes or green eggs and ham, anyone?) for the first week.

If having guests over once a week for a group dinner is going to be a tradition, get your children involved. You could let your children decide who comes to the first one or pick the menu or prepare something to share (such as a drawing or poem or dance).

Holiday traditions can be a bit more difficult, especially if you are far from home. If you won’t be able to go home for an important holiday, look to your local friends for support.

Do you have a lot of friends or family from your home country in the area? If so, organise group events around holidays. If you don’t have a large group of fellow countrymen, you can still get help from other expat and even local friends. You might be surprised at how many people are happy to get together for an American Thanksgiving feast one week and a Dutch Sinterklaas party the next.

Another great option is to ask your families back at home to take part in the festivities. Schedule phone calls for the actual day. If possible, get them to prepare care packages for your kids for each important holiday. Your kids will love getting a present and you will love having the extra tools around to tell the story of the holiday.

› Start sharing!

Congrats! You have identified your family culture and have a plan for creating the traditions to support it. Now that your plan is in place, you will feel more confident that your child will know and respect all of the cultures present in their lives.

Lynn Morrison helps parents in the Netherlands. For more information please comment below or visit her website Nomad Parents.


Lynn Morrison


Lynn Morrison

Lynn is one of the primary contributors at The Marketing Salon, a blog with marketing advice for SME's. She has over 10 years of experience in marketing and sales, most...

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