Expat parents & relocation guilt - Part 2

Having looked at some of the reasons why expat parents feel guilty, what are some things to consider in order to overcome the guilt?

One thing to remember is that, generally, the benefits of an expatriate lifestyle (cultural awareness, language development, inter-personal / cultural skills, exposure to diverse ideas and concepts, international experience, quality nuclear-family time, enhanced opportunities / time to work on personal strengths and weaknesses, etc.) outweigh the losses.

What shoud expat parents do

Parents have far less reason to feel guilty when they keep this in mind. But what else can expat parents do?

› Be proactive & prepared

Kids do adjust to new settings; however, it only helps to be prepared. Discuss, plan, and act out what it will be like in the new environment in order to get rid of uncertainly and insecurities (parents can do this pre- and post-move).

Ekaterina, an expat mother originally from the Soviet Union, emphasises this point: "My experience of the moving process was easy to deal with, as I was very prepared for the change. I could say I was waiting for it with much excitement."

Ekaterina and her family were knowledgeable about their life in Holland before they arrived. Many companies offer "Go-See’s," which gives employees a chance to check out their new potential environment.

This is a well-made investment. Companies understand the importance of being prepared and keeping the entire expat family happy in a relocation (there is much evidence showing that the overall happiness of an expat family directly correlates to whether or not the employee will stay in the new location). Being prepared is a critical component to a move (or, really, for any family change such as new baby, divorce etc.).

 Talking, loving and supporting kids

Listening to what they have to say about their feelings of anger, happiness, sadness, guilt, grief, excitement, confusion etc. towards the relocation are essential ways for expat parents to stay connected to what their children are going through.

The more observant and sensitive parents are towards their children, the less they are apt to feel guilty. It is important to stay tuned in to verbal and non-verbal clues from kids.

Young children are more likely to express themselves via behavioural changes - as opposed to clear verbalisations - and might show certain new, disturbing changes in eating, sleeping; older kids might become more insular and / or seem to lose pleasure in activities that used to be fun for them. Parents must watch out for these "red-flags" as indicators that something is going on.

 Be open

Expat parents can enable embracing the traditions of the new surroundings in a fun way for kids. When a parent sees his / her child enjoying the new culture, guilt will absolutely be alleviated.

When parents are open to their family experiencing all of the possibilities in their new environment, everyone will feel better! As Brenda told me, "I think that (my kids’) lives would have been less full and nuanced, and they would have had fewer opportunities (had we not moved to the Netherlands)."

 Let the guilt go

Parents can try to stay connected with family, friends and loved ones from "home" and let their kids keep in contact with friends (via Skype for instance) but as life in the new surroundings becomes less "foreign," parents must not be afraid to miss a Skype-call because they were out doing something else; to not go home for the Christmas holidays every year (it’s OK to build family memories by taking a special trip - and being so close to so many wonderful places here in Europe, why wouldn’t you?!).

It’s OK for expat parents to put their own needs (including the needs of their kids) ahead of everyone else, without having to feel guilty. Looking back on her more than 10 years in as an expat in Holland, Brenda admits, "I don’t think I’ve ever felt guilty about coming to Holland. But I did and do acknowledge to myself and my children that it is not always easy to have two cultures. But in balance, I think it is a gift."

Bottom line, if parents are happy and aware of the fact that they are giving their children an amazing opportunity by living an expatriate lifestyle, then the challenges and guilt are manageable.

Do not forget, kids are resilient and expat families are improving inter-cultural relations on a societal level - one family at a time - so, in my opinion the guilt can be replaced with pride!

 Expat parents & relocation guilt - Part 1 can be found here.


Kate Berger


Kate Berger

Kate Berger, MSc Psychology, has a strong passion for helping expat children (and their families) make the most out of life in the Netherlands. Kate founded the Expat Kids Club...

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