Moving to another country on an expat assignment is an exciting opportunity. Many expats relocate along with their families, and some even relocate with their pets. Some however make the decision to do it alone – which means that they may have to leave family members behind.
It is daunting to know that you will be facing all the challenges of expat life by yourself. However, it is also hard for those who stay behind.Expats have their new assignments or careers to focus on. They will also be moving into a new house, meeting new people and having new experiences. Even the potential obstacles such as culture shock may prove to be a welcome distraction in these cases. However, spouses and other family members who remain at home may have a more difficult time dealing with the absence of a loved one.
The transition is likely to be easier for the family staying at home, and also for the new expat, if certain steps are taken.
Watching your near and dear ones leave can take a toll on your emotional health. You may be wondering about the impending loneliness or hardships. While life is bound to change, it doesn’t necessarily have to become lonely. Learning to embrace and adapt to the changes will pave the way for new opportunities and experiences.
An honest and open conversation about the reasons your family has for moving abroad can bring much-needed clarity to the situation. The decision to relocate to a new country, and especially one that involves leaving someone behind, is always difficult to make. It may be a hard conversation to have, but it will no doubt help you understand the decision better, and also enable you to offer your support to your loved ones. It is common for those moving abroad to feel guilty about leaving family behind. Having conversations will help to ease such feelings and enable them to take this important step with more confidence.
Even if you are upset at the thought of them leaving – and it is natural to feel this way – avoid making them feel bad about leaving you behind. They will be embarking on a journey to explore new opportunities and experiences, and making them feel as though they have abandoned you might end up holding them back.
Ask for as much information as your family members are able to give about their relocation. It is natural for you to be concerned about how far away they might be moving, and also about how long before you can see them again. There may be even worries about their safety and if you don’t know much about the new place, these concerns may become magnified. It is common in such cases to dwell on the doubts and fears. Having the necessary information can ease these worries to a large extent. This is why it is helpful to have a better idea about the country they are moving to, and where they will be spending most of their time.
You can ask them to provide as many details about the new place as they can, such as the language, lifestyle and available activities. You can even do your own research about topics and issues that may be on your mind. If you still have questions, ask them to answer them as best they can, even if they are not yet sure of the details. This helps you to prepare for the actual move and also enables you to offer any encouragement they may need from time to time.
Celebrating their step towards a new life in the form of a going away party is a great way to ease the stress and also remind them of your love and support. It can be anything from a big celebration of fun and enjoyment, to a quiet gathering of close family and friends, as a way of marking an end to one phase of your lives, and the beginning of another.
Once your family has moved, they are likely to be busy in setting up their new life. They may even be too preoccupied to keep in touch with family back home. Speaking with loved ones may even serve as a distraction that they prefer to avoid during this time, just so that they can go about organizing things in their new home and work life. But it is still important to stay in touch with them, even if it means shorter conversations. This helps to reinforce your support for them, and will also make you feel more positive.
If you have had the proper conversations with them prior to the move, then you can remind them of their own reasons for having made the move at times when they may be feeling overburdened by the changes.
The expat life does involve huge changes, and not all of them will be positive ones. There will be times when your family may have to go through some tough times abroad. This is part of the process and usually passes with time. If they choose to avoid discussing their problems with you, it’s better to allow them their space. When they do talk to you, ask them about the positive changes happening in their lives; maybe about their new workplace or the new friends they have made. Focusing on the positive helps create a momentum for forward movement.
If they seem to be having a hard time dealing with the changes, you can gently suggest that they speak to a counsellor or a doctor. In turn, if the change has left you with feelings that are hard to manage, you can also seek help and guidance from a professional or a trusted family member or friend.
There are various ways to keep in touch even over long distances, but they are no substitute for meeting in person. However, it may also be difficult for your family to make trips back home, either because of logistics or finances. Reminding them that you understand their situation, but also that you are looking forward to seeing them again when they are able to visit, is always helpful. When they do visit, you can make it a special occasion. Seeing each other happy and the realization of the importance of family are significant moments that will be cherished by all.
It is likely that you may experience moments of nostalgia as you remember the times spent with your family in the past. It is normal to miss them, but it is also important to adapt to the present change and look ahead to the future. Give yourself the time and space to experience the feelings of loss that a loved one’s departure may trigger, but avoid holding on to those feelings. Once you start picking up the pieces, you will be able to experience your life in new ways, while still cherishing the times you spent with your family in the past.
You will always have the pleasant memories with you, and this is the time when you and your expat family abroad will start making new ones. Dwelling too much in the past can make it hard for you to move on towards happier times.
This is a good time for you to strengthen your connections with other important people in your life. They could be other family members, friends, colleagues or others in your community. Today, there are even social networking sites where you can join communities or pages that share your interests and where members interact with each other. This is also a great time to allow new people into your life. Your family will always remain your family and it’s only a matter of time before you will be seeing them again, but the current change in your life can help create room for new people to enter. Some of these may go on to become significant relationships or associations.
Exploring your own hobbies or interests is another way to deal with the changes and also use them to your advantage. Choose to do some travelling of your own, or join a class or local community that engages in activities you like. As your family is off pursuing their dreams and exploring their life in new ways, you can do the same in your own capacity.
Plan to visit your family abroad. This will give you a chance to explore their new environment and also discover a new country for yourself. The advantage is that now you will have them to show you the sights and better acquaint you with a new culture.
For many, exciting expat assignments are hard to resist and are highly beneficial for furthering career prospects. Parents, in particular, may be faced with situations where they are happy for their children, but worry about how they will cope by themselves. It is important to note that expats, no matter the age, require the connection with their home countries especially as they adjust to a new and unfamiliar culture. Older parents may also still need to depend on their adult children, even after they move abroad. Even over distances, these relationships can still be maintained and parents can continue to receive support from their adult expat children through proper planning and communication.
While it may be extremely hard to do, preparing to say goodbye to your family is a necessary step. If this is the first time your children are moving away from home, it constitutes an important milestone and also marks an end of a long phase in both your lives.
As an older parent, you may shy away from using more modern means of communication, but this is a good time to start. Ask your children to help you figure out how to make Skype calls or send e-mails. Have an arrangement with them, whereby you can keep in touch with them regularly. Make it a point to discuss important topics such as your healthcare plans or financial matters. Remember that they require your support too, so ask them about their own lives and if they require any particular help from you.
If you have grandchildren that have also moved along with your children, keep your connection with them strong by asking to speak with them or see them via video calls.
Continue to mark important occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, even if you feel your expat children may be too preoccupied with their new life. They will appreciate the gestures, and will also be prompted to reciprocate, knowing that it means a lot to you.
This may also be a good time to take a more active role in planning your own ageing. Use this time as an opportunity to make decisions that are beneficial to you. You may choose to move into a smaller home with easier accessibility.
As elderly individuals, you are at a greater risk for experiencing isolation as younger family members get busy with their own lives. Illness and death among your peer group is also something that you may have to deal with, and this may lead to a sense of loneliness. Giving your own meaning to your life is something you can do to stay grounded and motivated. Social contact is also important for older individuals and you can achieve this through voluntary work, social clubs or exercise programs.
Empty nest syndrome can lead to depression or even an identity crisis. But studies show that it can also reduce family conflicts and give elderly couples a chance to reconnect with each other and explore their own interests.
Increasingly these days, the exact opposite is known to happen. Elderly couples may decide to spend their retirement years in a different country, sometimes choosing to move away from their children and grandchildren, for an opportunity to experience something new. Similar dynamics apply here as well. Adult children of expats can contribute a great deal by supporting their parents in their decision and making it a point to stay in touch with them.
How have you dealt with family members moving abroad? Let us know in the comments!