Here is how it goes. Mum or Dad comes home from work all excited and says, “They want me to move to New York/Duba/Shanghai”. It's exciting, there is a relocation package and often a considerable rise in living standards. This wave of enthusiasm carries us through the challenge of picking new schools, houses, packing and travel plans. It's great, and so it should be, it's a privilege which will influence the rest of your lives.
The unexpected challenges
Then in the last few days, it's the goodbyes and for many the discovery that this is all challenging in a way they didn’t fully expect:
- Saying goodbye can be really difficult. Family and friends whose company you regularly enjoy are now the other side of the planet. More, at this time of challenge, they are no longer there to support you. Calls are not the same as a real shoulder to cry on.
- If it's your partners work that triggered the move, its likely that if you were not already the at home partner, you will be. The expatriate world is quite traditional by necessity and it can be very difficult to keep two careers going. Either suitable jobs are not available, or your visa may limit you from even doing voluntary work in some countries.
- Children also feel the loss, either of yourselves if they go to boarding schools, or their social world as they have to say goodbye to old friends and have find new friends in local or international schools.
- Many lose everything that is familiar to them, right down to their language.
Most difficult of all is that you all have to go through all these challenges in a very short time frame, with far too much to do and everyone saying, ‘how exciting’.
Take the challenges seriously
Sadly a substantial proportion of relocated families underestimate this challenge and don’t cope. The results a year or two later can be counted early returns, drinking, divorce, alienation and loneliness. If you are contemplating such a move, take time out as a couple or family to discuss not just the fun stuff, but what it really will be like to say goodbye to so much and how your going to cope. Acknowledge and process the losses so you are available to move on into the new things.
Then enjoy it
There is much good advice, networks and some specialist therapists out there who can help you make sure that the move really will be great for you and your family. Check out here again as I will return to this subject looking at practical steps you can take to make sure you get the best from what for most will be a privileged and transformative life experience.
So as always, talk to your therapist.
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