Being a parent it’s an amazing experience but adapting can be quite hard. As an expat, I feel that this transition is even more difficult.
I never really thought of how hard it would be to adapt to such a new life. You always have people telling it to you or making jokes on all the difficulties but you never realize it until you live it and anyway, every case is different.
Not having our family around is the only things that makes me think of going back to Italy where we grow up and where our relatives are living.
But then I reflect well and, at least in our case, it´s not the right situation so far in a long-term perspective.
Apart from the normal parents-struggles, what I think really feels heavy on expat shoulder is the idea of having to plan for a babysitter . Let me explain this: having a babysitter is a good thing, so if you can have it then use it! But it´s not the same as calling grandma and ask her to stay with the little one while you go out for grocery, shopping or have to stay longer at work.
The idea of having to plan everything and make sure we are covered for the weekly schedule it´s really annoying me. I miss the spontaneity of deciding to change plans without having to agree with someone to take care of our child. Just going out for dinner can be really tricky: at what time – bedtime? Where – is a family-friendly place? Is big enough – if the kids falls asleep in the stroller? Little things that makes such an easy thing as going out for dinner, a big matter.
Another point is the costs of having a babysitter. Don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining about the prices. But, going out for an evening or just taking couple of hours for yourself can be quite expensive if you add it up to the costs you will have during your free time.
Not having my kid surrounded by our families is what saddens me the most. I grow up in a big family with cousins, aunties and uncles for any sort of occasion and celebration. The idea of taking away the joy I had with my family it makes me sad as it´s our decision: we chose to live abroad.
We are trying as much as possible to preserve our identity by speaking Italian, cooking Italian dishes, talking and celebrating Italian traditions that are different from Germany. Sometime I wonder if this is enough? Will my son feels at least 50% Italian when he grows up? Not to mention that I am Dominican too and I am still trying to figure out how to share part of my culture with him which I, unfortunately, do not live that much but it´s still part of me.
I am really trying my best to get as much as integrated as possible within the society I am living in. As a start, I came started again German classes. Language, at least in my case as we are talking about German, its quite a big challenge. Independently from my strictness nature of wanting to understand every single detail, I do believe that knowing the language of the country you live in is one of the first and major steps to get integrated within the culture you are in. As a parent, I am also thinking that I have to be in the right situation to make decisions knowing that I understand the context, offers and the matter itself. To be in this position, being able to speak German makes you feel even more secure while evaluating different options. It is also essential for make your child able to integrate himself in the environment. I want to be able to pick him up and have a natural normal conversation with people without having the feeling of missing out something. Well, I am not in this stage yet, but other parents in our school knows that I am learning German and are also helping me in the process.
What about when the kid get sick? I am sure that we would handle things differently if we were home. When my son get sick, stress and emphaty for him aside, the most worrying thought that comes to my mind is : will I understand everything the doctor says? Will he/she understands my questions properly?
Eventually , bilingual kids pass a phase where they will just speak one language, normally the one closer to the environment they are living in, so I am just counting the days when my son will refuse to speak Italian even at home and will answer just in German to my questions.
A simple thing such as invite a friend of my son for a play-date might become such a huge thing because of the fear of not understanding him/her. Sometimes I do not even understand Italians toddlers while they speak, so imagine it in a foreign language!
Having a lack on grammar and vocabulary might also lead to missing out opportunities such as taking advantage of all possible government services and support for families.
Also the way that things are handled in a different country can be totally striking. Its a natural cultural thing but it might takes a lot of time to get used to. Compared to Italian culture, here everyone is more easy going and I still find it quite hard sometimes to understand and embrace the new approach.
One of the bright sides of raising bilingual kids is that research underline a positive long-term effects of bilingualism on cognitive abilities in children.
Being a parent it’s a big wonderful challenging adventure but I cannot stop thinking how it would have been if I would have stayed in Italy. Would it be easier? For sure it would be completely different.
The truth is that, we have chosen to uproot or expand our family abroad and the only way to make the process easier is to be open, proactive and prepared to the best of our abilities.
As already mentioned, I do not consider moving back to my hometown because I know that in the long term this is the best choice I made for my family and most of all for my son.
Dear expat parents, hang in there because the future that awaits us is bright. take a moment to think about it and if you still think that being an expat is the best decision for your family, then it is. Things, are never easy anyway!
I would be more than happy to know your more about experience and opinion on the matter so please share your thoughts!