Home Expat Support Parenting

International parents worry about the effect on their children of living abroad. In this article we look at the two main concerns that parents can creatively address in their children, to turn the challenge of foreign parenting into a triumph.

Parenting is hard enough at the best of times and each developmental stage that our youngsters embark on stretches us a little further. Add into the mix the development of intercultural, cross-cultural and international children and you find the challenges rise. Paradoxically, when you have moved internationally with children, they often need you more at a time when there is so much less of you; a time when you’re trying to get to grips with all the practical matters: a new job, running the household, and facing your own culture shock. However, in the words of Expat guru Robin Pascoe, author of Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World, we owe it to our international children to be there for them more, rather than less.

Children who move from country to country have many goodbyes to say, not only to their friends, but also to their bedrooms, their school projects, their ‘special places’ in the gardens or in the woods. Grief becomes an intrinsic part of their life experience.

At the same time, the challenges of an international childhood are often highly exaggerated and can actually be an asset, as Barack Obama, Christiane Amanpour and Reese Witherspoon, all so called ‘Third Culture Kids’, illustrate. ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCKs) is a term that has been used since the 1950s to describe children that do not grow up in their parents’ home culture. The idea is that the ‘third culture’ is neither the home, nor the host culture, but a parallel culture of other ‘global nomads’, who carry home in their heart, rather than linking it to a geographical place. With good and aware parenting, our youngsters can get the very best from the experience of being raised in a country that is not their parents’ own. In this article I will highlight two main concerns that arise for TCKs.

 

Home is in your heart

One of the two main issues faced by global nomads is linked to their (cultural) identity. One of the hazards of international parenting is that we sometimes feel we need to ‘push’ our own mono-cultural identity on our children; either because one day we will all go ‘home’, or because we feel a sense of competition with the host country. Sometimes we compete with the other nationality in our marriage. I have a son who is biologically half-Dutch and half-Swedish, but sociologically more Anglo-Saxon. There was a time when, not being quite as happy with Sweden as I wanted to be, I used to share my negative experiences with him. Many years later he told me ‘you almost drove a wedge between me and my experience of (also) being Swedish’. While I wasn’t pushing a specifically Dutch agenda, I was most certainly pushing a non-Swedish one.

Making your identity up from the inside out is much, much harder and actually involves some serious internal soul searching, but in the long run it is more robust than having an identity imposed from the outside in.

Our intercultural kids belong to what sociologists call a ‘third culture’, that is to say a non-nationality-specific one that embraces all, yet is defined by none. We benefit our children in handling the inevitable question of ‘where is home?’ by helping them to understand that there doesn’t have to be a geographically specific answer. Geography often equals labels and stereotypes, and our sons and daughters are learning to live outside of a national stereotype. Let them tell you who or what they are, and support them in being home to themselves, belonging to a culture of non-belonging. A response that I often encounter is linked to cultural heritage, i.e., ‘what if they lose the link to their roots?’. Ask any TCK whether it was more helpful to be plugged into a nationality-specific identity or to be free to make it up as they go along and they will answer the latter. As parents we always need to be mindful whose need we are meeting with our concerns; is it our own, or theirs?

Making your identity up from the inside out is much, much harder and actually involves some serious internal soul searching, but in the long run it is more robust than having an identity imposed from the outside in.

 

Grieving is normal

Children who move from country to country have many goodbyes to say, not only to their friends, but also to their bedrooms, their school projects, their ‘special places’ in the gardens or in the woods. Grief becomes an intrinsic part of their life experience. As parents, we see their pain and consequently may experience guilt for what we are ‘putting them through’, despite the move being ‘for all the right reasons.’ Our own grief is usually already disavowed. International nomads need to be allowed to express their feelings of grief and anger, be they big or small. As parents we need to sit on our guilt, our need to ‘make it all ‘OK’, to ‘talk up’ the experience; and instead allow our youngsters to say how hard it is for them, how much they hate their new school, friends, etc. Once expressed, feelings go away much more quickly than when they have to be hidden. Children are resilient, and what they hate today, they may love tomorrow; not because we tell them to, but because we allowed them to articulate their response.

Remember, listening to their concerns is not the same as having to act on what they say. When my son was three he came up with the wildest schemes to explore planet Mars. I listened to him, attentively; despite knowing that what he wanted was impossible. It taught him that what he said was important and it taught me to sit with the helplessness that is so much part of being a parent.

In summary

Make time to listen to your children; be there more for them, rather than less; be aware of any subtle underlying need to promote, (or rubbish) certain cultures, and allow them to express their feelings of grief. Help them to build an identity from the inside out. That way they will gain the most from their experience.

In part 2 we look at how international kids interact with local children, how to choose the right school, and what kind of health care to expect from Sweden.

For more information about TCK’s please go to TCKid.com, or visit Robin Pascoe’s website at expatexpert.com

Copyright 2014: Lysanne Sizoo

 

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne teaches the ‘Global identities’ workshop both in Stockholm and on her houseboat close to Amsterdam.

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DISCLAIMER
These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and
clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic
meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would
never be shared in a public forum.

 

Featured Image: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

Getting cold feet as temperatures plummet and the kids want to make snow angels in sandals? No worries, YLC’s got your winter wardrobe woes covered – booties, bags and beanies!

Parenting +46

If you’ve been in Sweden for a while, you may find yourself well aware of what winter is like, but still overwhelmed by the daunting task of dressing your wee little tykes appropriately. YLC is here to give a breakdown of what you need for your kids to enjoy quality time outside, all winter long.

The Swedes like to say there is no bad weather, just bad clothes. Parents, take heed: Children in most Swedish schools, particularly preschools, spend a lot of time outside. But of course, depending on what age your children are – their clothing needs will differ. Let’s get started!

 

General advice for kids of all ages

Wool is your best friend when winter rolls around – not just for your own socks, but as the layer of clothing closest to your child’s skin. Wool keeps kids warm while wicking away moisture, unlike cotton, which locks it in. As the snow piles up you will be grateful for the existence of wool socks, wool bodysuits, wool long undewear, wool balaclavas, wool hats, and even wool shoe inserts. Layering wool with cotton or fleece (depending on the temperature) is also a wise move, but keep wool close. It may well take additional time to peel off more layers, but it’s practical to be able to remove or add some clothes depending on your child’s activity level.

 

Footwear

During not-quite-frozen winter weather and not-quite-spring months, your ambulatory children would benefit from lined rain boots. Prices vary depending on the brand, but regardless, lined rain boots are a staple for dark, damp days. (No bad weather, remember?) Swap out regular socks for wool socks for some extra warmth.

And when you do need full-on winter boots, Gore-Tex is your friend. I repeat, Gore-Tex is your friend. Children’s boots range from expensive to even more expensive to “Are you freaking kidding me?” expensive.  Across this range of prices, you have boots with Gore-Tex waterproofing and some brands that claim to be waterproof (involving technology that is unfortunately not Gore-Tex). Cheekiest are those boots that are blessed with neither.

If you want your child to spend any amount of time outside, don’t even think about buying winter boots that are not waterproof.

To save money, look at Blocket, Tradera, and flea markets or second-hand shops to get a used pair. The smaller the size, the greater the chances that the boots were only used for a short time since kids’ feet grow so fast; buying used in this case can save you upwards of 400 SEK.

 

Newborn to crawling stage

Chances are that much of your time outside with a newborn will involve the child being already cocooned into a stroller bassinet (“liggdel”, or, for some strollers, this might be called a “mjuk-“ or “hårdlift”). When the weather drops below zero, many parents use a winter “åkpåse” (travel bag), which looks like a sleeping bag. These åkpåsar are available in a range of sizes and prices, with off-brand one-size-fits-most being the cheapest.

If you’re not going to be outside for long and your baby is inside a winter åkpåse within a bassinet, they won’t need much more clothing than a hat and perhaps some light outerwear overalls and a regular outfit underneath. It’s easy to overdress small babies, so keep in mind that when they’re protected from wind inside the stroller and in an åkpåse, they’ll be quite comfortable.

babybag

If you plan to be out longer or your child is no longer in a bassinet, some warmer outwear overalls, a hat and mittens, and boots should be sufficient coverage for short trips in the stroller. When it’s colder and you’ll be outside with the stroller for a longer period of time, go all out. Keep your child cozy and content with winter overalls, boots, hat, mittens, and that åkpåse.

 

Toddlers and preschool-aged kids (through age 5)

Outerwear options for small children include one-piece overalls and two-piece sets. A convenient advantage of overalls is snow can’t get inside even when kids roll in the snow. They are also faster to put on than separate pants and a jacket. However, it’s easier to peel off a coat indoors while running errands, whereas removing the top half of overalls usually results in them falling below the child’s hips as they walk.

Much like winter boots, winter outerwear comes in a range of prices and quality. Frequently you get what you pay for, but not always, so know what qualities you want in your outerwear.

They should be waterproof and hold up to use and abuse. Having taped seams and reinforced knee, bum, and elbow areas contribute to durability.

Some brands will include info on the tags describing the degree of waterproofing of the external fabric.

If you understand Swedish or have a patient Swedish-speaking friend, check out this year’s review of children’s winter overalls from product evaluation agency TestFakta here.

Many Swedes also swear by putting a sheep skin in the stroller, keeping your child snug and warm even in the coldest weather.

 

Children 6 years and above

Which outerwear you choose for your child will depend upon how much time they spend outside. If your child enjoys playing in the snow (which is pretty much a given for any child not yet a teenager) keep this in mind when you decide on the quality of outerwear you are willing to pay for. As with younger children – the trick is smart layering and most (children’s) clothes shops stocks wool undergarments (often called an underställ) for older children (and adults) as well. They won’t mind wearing them – all their friends will be too!

Again, bargains can be made on sites like Tradera or Blocket – but don’t rule out the sports shops like Stadium and Intersport. Often they will have a range of options to suit all purses.

Enjoy the snow!

 

Alexandra D’Urso

Boston-area native Alexandra moved to Sweden in 2009 and gave up cod for smoked salmon and Sam Adams for wine in plastic bottles with screw caps. When not bragging about the awesome aspects of Swedish life to people back home, she spends time writing and laughing loud enough to disturb innocent bystanders.

Follow Alex and Your Living City on Twitter!

 

Feeling held hostage with children in Sweden? In this article, YLC’s mental health specialist Lysanne Sizoo looks at the pain of international (ex-) partners torn between love for their children and the troubles in their relationship.

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You took the plunge, you moved to Sweden with your Swedish partner, you agreed that life here would be so much better for the children, and you do your best to settle in. Or you were already here on your own terms, your eyes have met the blue eyed looks of a local and before you know it – you move in together and start a family. You experience the regular ups and downs of expat life, but begin to find you don’t always agree on the best way to raise children, and the ‘battle of cultures’ begins.  

Or maybe you miss seeing your own family, such as parents and siblings, getting to know and love your children as well as the Swedish side of the family. Slowly but surely, you begin to wonder if Sweden is destroying your relationship, or whether the relationship is destroying any chance of settling in Sweden. And in amidst all this turmoil, you look at your joint child(ren) and wonder how on earth you can resolve matters without losing them.

Does it really have to come to a separation?

This scenario is sadly one that we see time and again at Turning Point. Our relationship counsellors often find that couples end up being tangled up in issues that are related to unacknowledged difficulties in settling in, in addition to normal relational ups and downs. Sometimes they will help normalize the feelings of the international partner’s about having very little power over the lives of their children. This can cover anything, from language acquisition to social behaviour. Addressing this sense of dis-empowerment often opens up a new way of looking at the host country, and can avoid storing up trouble for later. In other cases, the relationship would have been in trouble, regardless of which country the family had settled in to. But the question of staying put for the sake of the children remains.

Maisie* was recently divorced when she conceived a child with her new Swedish boyfriend. With two grown children in her home country, this new opportunity seemed heaven sent. Her Swedish boyfriend suggested they go back to Sweden to raise the child there in its toddler years and then they would see. Five years later Maisie began to realize that his ‘then we’ll see’ has either been forgotten, or was still being ‘seen’. Her initial arrival in Sweden had been as someone who would be here on a temporary basis, a two to three year adventure, and as such, she’d made a real go of it. But in the back of her mind was always the belief that at some point she would go home and continue life there, now with a new partner, young daughter and reunited with the rest of her family.

It took the better part of two years to accept that the man who had ‘betrayed’ her was still someone she could love.

A temporary separation had achieved nothing, and eventually Maisie made her own, personal commitment to life in Sweden, and in doing so, also freed up good positive energy to fight for a good part of the year to be spent in her home country, with Swedish partner and child.

I use this example because the question about staying or going is as much a question related to the relationship as it is to the geographical location. Can a relationship be rescued if the partner who feels ‘held hostage’ is met with kindness and understanding from the partner who represents the country where they now live?

When separation is the only option

It worked out for Maisie, but in other situations the relationship can’t be saved and you end up single and alone in a country that’s not home. Sadly, this situation happens in Sweden and of course all over the world, on a regular basis. When we hear in the media about child abductions, we instinctively feel for the parent left behind. However, the pain of the ‘trapped’ parent is often overlooked. In fact, very little research has even begun to explore their side of the story; their sense of helplessness, disempowerment, feeling the ‘system’ is against them, and facing a life a never ever feeling ‘home’. These parents often experience economic difficulties because they can’t support themselves in a foreign culture. Men, as much as women, face these dilemmas on a daily basis, and as one client once said ‘someone pushed the pause button on my life, just as it is in the worst place possible’. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and yes, thoughts of ‘heroic’ deeds such as abduction become part of daily life. You’re left feeling alone and isolated, ill-equipped to deal with life in a country that doesn’t feel like home, with no family to support you. But leaving your child(ren) behind feels unthinkable.

Resentment and a sense of failure can build up to such a degree that it takes over your life, and while all these feelings are part and parcel of the desperately sad situation you find yourself in, it also becomes corrosive and takes away all the energy that you need to stay on your feet. Forums and Facebook pages such as ‘expat stuck mums’ can offer a sense of community and support, but they can also continue to feed your anger and resentment. So how do you survive?

Changing your mindset is the only way forward, renegotiating your reasons for staying in the country.

Perhaps with the support of someone who can help you express all the hurt and disappointment of what’s happened to you, but then essentially, the person you renegotiate with is yourself. You have to sit down and ask yourself if you can let go of the old reasons for coming to Sweden. Let go of, and mourn, all the hopeful dreams of making a new life. Try and see your new life circumstances as something you can actively choose, and make a decision ‘for now’. Children will grow up soon enough and make their own lives away from you and so staying ‘for the sake of the children’ is not a life sentence. It is a difficult decision to be taken, but it is not forever, it is ‘for now’. As one friend said, ‘I have chosen anew to be here on my own terms, rather than the terms that originally brought me here, and that gives me a sense of mastery over my life’.

Choosing to go

For others choosing to stay is just not an option and leaving the child(ren) behind a hugely painful, and yes, courageous decision. Courageous as your fears of being condemned by ill-informed bystanders for your decision to ‘abandon’ your child(ren) will have to be faced. Depending on the relationship with the partner in Sweden, a sense of trust needs to exist that your existence will not be wiped out. At least today we have Skype, Facebook and occasional visits to help stay ‘in the picture’.

Harry* went home after trying unsuccessfully for almost two years to make a living for himself in Sweden.

“I was on welfare and could not make my rent payments and was almost homeless..so it turned into a choiceless choice.  I wouldn’t say I was brave, I just felt like I had no other choice plus there were many other signs that were telling me I should leave.”

Harry drew great comfort from conversations with other fathers that lived in another country from their children, and gradually began to feel that he needed to go.

“It was just a feeling that I fought but the feeling was there nonetheless.  In retrospect it was quite obvious but not that easy to see in that moment.”

His fear that his daughter will be affected by not having him around on a full time basis has not abated. And from a psychological perspective it would be foolish to say that growing up with a physically absent father or mother would not make a difference. On the other hand, there are many children growing up with a physically present, but emotionally absent parent, while the ‘parent abroad’ will usually be deeply emotionally invested in the lives of their children.  Harry found his fears are based on core beliefs that may not have any truth or weight behind them.

“My beliefs were constantly being challenged and contradicted.  I was constantly being proven wrong. I just truly don’t know anything anymore and I just have wait and see what happens”.

And for Harry it meant a chance to find love again, and to recover his sense of professional wellbeing by finding a good job that matched his professional capabilities.

“I have more purpose in my life”.

No easy answers

In the end the decision to stay in the country where your children are settled, or to go home and get on with your life will never be easy. There are no easy answers, and whatever you decide, there will always be times that you feel you could have done better. That’s part of being human.

If you feel trapped, or held hostage, then no one can change that feeling for you. But you can choose how you relate to the situation, and try and change your mindset, just as Maisie did.

Couples and individuals can be helped to reframe their experience of being trapped or held hostage, to one where they find a new meaning to staying put, either with or without the mother/father of their children. If possible, it is important for the Swedish partner to be supportive in helping the relationship to develop, be it of a physical local nature, or a more cyber-based foreign nature. So even if that needs to be negotiated through a third party, it is worth the effort.

* All names have been changed to protect the identities of the persons involved

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo

 

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

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